This is a lovely piece. I’m grateful for Emily Nelson’s well-considered interview, and genuine interest in my Iowa origin story.
Truth is, I’ve always had a conflicted relationship with academia. No MFA. Nearly dropped out of undergrad twice. Mike Zapata and I were threatened with ejection from the education program for being problem students. That said, authors like Allison Amend and Evan Shopper shepherded me as a young, wayward writer with kindness. Their lessons continue to echo.
It was a good, aspirational time – the greater world of writing shrouded in mystery.
Joe Henderson and I used to walk by the Dey House where Vonnegut once taught singing a strained, two-part choral harmony to the closed doors of the MFA program. We later learned MFA students would leave their stories on shelves just past reception. If you walked in with the proper attitude, sometimes you could swipe a few to see how your elders were doing.
Iowa City was also my introduction to No Shame Theatre which is largely responsible for my ability to tell stories in under 5 minutes, and write books that don’t necessarily sprawl into trilogies.
When I left Iowa, a friend of mine made me a punch card. It had 9 little boxes and one skull. He said, “You’ve spent enough time in this state. After you graduate, you must punch this card once every time you spend an another night anywhere in Iowa. When you punch the tenth hole, I will murder you.”
I had a good time at U of I. But I’ve still got seven slots left.