A Literary Rookie at Mission Creek
We rolled out of Columbus on a dreary, drizzly Thursday morning, the car overflowing with six boxes of books and our signature, sequined table décor. Eight hours sounds like a long time, but it flies by when you’re not driving (thanks, Eric). Our usual work playlist and a Twitter AMA filled our time as we drove through the cornfields and “JESUS LOVES YOU” signs of Ohio through the cornfields and “I HAVE A GUN” signs of western Illinois.
Before heading to Mission Creek, I was very intimidated by the idea of meeting these people that I deem to be at least three levels cooler than me. Two Dollar Radio is my only experience working in publishing and my writing hasn’t gone any further than an undergraduate writing workshop. My insecurities were immediately dismissed as soon as I met Carola Dibbell. I like people who hug upon introduction; Carola hugged me. She insisted we grab a drink immediately and I knew we were in good company.
After a few drinks and veggie burgers at Shorty’s, Eric and Eliza headed to the Black Ocean 10 year Anniversary Party at the Yacht Club and Carola and I dropped in for the last hour of an event with Ghost World director, Terry Zwigoff, where we linked up with her friend, artist/actress/writer, Lisa Jane Persky. While I failed to make it back to the Black Ocean party in time for the readings, I caught the end of Yonatan Gat, who melted a part of my brain that has yet to recover. I walked down the street to Gabe’s where YACHT, one of my favorite bands, put on a killer show. We weren’t quite ready to call it a night, so we took the party over to a little bar called the Fox Head, where Eliza and I kicked ass in pool (though, Colin Winnette and Jordan Bass may disagree).
Luckily, events start a little late (usually after 11am) so it was forgivable that Friday was off to a groggy start. The Iowa Writer’s Workshop hosted a Q&A with Eric and Bennett Sims, author of A Questionable Shape. We followed Bennett to a restaurant with handmade noodles where we ate enough to catapult us back to the hotel for a nap. The Two Dollar Radio reading was held at a darling little shop called the White Rabbit at 6pm. With the help of a fairly useless map given to us by the front desk at the hotel, Carola and I made our way to the reading. Upon realizing we still had some time to kill, we ducked into the nearest bar so Carola could have her traditional pre-reading whiskey. We ran into Colin Winnette and dragged him into the bar with us.
We made it to the reading at 6:01. Carola read first and I finally got to hear Inez’s voice. It was really remarkable. Carola was excellent, so animated and engaging, I could feel Inez’s excitement as the tubes containing her clones lit up. Colin read from Haints Stay next. It was my second time hearing him read but the magic was still there. Every word is alive when Colin reads. Finally, it was Mark’s turn. I have to admit, I have yet to finish Square Wave (it's an intimidating book). He chose a passage from the middle of the book and left me wanting more. Normally the use of the word "whore" would deter me from reading further but I'm excited to give it a go. Square Wave is top priority on my “to read” list.
After our reading, we followed Colin to his second reading with Spork Press and Action Books at The Motley Cow. The reading was odd, each reader was introduced as someone else. Admittedly, I have not been to many readings. Therefore, I had never been to a reading where a translator was used. Kim Yideum, a Korean poet, stepped up to the microphone wearing an oversized, jet black, fur cape. Her translator, whose name I unfortunately do not remember, wore a spiked headband. Whether the contrast in clothing was intentional, I cannot be sure, but as someone who frequently assigns themes to outfits, I like to think it was. Kim would read a bit in Korean, and then the translator would read in English. This was my first introduction to Kim’s poetry so with the added layer of a translator, I was very much in the dark. Kim’s voice was quiet and coaxing, so I didn’t expect her words would punch me in the face once they were translated. The poems included blood, teeth, rats on pillows, cities full of condom machines; this woman dug her nails right into my skin until she reached my heart. Clear and cutting as glass, Kim Yideum’s grotesque poetry has been haunting me for days. I ordered Cheer Up, Femme Fatale from Action Books the day I got home from Mission Creek and I suggest you do the same.
Saturday, it was time for the Book Fair. Eric always wears a Two Dollar Radio shirt when we’re working and sometimes when we are at events. I usually don’t do this because I think it’s kind of dorky, like a band wearing its own shirt while they play a show. While Eric has never encouraged me to wear one of our shirts to sell books, I for some reason thought that maybe I should wear one. So I did. I spent the first hour of the book fair arguing with myself about if I should jet back to the hotel and change. I know it’s not a big deal but when you’re surrounded by interesting, artistic people, it's easy to fall into a pattern of constant self-assessment. After my second Bloody Mary I decided that wearing a Two Dollar Radio shirt while selling Two Dollar Radio books was so uncool, that it was actually very cool.
We essentially spent all of Saturday at The Mill. After the Book Fair, we ate dinner there and stayed for Saul Williams. While I’ve been a fan of YACHT for some time, the performances at The Mill on Saturday night were by far my favorite. First, we heard the poetry of Iowa residents, Akwi Nji and Lovar Davis Kidd. Akwi performed a piece about raising her daughters that made my throat hurt from holding back tears. Then, we saw Psalm One, a dope, hip-hop goddess from Chicago. Psalm One performed with Angelenuh, who are both part of the thoughtful/vulgar group Rapperchicks. Saul Williams closed out the night taking us all to church. He seemed a little unfocused and rambled here and there, seemingly without a set list for the night. For me, that just made his performance all the more authentic and intimate.
When I left for Iowa City, the number one question people asked me was “why the fuck are you going to Iowa City?” It was a valid question, considering most of those people have never been there and probably assumed Iowa City was just another Midwestern city similar to the one we live in. While my view of Iowa City is through the rose-colored glasses of Mission Creek, I can tell by the people who run the festival and live there all the other days of the year, that Iowa City is an intelligent and creative city. I think Mission Creek is just one way to bring the already well-recognized literary scene in Iowa City to the forefront.
The whole weekend, people kept saying “Iowa City is so affordable,” like it was a large factor that went into them deciding to live in Iowa City. Lots of cities are affordable; Columbus is affordable. I didn’t understand what people were talking about until I started drinking. On Friday, before seeing San Fermin at Gabe’s, we (our group at the time being Eric, Eliza, Carola, Mark, and I) decided to grab a drink at the bar on the ground level. Carola and I ordered a beer and a whiskey cocktail, respectively, and the total was $7. “Each?” we asked in unison and exchanged a look that said “that’s so reasonable” and “maybe we should drink here all night.” The second cheapest drink of the weekend was the $4 Bloody Mary’s at The Mill during the Book Fair. I had three because I like to believe that a Bloody Mary doubles as a light breakfast.
While the readings and events were incredible, some of my favorite moments from the trip came from sitting in bars with people I had until then only known from the books they wrote, the publishers they worked for, or Twitter. I was drinking whiskey when I listened to Carola Dibbell and Colin Winnette talk about their writing process, editing, and how to tell if it's all shit. I was drinking a beer when Mark de Silva and I discussed representations of masculinity and analyzed the homo-eroticism of bro-culture unfolding before us. I was drinking a Bloody Mary when Eliza and I discussed the future of education and feminism. Instead of being a “fly on the wall” for these really introspective, creative, productive conversations between accomplished writers and editors I was lucky enough to be a fly on a barstool, sipping whiskey, buzzing with my own questions and ideas. It was in those casual settings where I feel I grew the most creatively, professionally, and personally.