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In-person readings return to Prairie Lights

John Scalzi

Thursday, March 24 at 7 p.m., Prairie Lights, Iowa City, Free


Kathleen Johnson, Prairie Lights’ events coordinator (L), and Jan Weissmiller, co-owner of Prairie Lights, pose for a portrait on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa. Prairie Lights is returning to in-person readings this week with John Scalzi’s new book, ‘The Kaiju Preservation Society.’ — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

There was a time, though it seems so very long ago now, when you could count on Prairie Lights to host in-person events with authors on an fairly aggressive schedule. When the pandemic put those events on indefinite hiatus, it felt as though one of the defining features of the City of Literature had been stolen from readers and writers alike.

But this week, in-person events resume at the beloved bookstore with a reading by science fiction writer John Scalzi on Thursday, March 24, at 7 p.m. Scalzi, a decorated SF author who enjoys a wide readership, will read from his latest novel, The Kaiju Preservation Society. Masks will be required for all attendees at the free event.

Scalzi’s event ended up with pride of place in the Prairie Lights schedule due to a publicist’s well-time call.

“We had decided that we would try to start live readings again this spring after spring break,” explained Prairie Lights co-owner Jan Weissmiller via email. “John Scalzi’s publicist contacted us about a late March reading and it seemed like that would be a great one to begin with.” The author has visited the store a number of times in the past.

Despite being unable to host in-person events for the past couple of years, Prairie Lights did continue connecting authors and audiences virtually.

“We have certainly been glad to have been able to do virtual events throughout the pandemic,” Weissmiller wrote. “We have been able to host some pretty wonderful authors that might not have travelled here. John Grisham did two virtual events with us and he has never been here in person. We were also able to host some collaborative events that we couldn’t have done easily in person. Iowa City native and nationally acclaimed poet Joanna Kilnk did a reading from her most recent collection, Nightfields, in which 15 other well-known poets Zoomed in to read from the collection with her. And just recently we hosted Tara Westover, author of the bestselling memoir Educated, in conversation with the actress Natalie Portman.”

The virtual events do have some features that make them appealing.

“The conversations on Zoom can seem more focused than the audience Q and As at the in-person events. And the informality of the Zoom events as they’re broadcast from living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms can have a certain down home appeal,” Weissmiller wrote. “That being said, there is nothing like the electricity in the room at an actual event. Meeting an author in person creates a lifelong memory whereas watching a reading on Zoom may create very little memory at all. And, of course, the book sales generated by Zoom events are spare to say the least.”

Nevertheless, Weissmiller anticipates the store will continue to offer virtual experiences with authors, including hybrid events.

“Our website will list both [virtual and in-person events], and we will continue to post recordings of the Zoom events on our Facebook page. We are experimenting with a hybrid model. The John Scalzi event will not be hybrid, but in the future we may do some of our events that way.”

Weissmiller is excited for the return of in-person readings, but she is also thankful for the ways in which the literary community has stood by Prairie Lights during this challenging time.

“We are very grateful for the support we have had from readers, writers and publishers throughout this pandemic!”


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