The literary side of Mission Creek Festival


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As the end of Mission Creek draws near, the Iowa City literati can still look forward a book fair, free beer, and a day of entertainment.

The Mission Creek Festival will present a star-studded literary Saturday at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., starting at 2 p.m. It will include a press fair with free beer tasting from the New Belgium Brewery, readings by Colson Whitehead, Eula Biss, and Kiki Petrosino, followed by the critically appraised Literary Death Match. Admission is free.

“It’s as close to a musical lineup for literary readings as we have [in Iowa City],” said Joe Tiefenthaler, a Mission Creek associate producer and International Writing program assistant.

The book fair and beer tasting will starts at 2 p.m. and will run until 7 p.m. in the background of the other literary goings-on. Featured press includes the Iowa Review, Hobart, Opium Magazine, POETRY, Wag’s Revue, MAKE Magazine, and others.

“[These publications] offer a different atmosphere … often specializing in new writers, online forums, and handmade books,” Tiefenthaler said.

Mission Creek co-organizers Tanner Illingworth and Andre Perry think the featured publications are in line with the DIY nature of the festival.

“The writers [participating in Mission Creek] are across-the-board energetic and young,” said Perry, 32. “They do it all. They produce essays and books, they attend conferences, they run their own presses.”

Biss, a favorite daughter of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program, fits all the criteria.

“I think even before I had my own press, I felt extremely grateful to the editors to the small presses who published my own book,” she said. “I felt I had a debt to pay to the community, to bring out some books that are interesting and important … books unusual in ways that might prevent them from being published.”

Although no stranger to Iowa City, Biss will make her first appearance at Mission Creek on Saturday. She will likely read from her latest collection of essays, Notes from No Man’s Land.

“I love coming back to Iowa City,” she said. “I miss it. I like the Co-op, the atmosphere.”

Despite the big names on Saturday — such as Whitehead and Biss — the organizers mainly want to inject fun back into attending readings. And Literary Death Match promises to be just the answer.

According to cofounder Todd Zuniga, Literary Death Match is “’Def Jam’ meets ‘American Idol’ meets ‘Double Dare.’ ”

Six writers from the graduate writing programs, two from each genre (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction), will compete in front of a panel of non-literary judges. Two rounds with three contestants determine two finalists.

“The finale undercuts the competitiveness,” Zuniga, 35, said. “It will be absurd and hilarious. Expect frivolity, inebriation, and generally fantastic literature.”

The judges, Ben Hale, Patrick Tape Fleming of Poison Control Center, and one of the ladies from the Les Dames du Burlesque group, will ask finalists to perform funny, strange, and/or challenging tasks.

“It’s not about losing and winning, it’s about listening to great stories and great poems,” Zuniga said with a jovial confidence. “I promise you the best time of your life.”

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