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Peter Hedges to read

BY TOMMY MORGAN JR. | APRIL 15, 2010 7:30 AM

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Writing can often come in cycles of productivity and inaction.

For Iowa-native Peter Hedges, the cycles come in genres, novels, plays, and films.

He will read from his latest novel, The Heights, at 7 p.m. today in the Iowa City Public Library’s Meeting Room A, 123 S. Linn St. Admission is free.

“[Hedges] has some sort of inborn talent. He didn’t have to go to the Writers’ Workshop to get his abilities,” said Paul Ingram of Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., which is sponsoring the event.

“He knows what story is, and he knows what funny is, and he knows how people talk. Those are really, really good things for a writer to have.”

The Heights is the story of Tim and Kate Welch, a middle-class couple living in the otherwise upscale Brooklyn Heights. Amid the cast of characters in the book is the city itself, which plays a distinct role.

“[Brooklyn Heights is] this remarkable place,” Hedges said in describing where he lives. “In many respects, it’s a small town. Just a Brooklyn Bridge away from one of the great cities in the world. It just seemed like a terrific place to test a marriage.”

For Hedges, who grew up in West Des Moines, home seems to play an important part in his writing. His first novel, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, takes place in the fictional Endora, Iowa, a small town similar to the ones the author said he missed when he moved to New York.

“It’s not that I didn’t miss West Des Moines, but I always kept thinking about those small towns where my grandparents lived. I was drawn to writing about those towns,” he said. “I frequently went back to Iowa, got in the car, and drove to any small town, and soaked up the feel.”

In addition to his titles of novelist and playwright, Hedges is also an acclaimed screenwriter, having written the adaptation of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and cowritten that of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy. He also wrote and directed Pieces of April and cowrote and directed Dan in Real Life.

“Novel writing is at times a rather lonely act, and much of the time, I enjoy the solitude that writing novels affords,” he said. “But it’s also pretty fantastic once in a while to go to creative war with a bunch of people you admire and tell a story on film.”

Hedges, who originally trained as an actor, was drawn to film but didn’t find a way to break into the medium until he was approached to adapt Gilbert Grape. Adapting a book, especially his own, presented unique problems for him — he was a first-time screenwriter when he wrote the screenplay.

“With a novel, you can’t film every moment,” the author said. “It would be a 20-hour movie if you did, so you have to exercise a very rigorous editorial muscle.”

The challenges, however, were worth it for Hedges.

“Yes, it was difficult,” he said. “But everything worthwhile in my life has been difficult.”


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