Eighteen years after her first time at the Festival, Amanda Churchill published her first novel.
Monday, February 26, 2024

By Charlotte Brookins 

In 2006, Amanda Churchill traveled from Texas to Iowa City to attend the renowned Iowa Summer Writing Festival. In the years since , she has returned multiple times, citing her first experience there as a formative point in her life, especially when preparing for the release of her debut novel, The Turtle House. 

Portrait of Amanda Churchill
Amanda Churchill

The Turtle House focuses on the intergenerational relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter, moving between pre-World War II Tokyo and late 1990s Texas. The novel, which was inspired by Churchill’s late grandmother, was released on Feb. 20. 

“This event meant so much to me because it gave me a lot of confidence,” says Churchill. “It came at a time when I was just about to start participating in a workshop in my MA at the University of North Texas, which I hadn't done since undergrad.” 

The University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival has occurred on an annual basis since 1987, drawing countless writers from across the United States to come together in Iowa City. The festival is part of the Magid Center for Writing, which is housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

In addition to a variety of workshops held throughout the year, the annual summer event consists of a series of weeklong and weekend sessions held in June and July, with each workshop focusing on a different aspect of creative writing. Classes are taught by local and national writers alike, many of whom have published award-winning work. Registration for spring and summer workshops opens at the end of February. 

"Over and over again, we have witnessed a trajectory similar to Amanda’s with Festival participants,” says Alisa Weinstein, who has been the program coordinator for the Summer Writing Festival for a little over a year. “The Festival encourages people to generate and share new work, develop ongoing projects, and experiment.” 

Portrait of Alisa Weinstein
Alisa Weinstein

Weinstein says she was inspired to join the Festival as an employee because of the creative energy it generates. She also credits much of the event’s success to the sense of human connection created by people from across the nation coming together to share in the joy of writing.  

Churchill says her trajectory as a writer is inextricably linked to her experience at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. 

“I was so nervous about reading my work and letting other people see it,” Churchill explains. “Without the experience, I don’t think I would have been as brave.” 

Churchill recommends the Iowa Summer Writing Festival to other writers, regardless of their level of experience. 

“If you’ve been writing for a while, it’s a great place to practice and be reminded of skills we forget, and if you’re just starting out, it’s a great way to get a footing,” says Churchill. “I would definitely recommend it to other writers. I’m just so thankful for it.”