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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 21, 2010

UI alumni Ken Weisner and Tom Grimes will read Oct. 25 and 28

Ken Weisner and Tom Grimes, alumni of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, will present "Live from Prairie Lights" readings Oct. 25 and 28. Poet Weisner will read from "Anything on Earth" at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25; and Grimes will read from "Mentor," his memoir of his relationship with workshop director Frank Conroy as a student and beyond, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28.

The free events at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., will be streamed live on, and Grimes' reading will also be broadcast live on UI's student-run radio station KRUI, FM 89.7.

David Denny, the author of "Smog Baby" and "Fool in the Attic," wrote, "With 'Anything on Earth,' Ken Weisner's wide poetic range, lyrical and narrative talent, and easy command of form and idiom are all on display. His poems stir, provoke, and cajole; they arouse, encourage, and ennoble.

"He sings feisty celebrations of aging bodies, cracked relationships, and nauseating politicians, as well as the glories of earth, sky, and sea. Here he is accompanied by the likes of Stein, Rimbaud, Shakespeare, Whitman, and Roethke, among others -- a dream back-up band if ever there was one."

Weisner edits Red Wheelbarrow through De Anza Community College in Cupertino, Cal., where he teaches literature, composition and creative writing. His first book of poems, "The Sacred Geometry of Pedestrians," was published in 2002.

T.C. Boyle called Grimes' "Mentor," "One of the truest accounts of a writer's life -- of two writers' lives -- I've yet seen."

A starred review in Publishers Weekly observed, "A grim look back at a writer's journey from publication to crippling self-doubt prompts Grimes ('Redemption Song'), the director of Texas State University M.F.A. program, to reflect deeply on his literary mentor, Frank Conroy.

"In 1989 Grimes, then a married 32-year-old waiter in Key West, Fla., with a few published short stories under his belt and a lot of ambition, was accepted into the Iowa Writers' Workshop on a top scholarship at the instigation of director Conroy (famous for an early memoir, 'Stop-Time'), who anointed Grimes -- on the strength of an unfinished baseball novel -- as the next golden boy with unlimited promise.

"Grimes was both 'electrified by hope' and paralyzed by anxiety during his stint in Iowa struggling to finish the novel; on Conroy's recommendation, Grimes signed with agent Eric Ashworth and soon had five offers by publishers, though none of them terribly enthusiastic or high paying.

"Pressured to make a quick decision, Grimes chose badly, he later believed, underscored by the subsequent critical failure of the novel, 'Season's End.' 'All Frank had hoped for had not come to pass,' writes Grimes in defeat, and though their friendship endured until Conroy's death in 2005 ('I arrived fatherless; I departed a son'), Grimes never quite recovered from his overreaching ambition. Employing a constant tension of ambivalence -- shame and tenderness, pride and humility -- Grimes proves in this stunningly forthright, forlorn memoir that his great subject is Conroy himself."

Donna Seaman wrote for Booklist, "Grimes’ candid and finely wrought memoir is at once a self-portrait of the writer as an anxious MFA student and homage to his guiding light, Frank Conroy, the legendary director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the crucible from which so many extraordinary writers emerged.

"Writing with the qualities Conroy tirelessly championed —- 'meaning, sense, clarity' —- Grimes not only expresses boundless love and gratitude for Conroy, he also unveils with rare specificity the strange trance borne of concentrating on the endless possibilities of language, and the initial elation and eventual complications of publication.

"Grimes’ staggering self-critique, keen tribute to Conroy as writer and mentor, and hard-won insights into the true demands of writing and the deep resonance of literature are arresting and cautionary, inspiring and affecting."

Grimes is also the author of five novels and a play, and he edited "The Workshop: Seven Decades from the Iowa Writers' Workshop."

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Winston Barclay, UI News Services, 319-430-1013,