A crew of Coe Review staffers, myself included, headed down to Iowa City for the annual Mission Creek Festival on Saturday the 8th.
First stop: The Mill.
Stepping into what seemed like a small restaurant at first, the warmth of the sunny April day and the milling mass of people created a somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere. Around a corner and down a hall, the restaurant opened into a larger, wood-panelled space full of tables with vendors and excited readers. The excitement of the small press book fair made up for the elbow-bumping, humid environment.
A variety of presses and people conversed with one another, selling books and reuniting with old friends. More than once I witnessed hugs and enthusiastic chatter of friends catching up since the last Mission Creek. Navigating this crowd of book lovers was somehow a cross between middle school book fairs, choreographed chaos, and a family reunion. There is something to be said for the literature community in Iowa City. It is like an extended family, complete with the friendly uncles you see twice a year and the kooky cousin that doesn’t know when a conversation is over. I myself even unexpectedly ran into a couple of acquaintances, though this was my first year attending the book fair.
Once our bags were full with new poetry collections and flyers from several intriguing presses (like The Rumpus and Forklift, Ohio), we left The Mill in search of lunch. En route, our faculty advisor, Gordon Mennenga, gave an impromptu guided tour of downtown Iowa City like only a long-time resident can. He led us to The Oasis for some delicious falafel and gyros, served up in a tiny restaurant that immediately reminded me of New York. Bellies full, we headed toward Prairie Lights for our next adventure.
If you haven’t been into Prairie Lights, I highly recommend putting that on your bucket list. A bookstore with the kind of literary spirit one could only dream of, Prairie Lights sports a fantastic cafe and three floors of books in just about any genre or field. I swear this isn’t an advertisement. I am simply passionate about this store and supporting independent bookshops.
Our last group activity of the time was attending a panel on writing in the age of Trump, a pertinent topic if I’ve ever heard one. The panelists were all writers and editors from Buzzfeed, a diverse bunch of folks with quite a lot to say on the subject. They spoke on writing as activism, growing up a little bit different in small town America (many of the panelists were queer and/or of color), and on self care. I particularly enjoyed what they had to say about sustaining ourselves as not only writers and activists, but as human beings who need to recuperate and recharge to keep fighting where we are needed. All in all an insightful panel, I enjoyed ending our time at the festival with these passionate people.
With a quick stop to enjoy a cookies ‘n’ cream cupcake from Molly’s Cupcakes, our crew met up to drive back to Cedar Rapids. A busy day and plenty of sun later, we were all quite tired, but buzzed with energy enough to strike up thoughtful conversation on the return. Or maybe that was the cupcake.
by Skylor Andrews