14 May 2012

What Would Margaret Walker Do?

I am posting from a very cozy writer's dream of an attic in Iowa City. All eaves and wooden furniture. Classical music programmed by Iowa Public Radio drifts from the clock radio on the bedside table. Other comforts include a claw-foot bathtub and two (!) sunrooms. This, my friends, is what's referred to as the life.

I arrived yesterday. Before I left Wisconsin, I finished the eponymous story from  Nathan Englander's latest book. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank is one of three books I brought with me. The other two are Her Body Knows by David Grossman, which I'd been promising myself for a bit, and Dalia Sofer's Septembers of Shiraz, which was one of the books my colleague Saideh Jamshidi recommended. I'm nearly 150 pages into it and like, Yalla. Can we get to something interesting already? I should mention that Saideh's recommendation was in response to my email asking her to recommend a primer of sorts on Iranian culture. This is oh, so germane because two main characters in my embryonic novel are of Persian Jewish heritage.

Today I ran several errands, stopping at the Dey House in the early afternoon. It's quite impressive. In the Frank Conroy Reading Room (!), I met one of my classmates-to-be. He came from Australia, turns out. He's jet- lagged, for goodness sake. Jet-lagged! We had a chat, which was very nice. He told me about what a literary city Melbourne is. I dimly recall it being another UNESCO City of Literature (comme Iowa City) from skulking around the NWP website a while back. My interest was definitely piqued. Laurie made Melbourne sound like very much a place to visit. He asked me what my interests were. I replied, Israeli film. Oh, said he, I don't know much about Israeli film, but there's one in particular I mean to watch. Oh, which one? (Because it's not like there are Israeli films I've never heard of, right?) Well, Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen's Jellyfish, as it were. There in the Frank Conroy Reading Room, I bounced on the sofa and clapped my hands maniacally. You know what? I met him here. In 2001. I interviewed him at the Hamburg Inn.

A few days ago I was thinking, No one ever really leaves Iowa City. Once you've lived here, you always keep just coming back around. And, unsurprisingly, those who write do believe in the Iowa City magic. Perhaps they think, Something about this place has got to bless what I'm doing. I was sitting in the vegan breakfast joint earlier today and, honestly, my stomach knotted at the thought that I'm doing my thing under the same sky as the likes of  ZZ Packer, Faith Adiele, Gish Jen, Joy Harjo, Rita Dove (!), and Margaret Walker (!!).

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