A Party & a Love Affair
I’m reading Give Us a Kiss by Daniel Woodrell (of Winter’s Bone fame; in fact, it was the film that introduced me to him). The novel isn’t autobiographical, but Woodrell does populate it with his history, including memories (real or imagined, it hardly matters) of time spent in Iowa City at the Workshop. Woodrell enshrines Iowa City at its most… intoxicating:
We’d met at a party, too, only it was a very large and nasty party, lots of fun. That had been in Iowa City (Fuck City in that era), Iowa, grad-school days. The party took place in an old sagging Victorian, a former bordello of many rooms, on Clinton Street next to the railroad tracks. [That’s right about here, just south of the post office; I suspect Woodrell moved the building he was really referring to.] One of the rooms had been mine. Over two hundred people were partying in the house, and I’d been tracking Lizbeth for quite a while before I edged through the crowd and got next to her. She was in the poetry workshop, I knew that, and she made the saliva sizzle on my tongue. I got next to her finally up against a wall in the formal dining room, a huge open space crammed with dancers who made the windows rattle. Lizbeth held a pint of the Glenlivet and stared at one of the faculty honchos who was trying to wrangle a dance with a girl poet who didn’t like boys, and he was quite comical, charging his boyish charm relentlessly into the stone wall of her sexual preference.
Lizbeth eventually took her eyes from him, looked at me briefly, a mere glance, then said, “You think I have to fuck him to get a fellowship?”
Sex, a wild party, alcohol (and later drugs), a lecherous professor: These tropes to describe Iowa City are bread and butter for Workshop graduates. Surely it’s stuff like this as much as any professional reputation City of Literature yadda yadda that keeps writers coming here. A party and a love affair is what the Workshop gives you, and that, so it goes, is enough. No need to contradict me—I know I’m right about this.