Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Paradise for writing nerds

One of my favorite things about living in Iowa City is the number of authors who visit to promote their books and read their work. In my two years here, I've been able to meet some of my favorite writers, including Jonathan Lethem, Dave Eggers, Jeffrey Eugenides, James Ellroy, and Denis Johnson. I know if I lived in a big city, I could probably see all of these writers, and probably many more. But in a rather small, midwestern college town, this seems particularly special.

The Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa brings in a lot of writers, many of whom studied in the program. (It's the reason I moved here too. I'd love to come back someday and revel in my glory.) Whenever a graduate comes back to read from a novel he or she was very likely working on while studying here, it's an exciting moment. Well, at least for us writers.

Last night at Prairie Lights bookstore, Curtis Sittenfeld read from her debut novel, Prep. (Rather than try to describe the novel - of which I've only read 10 pages - here's a description from her website. Okay, it's about a girl who leaves Indiana to attend prep school in Massachusetts.) Sittenfeld's a writer I've admired for some time, due to her essays in Salon, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. (I wrote an entry about a hilarious essay she wrote for the Times Book Review almost two months ago. Go on, search those archives; I won't mind.) Prep is currently #11 on the Times Best-Seller List, and it's been in stores for just over a month. Not bad.

The reading was also part of the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on radio station WSUI, which means Sittenfeld had the pleasure of being interviewed by the bizarre Julie Englander, who asked insightful questions such as what was it like having a name that many perceive as a man's name. Englander also asked Sittenfeld to compare the prep school experience to public school. But since Sittenfeld attended prep school, not public school, she really couldn't answer the question. One would think Englander might've realized that before asking. But I digress...

Sittenfeld apparently made a lot of friends during her time in Iowa City because I was standing in line behind every single one of them while waiting to get my book signed. Considering everyone else was getting a hug and a 5-10 minute reunion, I was a little disappointed when I only received an autograph. But I got to tell her that she should make her agent shop around a collection of her nonfiction work. She seemed to think I'd be the only one who'd read it, but I doubt it. (Sittenfeld was either too modest to tell me that most of those articles and essays are on her website or she'd forgotten about it.)

How often do you get to chat with someone whose work you really admire? On nights like this, I don't regret moving to Iowa City at all.