Iowa City

Prairie Lights

This photo is by Ebb and Flow Photography, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-license.

This photo is by Ebb and Flow Photography, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-license.

Written by The Austin Review Staff 

Prairie Lights is a lot of things. It's the color of bookstores I was dragged into as a kid in a town colored and weathered the same grey as Iowa City. It's also, like the town that holds it, at once charming (the walls feel close and there is something almost about everything) and well-worn (the stairs have clearly been climbed by a million (or, you know, all three) Iowa Writers Workshop students on the way to decades of readings).

A man in a peacoat and I dance the familiar dance of Middle Western politeness around each other, each struggling to get out of the other's way as we brush the books with our eyes and look for we-know-not-what. The way people stand in front of bookshelves everywhere in the world is reenacted here like ritual. Above my head, authors (who have been on my to-read list for a year) chat about the bar they're going to later, and I am looking at the books they wrote tucked in the Poetry corner of Prairie Lights' lower floor. It's surreal. It's a dream.

 And this is the dream of every bookshelf spectator, staring at a row of un-cracked spines: Reading titles with the knowledge or hopeful expectation that their authors are making jokes above them. That when they get home and hold the object in their hands--some dollar amount worth of paper--that everything could be about to change.  

The poet says: You can't turn a corner in this town without running into a poet. And I think about the cadence of the sentence, about the sentences surrounding me, about the coffee shop up stairs full of literary journals and coffee cups on antique saucers and unconventionally beautiful grad students falling in love with books and each other and writing papers or notwriting papers.

After a reading, writers stand around drinking rosé to celebrate. You know, celebrate writing; a celebrating that feels strange in this place only for its total lack of strangeness.