MEET THE 2018 BICULTURAL IOWA WRITING FELLOWS

Chuy Renteria

West Liberty, Iowa;
a first-generation immigrant from Mexico

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"I want to continue to explore my family and upbringing through the lens of work... Writing about my family and the way my parents got here, West Liberty's relationship with the turkey plant, what it feels like to not really feel like you belong to any one group growing up." 


Tell us about yourself and your history: I was born here in Iowa City. Raised in West Liberty, IA. About 20 miles from Iowa City. My parents both emigrated from separate border towns in Mexico and met in Muscatine, IA. I graduated high school in West Liberty in 2003 and moved to Iowa City not too long after that. I wrote a lot in school but got into dance in junior high. I fell head over heels for dance and, after too long at Kirkwood Community College, pursued dance at the University of Iowa. I graduated with a BA and quarter-life crisis in 2008. Since then I got deeply involved with special needs populations, managing an adult day center on the south side of Iowa City. All of these seemingly separate work and life experiences led me to Hancher Auditorium, where I champion community and artistry for anyone I can reach.

Tell us about your relationship to Iowa: Iowa is my lifelong home. My friends keep leaving. All the dancers I know quit or left. I keep sticking around. I've always loved the underdoggedness of this place. There's stories here, there's culture clashes, history and mythology. I could tell you about the rumbles West Liberty used to get into. Straight up like The Outsiders. What happens when a small town rich with Mexicans and Laotians has a football team that travels to towns with 100 percent white teams? What stories are there. My parents came here in the early ’70s. My dad said that the turkey plant in West Liberty, Louis Rich at the time, would come to his hometown in Mexico and plaster flyers for workers. If you think things like that don't happen from Iowa factories today...then you don't know Iowa.

Tell us about your goals for the residency: I want to continue to explore my family and upbringing through the lens of work. Writing about my family and the way my parents got here, West Liberty's relationship with the turkey plant, what it feels like to not really feel like you belong to any one group growing up. As far as forms, I'm open to having it manifest itself in essays, a longer piece, or small pieces as well. I want to really sit down and create this work talking about my family, my identity, and my hometown in relation to how we perceive ourselves through work. I want to take full advantage of the teachings and tools that these residencies will provide to me, and use them to fully realize this story that has been brewing in me for quite some time. I want to explore this story and get help in the practice of writing, in the technical aspects of telling it to the best of my ability.

How could this residency help you, both as a writer and in your best vision for yourself? There is a certain amount of exploration and self-reflection that comes up when you write. I think being a part of something so concrete and being in communication will help set that exploratory process through a fulcrum. I do my best work when put up to it by the standards of my peers, whether that be through honest dialogues, deadlines, and everything in between. I see this residency helping me realize this idea that I really can become a writer!