5Q Interview: Leigh M. Marshall, MFA Candidate Iowa Playwrights Workshop

The Writing University conducts a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the various University of Iowa writing programs. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.

Today we are speaking with Leigh M. Marshall, a writer/actor from San Francisco, California pursuing her MFA at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop

1. Do you have a plan or project in mind for the current year?

I presented two new plays in the Iowa New Play Festival, which ran April 30-May 5: I Am Pretty Bird (May 2, 8:00pm & 9:00pm) and Kant in Vegas (May 4, 1:30pm). I Am Pretty Bird is a one-woman doom metal show in verse. Kant in Vegas is a comedy at the intersection of critical thought & unchecked desire. Outside of the theater, I’m working as a writer & researcher on the nonfiction book How to Be an Adult by New York Times-bestselling author Julie Lythcott-Haims – it will be published by Henry Holt in 2019.  

2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

Ideas for plays tend to incubate in my mind for a long time – and then, when I have the time and resources (and often the fire of a deadline), I can write the whole play quickly. I print a draft, edit by hand in a strong color, revise my digital draft with the handwritten edits, repeat. The writing process is one of simultaneous excavation and elevation. As I write, I need to take up space. I need to be alone. I fill my thinking with all the questions I have no answers to, keep myself open to lightning. Then, on a daily basis, I keep pen-and-ink notebooks...

3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

While it’s not strictly research, to fuel my inspiration for Pretty Bird, I’ve been spending time with Save Twilight by Julio Cortazar and Sonnets to Orpheus by Rainer Maria Rilke. For pleasure right now, I find myself returning to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – there’s nothing like having your mind in a canefield when you’re riding public transportation.

4. What is something the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and your work?

I have been writing all my life – I’m in the process of unpacking of my vast library, and I’m discovering stories & poems I would write as a kid slipped between the pages of books. I have been acting for my whole life, too – my playwriting emerged from a synthesis of my poetry and my acting. I’m Shakespeare-trained & love the superhuman challenges of classical acting, and I also tremendously enjoy the opportunity to act in straight-off-the-presses work by the wonderful writers & artists here in Iowa City.

5. Tell us a bit about where you are from -- what are some details you would like to share about your home?

There are days when San Francisco is beautiful, and then there are days when San Francisco is so beautiful that it looks like a painting. When you go, I recommend climbing the steepest hill you can find so you feel the full impact of seeing both the Pacific Ocean and the Bay, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge, Alcatraz and Treasure Island, sailboats and tankards, skyscrapers and redwoods. Spend at least a day in City Lights Bookstore. And definitely eat all the foods.       

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Thank you Leigh!

Leigh M. Marshall is a writer/actor from San Francisco, California pursuing her MFA at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. Her plays include Laterality, Kant in Vegas, Marat's Dead, and I Am Pretty Bird. She is an alumna of Stanford University & American Conservatory Theater. The most fun thing is cooking Italian food with fellow MFA writers & directors.  

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