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Been There, Done That – May 2018

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In our "Been There, Done That" series, Literary Mama editors and readers share their experiences at conferences, workshops, classes, and residencies. This month, editor-in-chief Karna Converse recalls her time at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.


What program did you attend?

The Iowa Summer Writing Festival. The festival offers four weekend and five weeklong sessions during June and July. Each weekend, there are between 12 and 15 workshops offered; each week, there are approximately 12 workshops offered. There is also one two-week intensive workshop offered every year. 2018 marks the 32ndSummer Writing Festival.

Where was it and what was the time requirement?

The Iowa Summer Writing Festival is held on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. The University of Iowa is also home to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the University of Iowa Press, and The Iowa Review.

I attended the festival twice--first for a Weekend Workshop and then, a couple of years later, for a Weeklong Workshop.  At the time, my children were young; both experiences were special treats to pamper myself in spaces where I could concentrate on my writing.

What were the course offerings? 

The Summer Writing Festival offers something for everyone whether playwright, poet, storyteller, or essayist and for the beginner as well as for the advanced writer. Both the weekend and the weeklong workshops I attended focused on nonfiction writing but I met others who were writing novels, short stories, children's books, and more. I also met some who attended both a weekend and a weeklong session during their stay in Iowa City. This is relatively easy to do because the weekend workshops run from Saturday morning to mid-afternoon Sunday and the weeklong workshops run from Sunday evening to Friday later afternoon.

How did you spend your time? 

"Workshop" is the key word. Both classes I attended—and nearly all those offered at the Summer Writing Festival—focused on the workshop method and devoted a large amount of time to critiquing work we brought with us as well as to work we generated during class. Instructors did not lecture but did share examples of published material to support and spur class discussion.

What did you take away from the experience?

A renewed interest and excitement about the pieces I was working on and additional encouragement to dig deeper and pursue new pieces. The essay I worked on at the weeklong workshop was published in a national publication.

Did you have the opportunity for a writing critique? Was it helpful? 

Yes and yes. The classes I attended offered critiques from both the instructor and my classmates. The classmates in my weekend class were a bit apprehensive in offering critique because, I suspect, we hadn't had much time to develop a trusting relationship with each other. Classmates in my weeklong class, however, quickly developed a respectful bond and an earnest desire to help each other.

Would you attend this event again? 


Share some helpful tips for a writer considering this experience. (Tips may include transportation, lodging, food, classes/instructors, or anything you think future attendees would benefit from knowing.)

Register early; class size is limited to 12.

Participate in experiences outside of class: Open Mike readings are held during both weekend and weeklong sessions; The Eleventh Hour Series is offered every Wednesday; the Prairie Lights bookstore, home to the internationally-known "Live form Prairie Lights" reading series, is only minutes away.

Two tips from the website:

  • "When choosing a workshop, resist the temptation to place yourself as a writer. Rather, place the work you want to focus on in your time here."
  • "If you find choosing among so many workshops dizzying, you might ask yourself: 'What do I want to accomplish in my week/weekend in Iowa City? What do I want to carry home and into my writing next year?'”

Read more about the Iowa Summer Writing Festival here.

Have you attended a conference, workshop, residency, or class? We'd like to hear about your experience. Email us at lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com.

The Literary Mama Blog Editor searches for mama-centric news you can use — including information about publishing opportunities and literacy efforts; essays and writing prompts that motivate and inspire; and announcements about events, classes, and workshops. The current blog editor is Rudri Patel; read her bio here.

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