By: Jenny Singer (Englert Nonfiction Fellow)
Spring has come to Iowa City. Walks through town are no longer an obstacle course of ice patches. Increasingly spectacular sunsets paint the sky. Heavy winter coats are being gently pushed into the deepest recesses of closets, with a quiet prayer that they will not be retrieved for at least eight months.
Warmer days mean the return of Mission Creek Festival, which begins Thursday, April 6. Soon, the first floor of the Chauncey will be filled with books, and Hancher will be filled with rockstars. Looping violins and love songs will resound throughout the Englert. The streets will fill with people tipsy on poetry, collecting literary magazines like rare trading cards.
Musicians and writers will descend on Iowa City—huge names like Michelle Zauner and Cat Power, as well as emerging artists and beloved local talents. Planning Mission Creek takes about a year. Festival director Brian Johannesen and programming coordinator Elly Hofmaier pored over hundreds of artist pitches and spent months geeking out over perfectly matching each artist to each Iowa City venue. Literary Programming Director Nina Lohman focused on building relationships with writers and with the small presses who champion them.
“It’s about trying to find those voices who have been independent spirits, independent thinkers in the literary and musical worlds,” says Andre Perry, the festival’s co-founder. The focus on indie artists “feeds the soul in a different way.”
“We’re seeking out people who carve their own artistic path, not people who were brought up by the music industry machine,” says Hofmaier. “These are all artists who made their way on sheer talent, creativity, and determination.”
Come prepared to discover artists who become your obsessions. Hoffmaier recalls first hearing Mission Creek performer Sudan Archives from afar as she arrived at another music festival. As the music drifted towards them she turned to her partner and said, “We need to run. We need to run right now to get to the stage. Because whatever is happening right now is crazy.”
That need to run towards a beautiful sound or series of words is the standard for the festival.
Johannesen feels it for performer Yasmin Williams. “She’s a guitarist, composer, she has a really unique playing style,” he says. “She’ll play traditional but she’ll also lay the guitar on her lap, and she also tunes the guitar so the fingering is like a piano—it’s like wizardry, what she’s doing.”
Lohman is looking forward to the Saturday night collaboration with The Sun for the magazine’s 50th anniversary “There will be five different readers. Everyone who comes will get a free issue of the magazine. We’ll have an afterparty right there in the James space with free drinks and appetizers. But really it’s going to be a celebration of independent voices, independent literature.”
Iowa City’s abundance of opportunities for readers and writers is legendary. For Lohman, this year’s Mission Creek Festival is an opportunity to “bring in writers and students and people in our community who are interested in engaging in the next level.” There will be plentiful readings, but also events that encourage dialogue and connection.
“When you feel like you have that kind of community, that keeps you going for another year,” says Perry. Those literary community-building opportunities include: a writing workshop with the Sun Magazine, an industry talk and an indie publishing talk with small presses, a podcast recording from Lit Hub, as well as the Lit Walk on Friday and a big final reading and afterparty on Saturday, both of which are free and open to all.
“The goal of this year is to invite people in a little bit more,” says Lohman.
You’re in. You’re invited. See you at the festival.
For passes and more information, visit missioncreekfestival.com.