The University of Iowa

Iowa City writing festival draws international crowd

Lawyer by day, 46-year-old Paige Nichols of Lawrence, Kan., has channeled her creative side in the heart of Iowa City for the past three years with the support of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.

"There is a combination of inspiration, practical instruction, and camaraderie," she said while sitting with a new friend from Atlanta. "Other people are living these double lives — having a profession and something else they care about."

Nichols is one of the 1,100 to 1,300 creative people who will make their way through Iowa City's 26th-annual Summer Writing Festival with the hope of improving everything from the word choices in their poetry to the plots of their novels.

In 1987, the festival's first year, participants had nine workshops to choose from. This year, there are 140 weeklong and weekend workshops taught by 75 instructors spanning across various genres. After 26 years, word of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival has spread across all 50 states and every continent.

"We have a woman here who is spending most of the summer with us from Singapore, two ladies from Argentina, a friend of theirs from Chile, folks coming from India, and every state," said festival director Amy Margolis. "We try to make ourselves visible."

The central link among the amateur, aspiring, and successful writers from every corner of the globe is a desire to write and a strong sense of community.

"One thinks of writing as a solitary activity," Margolis said. "And to be able to look up from the page or from the screen at the end of your writing day, or even at the beginning, and have another soul with whom you're simpatico, that's a gift."