Growing up, Kartika Budhwar struggled to find literature that represented her “working-class, bilingual, and culturally fractured” experiences, she said. Now she writes her own stories as a graduate student in Iowa State’s MFA program for Creative Writing and Environment (CWE).
Budhwar and two other CWE graduate students recently connected with other Iowa writers who are also telling new, nuanced stories about the American experience.
Budhwar, Danielle Buchanan and Amalie Kwassman served as readers for the Bicultural Fellowship, the state’s first fully funded residency for emerging writers who are immigrants and non-native Iowans. The fellowship is a program of the Iowa Writers’ House, a nonprofit community organization. It is supported by the Iowa Arts council and an Iowa Arts Project Grant.
The Iowa State trio was matched with Bicultural Fellows Sadagat Aliyeva, Melissa Palma and Chuy Renteria to provide feedback on their respective projects. The fellowship is designed to document the immigrant experience in Iowa and tell new stories of Iowa communities.
“I explore similar themes, and as someone who hasn’t lived in Iowa long, it was wonderful to find artistic and experiential kinship with an Iowa writer,” Budhwar said, who partnered as a reader for Renteria. “His work offers me hope, encouragement and inspiration. Writing can be isolating, but exchanges like this can make the work less so.”
Along with gaining valuable editorial experience, the Iowa State graduate students will be recognized as readers in the releases of the fellows’ final collections.
“I selected these three students to work with the fellows because they consistently give insightful, helpful comments to their colleagues,” Jennifer Knox, lecturer in Iowa State’s Department of English, said. “It’s a very exciting opportunity to connect our students to the greater community of Iowa artists and the resources available to them.”
“Working with Melissa Palma was a reciprocal exchange of meticulous insight, inquisitiveness and guidance on approaching narrative in textually dynamic forms,” Danielle Buchanan said. “I’m thrilled to meet Andrea Wilson of the Writers’ House who brought us all together in spearheading this project, as well as thank Jennifer Knox for being a perpetual advocate in bridging literary communities.”
Amalie Kwassman, a first-year poet in Iowa State’s program, connected with fellow Sadagat Aliyeva frequently through video chat throughout the project.
“It was great being able to share our cultural identities with each other in addition to our work,” she said. “I have learned more about the process of editing another person’s work and being encouraging and positive. This positivity and encouragement will extend to my own work as well.”
The final digital collection will be available online and users can sign up to receive a copy. The Bicultural Fellows and Iowa State student editors will be featured at the Des Moines Arts Festival on Sunday, June 24, at 12:30 p.m. for a public reading of the final story collection.