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The Midwest Creative: A Becoming
When I was around fourteen or fifteen, I sat in the sunroom of my parents’ house. Surrounded by my mom’s ever-growing collection of novels (my niece recently counted and she owns well over 1,000 books), I shot off a text to a friend.
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Will you do me a favor?
Yes? he responded.
Don’t let me go to a college in Iowa. I need to move somewhere else.
You got it.
I ached for a future that didn’t include Iowa. I grew up in a tiny town in eastern Iowa, the kind that embodied the cliche “everyone knows everyone’s business and you’ve gone to school with the exact same people since Kindergarten” that might have appeared idyllic to outsiders but felt suffocating living in the midst of it. My grandpa’s family had moved to the area in the 1930s when he was a child, and he and my grandma raised my mom and her siblings there as well. My family’s business was quite literally the town news - my grandpa owned the local newspaper for decades before selling it to my dad and uncle.
While I can appreciate now that as a child I had access to a great education and high quality-infrastructure, and the safety to explore my surroundings without fear is not something to take for granted, at the time, my desire to see more was much too big for those six square miles of rural Iowa.
Over the next few years, I grew out of touch with that friend. I played my sports, I rode bikes around town with my friends, I indulged in what bored, small-town teenagers do when they can’t find anything else to do (sorry mom and dad).
I read books whenever I could, I started following more writers I admired on Twitter, I glowed as English teachers praised my writing skills, and my desire to see more shifted to a desire to build my life around the people and the values that mean the most to me.
Over a decade has past since that conversation, and I’ve lived in Iowa the entire time. I spent four years at the University of Iowa and learned in the best writing program in the nation. I now have five nieces and nephews. I met the love of my life. I’ve maintained long, deeply meaningful friendships with childhood friends. I’ve formed exciting, kind friendships with people I’ve met as an adult. I’ve volunteered. I’ve discovered my interest in different mediums and made professional connections. I’ve found podcasts that make me laugh and new writers that make me shake with emotion. I’ve fallen in love with exercising. I’ve adopted two cats.
And I’ve finally understood that building a creative life does not come from living in a specific place, but from chasing big ideas and dreams without permission, and building opportunity where it didn’t exist before. Trying new things and being brave in my pursuits led me to here. I’m fulfilled, I’m creating and writing for a living, and I’m ready to uncover this possibility for thousands of other creative people living in the Midwest.
You may have felt this idea of the Midwest as a bland region void of artistic opportunity that permeates pop culture, but that is not a destiny I’m willing to accept. When we treat the coasts as the Gold Star of creative endeavors, as the only places you’re able to achieve something of note, our region becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Brilliant people leave; arts institutions crumble; leaders neglect our most vulnerable citizens; social programs disappear; elected officials take funding from our public schools and fail us time and time again. Those who are unable to leave are left to suffer.
The Midwest Creative is my way of pushing back on this narrative that one can’t make a living as an artist in the Midwest. With this weekly newsletter, I’m going to shed light on the pockets of creative communities across the region who believe in the power of art for all. I’m going to talk with creators who are forging their own artistic paths. I’m going to explore the tools that exist online to help us bring our art into existence. I’m going to lift up projects that deserve appreciation from the entire world.
Paid subscribers will receive exclusive interviews and opportunities to learn from experts, early access to episodes of The Midwest Creative podcast that will launch at a later date, and an invite to the Iowa Writers Collaborative monthly writer meeting.
As I begin this journey, I’d love to hear from you about the creative people and places that exist in your pocket of the Midwest, wherever you are. Do you have a project you’re working on that you’re proud of? Are you offering a program, class, or opportunity to help people find their creative spark? Is there a place with art in the Midwest I should visit and write about? Is there a Midwest Creative you’ve admired from afar that you’d like to know more about? Leave a comment, or send me a DM on Instagram or Twitter.
Building a stronger creative community in the Midwest will take all of us. Join me.