Before Lena Dunham took the stage at the Englert for her sold-out book tour event on Tuesday, the writer and creator of HBO’s Girls was meeting with a select group of Iowa City writers: twelve aspiring student writers from Tate High School.
The program was arranged by Dunham and the Iowa Youth Writing Project (IYWP). During the encounter, everyone, including Dunham, participated in a creative writing exercise that involved writing about a woman they loved.
“It was a discussion about writing, and we actually got to write with her and share stories. It was a very personal experience,” said Katherine Guevara, one of the Tate High students who participated in the activity with Dunham.
The workshop with the Tate High students came about when Lena Dunham and her sister Grace Dunham, a poet who also participated in the meeting with students, reached out to the Iowa Youth Writing Project (IYWP), a non-profit group founded by Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduates which attempts to empower the greater Iowa community through writing projects.
Dunham approached the IYWP to ask about a roundtable discussion with students. “She specifically wanted students who were young. Ones who didn’t necessarily consider themselves professional track writers, but had used writing to get through experiences and marginalizations,” explained Mallory Hellman, a Workshop graduate and University of Iowa instructor affiliated with the IYWP.
Tate students participating in the workshop described writing as an outlet for dealing with emotional problems and self-expression.
“Writing was really important to me because I have never had anyone to express myself to,” said Guevara. “I’ve struggled with depression for years. It was the the only way I could express myself, let loose and escape from everything and everyone.”
Mickey Adams, another student from Tate High, also described writing as useful in dealing with depression as well as means to express himself creatively. He writes skits for his drag persona as a creative outlet. Adams enjoyed the intimate, authentic nature of meeting with Dunham.
“During the writing, she was just there in the corner…She wasn’t taking charge or anything. She was just there to support us. It felt really real,” Adams said.
McKayla Woodall expressed similar sentiments about the encounter with Dunham. “I felt like she was my best friend. I really did. I felt like we could go have coffee or go to the mall. I can’t even explain how wonderful she was. In the hour we got to spend with her, I feel like I knew her entire life.”
Through Dunham’s support, HBO has pledged $5,000 to the IYWP. The program hopes to use the money to improve and expand their outreach programs, including the one they operate at Tate High.