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Spotlight Iowa City: A passion for getting better

BY DANA JUDAS | NOVEMBER 09, 2009 7:20 AM

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Andre Perry is a modest guy.

The 32-year-old is responsible for bringing the Mission Creek Festival to Iowa City. He’s a Princeton University graduate who friends say doesn’t realize how great of a writer he is.

But for Perry, he can always be better.

“Everything I wrote last week sucks,” he said. “And the show I played last night? It was crap.”

Perry, in addition to his musical and writing endeavors, also works as the Mill’s booking agent and serves as a UI undergraduate adviser. He’s full of energy and always ready to sleep by the end of a long day.

At his home amid an old-time record player and burgundy leather couch, Perry, a lanky man dressed simply in a plain T-shirt and jeans, described writing as his foremost passion.

“I have a lot of activities, but writing is what gets most of my time,” the Washington, D.C., native said.

Perry had always loved writing — that is, until Princeton “ruined” it.

“My first creative teacher [at Princeton] wasn’t very motivating for people who needed motivating nor did she encourage experimentation or challenging the form of fiction,” he said. “I never got the sense that anyone was teaching me how to write. Nonetheless, I wish someone had been there to nudge some basic skills into my head.”

Perry didn’t want other students to feel the same way about their teachers. He eventually landed a job teaching writing to middle-school students, drilling in the basic elements of the craft.

But after four years, Perry began to itch to return to writing on a full-time basis and started applying to graduate programs. His father suggested the UI as an option; Perry didn’t think he’d get in, but he was accepted into the Nonfiction Writing Program.

Though Perry wasn’t overly confident, Robin Hemley, the director of the program, described him as a strong writer from the very beginning.

“He was a terrific student,” Hemley said. “He is exciting. He has a lot of strong ideas and is very innovative as a thinker. It’s always enjoyable for someone teaching to have a student who keeps you on your toes.”

In 2005, shortly after Perry’s admission into the program, the creative wheels began to turn. Perry and Jeff Ray, a friend from San Francisco and founder of the West Coast’s Mission Creek Festival, envisioned bringing the idea — which includes music and literature events — to the Midwest. Perry was on board for anything that fused both music and writing.

Craig Eley, an assistant producer of the Midwest’s Mission Creek Festival, points out that although there are many dedicated individuals involved in organizing the festival, Perry is responsible for bringing it to fruition.

“There are a lot of people who have a lot of ideas, a lot of great people with great ideas on how to make Iowa City better, but then don’t follow through,” he said. “[Perry] will see it through.”

Perry hopes to eventually teach writing at a university — and not like that Princeton professor he had early on — and work on writing another book.

Finding the motivation to keep producing is challenging, but Perry has a simple motto.

“I just want to get better. I can be better … I hope.”


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