A root of excellence

I hid behind a large bush near the front yard of the Dey House for longer than I care to admit.

The house itself did not intimidate me. In fact, I might have walked right past had my daughter Molly not tasked me with a simple, intriguing, terrifying challenge.

“There’s an author Q&A,” she said. “You should go.”

Easy for her to say. She is a graduate student at the Iowa Writers Workshop. She belongs in the Dey house, and among its long list of astonishingly talented writers.

Already this semester she has attended readings and Q&As by John Irving, Garth Greenwell, Ada Zhang, Mary Jo Bang, AM Homes, Gayatri Spivak and Ross Gay.

She would have gone to the Q&A by poet D.A. Powell this past Friday, but she was recovering from some minor surgery. So she sent me, her temporary nurse, instead.

I arrived early, hid behind that accommodating bush, gave myself a pep talk, texted my sisters, gave myself another stern little speech and then marched on in.

Even with my dawdling, I was one of the first to arrive.

“Turns out writers don’t operate under Lombardi time,” I texted Molly — the first of 26 texts I would send her in the hour that followed.

Eventually, the room filled and D.A. Powell took his seat. He chatted a bit and told some funny stories. And then, he shared some gems.

“Poetry is a form of magic,” he said. “Right now we’re in a universe of disinformation, We need authenticity, believability and truth with a capital T.”

“Poetry can do two things really well. It can help you remember important things and give it value, and it can help you escape when life is untenable.”

I sat in that room, lined with books written by so many incredible authors, and listened to one of them share his wisdom with a room full of people whose work will eventually make its way onto those bookshelves. It occurred to me that a true root of excellence in one person is the generosity of another.

Imagine spending your days among talented people eager to share their knowledge and their work with you!

I logged a lot of miles walking through the University of Iowa these past few days, and I think it’s no accident that the campus is full of bridges. They offer links between students and teachers, letters and science, authors and readers, nature and technology, stadiums and children’s hospitals, politics and poetry, magic and the mundane.

I’m grateful for the time I spent at the University of Iowa, for the inspiration and education it offered me in the few days I spent there and for the home its giving my daughter for the next couple of years.

This modest building has given birth to winners of Pulitzer and Nobel
prizes, six recent U.S. Poets Laureate and an astonishing list of writers. No wonder I was nervous to step in!
The campus is full of bridges — metaphorical and real. Can you find me standing on this one?
The bridges connect two sides of the campus and its current students with generations who have gone before.
Letters and Science…
…Football stadiums and children’s hospitals. (At the end of the first quarter of every home game, the people inside the football stadium on the left turn and wave to the patients in the children’s hospital on the right. It’s one of the coolest college football traditions.)
I saw this message on one of the many staircases I climbed and it seemed apropos too.

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