Friday, September 20, 2019

The Writing University conducts a series of interviews with writers involved with the various University of Iowa writing programs. We ask authors about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.

This year, we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the University of Iowa Press with a special editon of 5Q Interviews of UI Press authors. Happy Birthday UI Press!

Today we are speaking with Kendra Allen, Winner of the 2018 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction for University of Iowa Press.


Kendra Allen is the author of essay collection When You Learn The Alphabet and winner of the 2018 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction for University of Iowa Press. Born and raised in Dallas, TX, Kendra exists as an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama where she is working on her thesis and leading freshman students astray. You can find other works from her in brevity, december, and The Rumpus among others.



1. Hello Kendra! Do you have a specific project that you will be working on this year?

My problem is I’m constantly working on too many projects and I never finish any of them. I’m (hopefully) working towards the end of a poetry collection at the moment, I wrote two dozen pages on a children’s book so no telling how that will go. My fear is my children’s book will get really dark and no one will want their kids reading it. I’m also going into my thesis year where the nonfiction idea that’s been consuming me for the past five years still hasn’t got any good sentences to it. My goal is to buckle down and really try to make something happen with that instead of getting distracted by the possibility of it.


2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

Ok so here’s the thing: Do I think about writing everyday? Yes, words are on my mind from sun up to sun down. But do I write everyday? Sometimes not even every week. I still haven’t figured out what my writing practice is. This summer I’ve been trying to wake up earlier. Read a little bit. Journal once a month. Then go into it. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Last night I had a burst where I was up at 2 am still writing. That felt really good, but I know for me it’s not sustainable. I’m just trying to figure out a routine that doesn’t make me feel like I’m a horrible person if I stray the course every once in a while. But right now getting up earlier helps. I find my mind is clearer. Nobody’s thoughts have infiltrated yet. And plus I like to be free in the afternoons to do what I want.


3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

Both! I’m finishing up All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. It’s taking me a lot longer than usual because she has a way of sitting me down. The way her mind moves is crazy. Also I’m reading a poetry anthology edited by Gwendolyn Brooks called A Broadside Treasure, which is fire, and just finished rereading Saeed Jones’ Prelude to Bruise. The things I read for research-based purposes have to be pleasurable in some way or I won’t do it. I’m not really a stats type of researcher; I aim more towards the human feeling aspect of everything, a recounting of an experience, or any other documentary-like style of information. I’m reading a lot into the idea of virginity and purity. Some work I’m enjoying on that topic is Losing It by Kate Monro & The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti.


4. Tell us about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

I’m from Dallas, TX. Dallas is the best place in the world; you should visit the state fair at least once in your life for a $20 turkey leg, a corn dog, and other fried concoctions. Southern Skates is a historical landmark, and West Dallas is getting gentrified like nobody’s business. It’s home and you might see people riding horses down the side of a road but that don’t mean we ride them to school. That would be stupid. Where would we park them?


5. The UI Press is turning 50 this year! Share with us a bit about your experience and relationship with the press.

UI Press published my very first book. They did it without wanting me to compromise anything in it. They did it wanting to amplify my words. So I’m very grateful for that experience, the care they put into the process, the help they provided whenever I asked a lot of questions. Everyone works so hard at their jobs and really pays attention to the products they put out, not just from a literary standpoint, but a professional one as well. Happy birthday UI Press! Hope middle age is good to ya.

Thanks Kendra!


Kendra Allen will be reading from When You Learn The Alphabet at Prairie Lights Bookstore on October 5th at 11:30am for the Iowa City Book Festival. Come hear her read in person!

Established in 1969, the University of Iowa Press serves scholars, students, and readers throughout the world with works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. As the only university press in the state, Iowa is also dedicated to preserving the literature, history, culture, wildlife, and natural areas of the Midwest. The UI Press is a place where first-class writing matters, whether the subject is Whitman or Shakespeare, prairie or poetry, memoirs or fandom. They are committed to the vital role played by small presses as publishers of scholarly and creative works that may not attract commercial attention. For more information, please e-mail