Author Charles Holdefer gets Back in the Game

BY ELLE WIGNALL | JULY 19, 2012 6:30 AM

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Writer and teacher Charles Holdefer will return to Iowa City next week with his latest novel in tow.

"I'm trying to make what I see intelligible," Holdefer said. "I think that's what everyone does. You look at the world and tell yourself a story about it to make it intelligible."

Holdefer will read from and discuss his newest novel, Back in the Game, at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., on July 24 during the final week of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.

"[Back in the Game] is about a guy who fakes his credentials to become an elementary-school teacher and finds himself in a small town in Iowa," Holdefer said. "He starts an affair with the mother of one of his pupils. The mother's husband is a meth addict."

It wasn't a hard decision to set the novel in southern Iowa, Holdefer said.

"It's sort of a coming-home story for me," he said. "I spent a lot of my childhood on an Iowa farm."

Raised in Knoxville, Iowa, Holdefer attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop before moving to France in 1985.

"[The Writers' Workshop] was a good experience, I have tons of memories of it," Holdefer said. "I remember feeling that I was one of the few Iowans there — there was a tendency for people to be from one coast or the other."

After graduating from the program, Holdefer decided to move to France.

"I went to France without the intention that I was going to stay," he said. "It wasn't really part of a plan, but I was allured with being an expatriate writer."

More than 20 years later, Holdefer is still in Europe, teaching at the University of Poitiers in France.

"I've been there long enough now I don't really feel like an expatriate," Holdefer said. "I live there, and that's home, too."

Holdefer has returned this summer to teach a weeklong Novel Fundamentals class in the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Festival Director Amy Margolis said Holdefer has been teaching at the festival for more than 10 years.

"He's been teaching novel courses with us for over 10 years," Margolis said. "He's taught different aspects of the novel for the festival."

Holdefer was originally recommended to teach in the festival by longtime friend, classmate, and fellow author Mary Helen Stefaniak.

"He is a fine and gentle human being who writes very dark stuff and very funny stuff," Stefaniak said.

Traveling back to Iowa in the summers, Holdefer has noticed the changes, and Back in the Game reflects some of what he sees in Iowa now.

"In some respects, Iowa is a fairly polluted state," he said. "Some of the image Iowans like to have of themselves is being close to the earth and rural and pure, and pollution is a major issue."

UI English Professor Bonnie Sunstein said that for many writers, a distance from home is very helpful when writing about home issues.

"I think that your personal geography is a very important part of who you are," Sunstein said. "[Sometimes] you can think better about a place when you're not actually there."

Holdefer said he is glad to be back in Iowa.

"It's curious, but I kind of like the heat," he said. "I miss having a chance to get good and hot."

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