The 2019 Mission Creek Festival includes, as always, a robust literary lineup. Many of the featured authors have a connection to Iowa City. Of these, four have grabbed my attention.
Sabrina Orah Mark
Visual Poetry Synthesizer
Saturday, April 6, 4 p.m. — 7 S Linn St
Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum Sabrina Orah Mark pushes the boundaries of language and meaning in the title story of her collection Wild Milk:
“Your child,” says Miss Birdy, “is a phenomenon.” I blush. “Oh, thank you. We too think he is very special,” I say. I want to ask about the poncho, but Miss Birdy goes on. “I mean, your child is a mana mana,” says Miss Birdy. “What I mean to say is that your child is a real man.”
Miss Birdy isn’t done trying to describe the child — and Mark isn’t done describing a bizarre but somehow coherent situation in which a person and a blizzard might be one and the same and a parent’s children might multiply over the course of days. The story is short, but it lingers in the mind.
Lit Walk Round #2
Friday, April 5 at 6 p.m. — Revival
Saturday, April 4 at 2:30 p.m. — Prairie Lights
Mesha Maren lived in Iowa City while her partner was enrolled in a University of Iowa writing program. She composed much of her debut novel, Sugar Run, in the Iowa City Public Library.
The book is written in a style both beautiful and fraught. There is an underlying sadness (which sometimes edges toward desperation) on nearly every page. Here, a character sees her parents for the first time since her release from prison:
There was something strangely sad about their beauty, there in that rundown house at the end of Murdock Street. Their loveliness, it seemed, had always taunted, promised them something, but nothing came, and oddly, no matter how drunk, how fucked and crooked they went, the beauty stayed.
Much of that description might be applied to the book itself and its cast of characters, desperate to recognize and defend the fragile beauty in their lives in the face of much ugliness and sorrow.
Lit Walk Round #2
Friday, April 5 at 6 p.m. — RSVP
Susan Steinberg is an acclaimed writer of both experimental fiction and nonfiction. This semester, she is a visiting professor in the UI Nonfiction Writing Program. Steinberg’s interest in issues of syntax and other structural concerns inform a sharp essay about punctuation (and much else, despite its brevity):
For a long time, I didn’t understand punctuation. I mean I understood end marks. And I knew a few things about commas. Like how they could separate words in a list. Or two independent clauses with a conjunction. But that was about it.
The essay is a study in the power of the declarative.
Lit Walk Round #2
Friday, April 5 at 6 p.m — RSVP
Gabriel Houck is a graduate of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program, but is known for his fiction. His 2015 story “Funeral for the Old Family” offers well-wrought noir complete with a deftly delivered surprise. Its ending packs a punch due to clever misdirection.
Here, the narrator first encounters two bags with undefined contents on the floor of the bar where he works:
The bags are black plastic. There are two of them, 30-gallon deals, double-knotted tightly at the top and stretched taut around a pair of large, oblong shapes on the floor. JR looks at me and I look at him and then we look at the bags, each of us guessing at what might be inside. We’re standing in Zeke’s kitchen, on curling linoleum, in darkness except for the thin sideways light from the window above the sink.
Each of these four authors is more than a storyteller content with spinning a good yarn. They are attuned to the possibilities of language — to clarify ideas, to dazzle with flair, to upend our expectations and to astonish us.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 260.