I’ve been at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival for three days, so that means tonight the Festival hosted its Open Mike evening. Down in the basement of the Iowa Memorial Union — a building busy with newly-minted freshmen in orientatation — some 30 of us stood up to read our writing in a common room-coffee house called the Wheelhouse. Reading writing aloud. Yeah, a lot like the practices of the Amherst Writers & Artists, and my Writer’s Workshop.

We read without response, except to hear polite and sincere applause (and get thumbs up from our classmates in the audience). The readers were essayists, memoir writers, poets and novelists, as well as short story writers. Fun language and colorful images rolled by, even through nobody was given more than three minutes to read:

“You can’t be sure you’re happy until you’re dead.” (A poem)

A story of ending a love affair on Valentine’s Day

In a memoir, about an aging father helped by his daughter to renew his driver’s license: “His arms, where muscles used to live like huge wads of gum.”

A love letter to wine, from a student in Doug Goestch’s poetry class.

A love letter to breast cancer, from an 18-year survivor of same.

“She considered which lingerie she should wear, what would fit their mood.”

“Gas flames were humming from the fireplace.”

“Hunger evens out a lot of things.”

We had to sign up to read. I went first this year, because in any other slot I squirm, waiting for my chance to perform. My three minute bit was a revision of an exercise from my workshop group: Choosing a shoe description, at random, and writing for 15 minutes about it. It begins:

Square toed purple slides, stacked heel — high enough to give her calf that come-hither arch. Estrella knew what to wear to turn the boys’ heads.

I said it was from my novel Viral Times, or at least backstory I hoped to squeeze into the book. You can read it as a small PDF file. I was happy to “publish” it for the second time; the first was in that writing group, when I read it aloud.

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