UI student doubles as published author


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Renee Lehr rarely leaves her dorm room without the journal that she got from her parents. The blue composition notebook with an ocean design on its cover holds the thoughts that inspire the young author every day.

Lehr said she chose the UI for its well-reputed writing program, and she will follow the creative-writing track in her undergraduate studies.

She already has published work on her résumé.

"On one hand, I'm just a student at Iowa, and on the other hand I'm one of [the authors], too," she said. "I love it, because it's very humbling."

When Lehr was a freshman in high school, she spent hours working on a writing project that became her novel, Drop the Was. Thousands of handwritten pages cover the coming-of-age story about a young girl who realizes the true colors of her classmates.

"The first draft was raw and cheesy and about high-school drama," Lehr said. "Luckily, it wasn't the version that was submitted."

Very few people read the unfinished first draft of Drop the Was. One of the few friends with whom she shared the story thought it was too good to keep a secret. Without Lehr's knowledge, he submitted the project to a contest at an independent publisher in Texas.

Lehr won the contest and was offered a contract with the publisher. She began to meet with editors and worked on the publication process.

"The biggest struggle for me, at first, was that it felt like they didn't want any of what I had written," Lehr said. "For a while, it was like, this is how you should do it. These were my idea, these were my words, and that's hard when it is something that was so close to my heart."

The book is part of a series of three and is expected to be released in March after editorial setbacks. She will publish the following two novels with a different publisher.

In addition to her fast-moving writing career, Lehr is a member of the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, and she cofounded the nonprofit organization Literary Legacy in Indiana.

"It's based on the idea of service learning," she said. "We teach skills, and then participants can teach those to others."

Lehr and cofounder Kaleb Worthington will host the organization's first seminar this spring in Indiana.

"She's a very involved student," said Lehr's former rhetoric instructor Matthew Gilchrist. "She does service work in her own time, and the class [I taught] was a service-learning course, so her input and contribution was very highly valued."

Kate Aspengren agrees about Lehr's variety of interests. The adjunct assistant professor in theater taught Lehr in the first year seminar Coming of Age in America.

"She is really able to express herself in a unique, creative, and expressive way," Aspengren said. "It's also very clear that she loves to write, and it's a gift that she is definitely grasping."

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