Jana Eleanor » Famous Female Graduates Of The Iowa Writer’s Workshop: A Reading List

Famous Female Graduates Of The Iowa Writer’s Workshop: A Reading List

March 25, 2014

When Hannah was accepted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop during Sunday night’s episode of Girls, writers and wannabe-writers around the world gasped. We gasped because we got it: the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is a big fucking deal. (Case in point: even MARNIE knows it’s a big deal.)

Whether or not Hannah could actually have made it into the program is up for debate, with many blogs calling bullshit. But, the director of the program, novelist Lan Samantha Chang, did weigh in — Variety spoke to her, and she’s quoted as saying: “I think that Hannah is a young woman of great imagination and talent and it’s very possible that she could have gotten in.”

I personally have my doubts (though I loved it as a storyline). I mean, people who go to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop are SERIOUS writers. They win Pulitzer prizes (17 so far collectively, in fact). They leave legacies. Is Hannah a writer of that caliber?

Here are 5 of my favorite female writers who’ve emerged from the plains of Iowa (I assume Iowa has plains). Use this as a reading list, and also use it as reason to be skeptical of Hannah Horvath and her coke-fueled musings.


Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett describes her road to Iowa in her memoir-style book Truth And Beauty: A Friendship. In it, she describes living at home and working as a waitress before being accepted to the program and truly becoming a writer.

Patchett has a long list of novels and non-fiction to her name, and her work is beautiful.

You should read:

Bel Canto — this 2011 novel about a hostage situation turned love story won the PEN/Faulkner award as well as the Orange Prize for Fiction.


Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson did not technically graduate from Iowa, but she does teach there, which I think makes her like, an honorary graduate? (I made that up, but it seems to make sense). She won the Pulitzer prize in 2005 for Gilead.

You should read:

Well, start with Gilead, and then read its companion, Home. 

Author Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros

Cisneros graduated from Iowa in 1978. It was while she was there that she realized the unique position her cultural background provided her as a writer, and that realization fed the poetry that would become The House On Mango Street. 

You should read:

Did you not read The House On Mango Street in school? What school did you go to? If you didn’t read it, you should — it’s really short and lovely. And we should probably all read her other books too — for instance, she most recently wrote a picture book for adults called Have You Seen Marie? 


Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor attended Iowa in 1946, which is way before women were really considered people. She only lived for 39 years, but in that time she managed to make a significant impact on American literature.

You should read:

Her books of short stories: A Good Man Is Hard To Find, and Everything That Rises Must Converge. O’Connor was a master of short fiction – so much so that there’s now a Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction given annually.


Jane Smiley

Another Pulitzer prize winner, Jane Smiley graduated from Iowa in 1975, and published her first novel, Barn Blind, in 1980. She won an O. Henry award for her short story Lily. In 1992, she won a Pulitzer for her best-selling novel A Thousand Acres.

You should read:

I mean, probably A Thousand Acres. It’s a modern re-telling of King Lear, set in Iowa (I wonder where she got that idea!). It was made into a movie in 1997, but you should read the book first.


And… Hannah?

We’ll have to wait and see.

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