Abraham Verghese

Abraham Verghese

GENRE
Fiction
AFFILIATION
Alumnus
TIME IN IOWA CITY
1990 - 1992
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Place

Abraham Verghese in Prairie Lights Bookstore


Location
Prairie Lights Bookstore
15 South Dubuque Street, Iowa City Iowa

Abraham Verghese talks about Prairie Lights bookstore and his time in Iowa City:

 

I was at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop from 1990 to 1991. I spent so much time (and money) at Prairie Lights that even now, much of what is on the shelves in my study comes from that period.

And so many volumes I was guided to by the incredible and long-tenured staff who would plop a book into my hands and say, “You must read this.” Or they would guide me to a specific author reading.

Jim Harris, who owned it then, and also Jan Weissmiller and Paul Ingram and so many others, were our professors in a way, shaping our sensibilities, but most important, treating us as serious writers, people with great potential even though, at that stage, we did not have that kind of faith in ourselves. WHat we had was hope and dreams and a love of literature and deep doubts as to whether anything would come of it all.

Prairie Lights was a relative bookstore newbie when I was there, being only about twelve years old. […] I have had the great pleasure of visiting Prairie Lights annually or just about. It is larger, grander now. What is new is its lively online presence and a wonderful coffee house on the second floor–a space, Jan said she had learned recently, where the local literary society met throughout the 1930s, pulling in such glorious names as Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Sherwood Anderson, and E.E. Cummings, among others.

What has not changed is its mysterious core–a hush, a sense of reverence for the written word. The reading series, still named Live from Prairie Lights and taking place four or five nights a week, is always packed–anywhere from forty to fifty people and often more than a hundred. There is no audience quite like an Iowa City audience. Name an author, and he or she will likely have rea d there: Susan Sontag, Gloria Steinem, Annie Proulx, J.M. Coetzee, Kathryn Stockett, and poets Mark Strand, Jorie Graham, Galway Kinnell, and man, many more. To my great glee, USA Today named Prairie Lights a “destination bookstore” in 2008[…].

For Iowa City’s smallish community of some 70,000, Prairie Lights has an extraordinary and large presence and is thoroughly integrated into its community. This collaborative approach started with Jim Harris’s farsightedness when he bought the store in 1978, and it’s been a tradition Jan has continued since she and Jane Mead, a Workshop graduate with three published books of poetry, bought the store from Jim in 2008. Not only is Prairie Lights tied in to the Writers’ Workshop, but, I am pleased to see, the store is also actively involved with the medical school there[…].

I always dreamed of one day reading at Prairie Lights, and when that moment eventually came with the success of my first book  My Own Country, I choked up–it was hugely significant to me to be reading there, in that space. It was an affirmation that was personal and private, yet one that I think every writer with an adopted store would understand. I read again with my recent novel, Cutting for Stone.

[…]Though I may live far away, whenever I need to imagine a place of peace, a place far from the mundane concerns of everyday life, a place where such concerns are transcended and reshaped into art, I picture myself pushing open the front door, seeing Jan’s smile, hearing Paul hail me from the back…is this heaven? No, it’s Prairie Lights.


Verghese, Abraham. “Prairie Lights, Iowa City, Iowa.” My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read and Shop. Ronald Rice, ed. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.: 2012 (pp. 332-335). Print.

Place

Abraham Verghese in the Workshop


Location
University of Iowa Main Library
125 West Washington St.

In this Washington Post article about Abraham Verghese, they describe his first year in Iowa:

He arrived in Iowa City in 1990 not knowing what to expect. He carried his briefcase to his first workshop meeting, then sat quietly as his work-boots-and-jeans-wearing peers tossed around the names of writers he’d never heard of or didn’t know well. Barth! Babel! Cheever! Verghese wrote down the names and headed for the library, where he would check out armfuls of books “just to find out what the hell they were talking about.”


“Physician Abraham Verghese Combines His Love of Books and Medicine.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 Feb. 2009, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/15/AR2009021501861.html

Place

Abraham Verghese meets John Irving


Location
Iowa City
123 S Linn St

One night there was a big reading in Iowa City by John Irving, the author of The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp. The famous novelist’s real purpose in town was to watch an NCAA wrestling tournament. But Irving went to a student party, where the apprentice writers put out some chips and beer in a dirty apartment and, out of intimidation, were slow to approach him. Verghese introduced himself to the author, who, as it happened, was researching a novel called A Son of the Circus, a story about a doctor trying to find his way in India. Verghese had found a mentor, and a friendship took root.


Reid, Jan. “The Good Doctor.” Texas Monthly, Dec 2004.

Audio

Abraham Verghese reading, 2009


Location
Prairie Lights Bookstore
15 South Dubuque Street, Iowa City Iowa

Abraham Verghese reads at Prairie Lights Bookstore, The University of Iowa, March 4, 2009

Place

Abraham Verghese’s first class at the Workshop


Location
Iowa Writers' Workshop (Dey House)
507 North Clinton Street, Iowa City, Iowa

When he and his family arrived in Iowa City, Verghese worked part-time in an AIDS clinic, but the real reason for his move was to enroll in the prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Verghese dressed for class in doctor’s corduroys and tweeds and worried that he hadn’t read enough to write well; other students sauntered into class in jeans and T-shirts, spouting their knowledge of postmodernism and other critical theories.


Reid, Jan. “The Good Doctor.” Texas Monthly, Dec 2004.

Video

Conversations: Interview with Abraham Verghese


Location
Iowa Writers' Workshop (Dey House)
507 North Clinton Street, Iowa City, Iowa

Abraham Verghese discusses his newest novel “Cutting for Stone” and the impact the writing has on his life as both an author and physician.

 

 


“Conversations: Abraham Verghese.” YouTube, uploaded by University of Iowa, 23 April 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP24LGj8WGw.

Place

What We Learned from Frank Conroy


Location

In the first panel, “What we learned from Frank Conroy,” the reason for the attendance at the morning session became clear. Conroy, who passed away in 2005, was one of the most beloved faculty members of the Workshop, and as director from 1987-2005, he shaped a lot of what the Workshop has done over the past few decades. Three presenters—Charles D’Ambrosio, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Abraham Verghese—relayed their favorite tales about the man whom Sittenfeld described as “funny, candid, and unflappable.” With each speaker, the affection and appreciation for their mentor was apparent. All three shared bits of wisdom they’d gleaned from Conroy on how to read, write, teach, and live. D’Ambrosio spoke of how Conroy’s influence on him extended beyond his writing, admitting “I didn’t have a model for thinking differently about my life until I met Frank.” Verghese noted that Conroy’s class gave him as close to dogma of writing as he found anywhere else: “The writer exists as a collaborative venture between writer and reader.”


Doyle, Shawn Patrick. “Why Iowa? Because…” Rain Taxi, Fall 2011. 

Abraham Verghese, MD, MACP, is Professor and Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor, and Vice Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the School of Medicine at Stanford University. He graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1991. Since then, his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, Atlantic, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Granta, Forbes.com, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

 

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