Writing throws a festival

BY BRETT KARLAN | JULY 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa Summer Writing Festival consists mostly of lectures and workshops in which writers from around the world learn and fine-tune their craft.

But that doesn’t mean participants can’t have a bit of fun.

The festival, now in its 27th year, also hosts a series of open-mike readings in various venues around Iowa City throughout the summer. These events allow festival writers to share their work in an informal setting; they are free and open to the public.

“We try to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere,” said Mary Hickman, a program assistant with the program. “Everyone is invited to come … and you get to hear participants read a wide variety of work.”

The readings take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays, starting in June and running through July. The last Wednesday reading will occur at 7 p.m. July 24 at Beadology Iowa, 220 E. Washington St. Two more  readings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday and July 27 at the Haunted Bookshop, 203 N. Linn St.

“These readings allow us an opportunity to help support the artistic endeavors of the University of Iowa,” said Karen Kubby, co-owner of Beadology, which is in its fourth year of hosting the event. “It’s a wonderful community-engagement opportunity.”

Hickman, who is in charge of organizing the Wednesday-evening readings, also stressed the feeling of community that these events engender in participants and spectators.

“There’s this great big open room in the back of Beadology, and Karen [Kubby] sets up all these tables with tablecloths and candles,” she said. “Everyone there gets to feel this kind of great togetherness.”

Nialle Sylvan, the owner of the Haunted Bookshop, noted the variety of writers who have read during the two years she has hosted the open-mike events.

“We get to hear a startling variety of work; for example, someone will talk about their childhood in the 1940s, followed by a feminist poet, followed by really metaphysically speculative fiction about time travel,” she said. “It allows the audience to get a sort of cross section of what interests writers right now.”

Sylvan also emphasized the communal aspects of the program, noting that the Iowa Summer Writing Festival readings fill a niche that other bookstores that host readings in the area often overlook.

“They provide a community meeting space where people can be exposed to new ideas,” Sylvan said. “You get to enjoy experiences that you weren’t expecting to enjoy.”

Hickam agreed, stressing the uniqueness of the events and of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival more generally.

“During the year, the university offers a lot of formal writing training,” she said. “But during the summer, there are just people sitting on the Ped Mall writing in notebooks. This is part of what makes Iowa City feel like a writing center.”

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