Nightingale Writers’ Group: How I Made My Mark on the University of Iowa

By Nate Gudvangen

I have loved to write since the 6th grade when my older cousin gave me a little journal with a dragon on it. I used it to write my first book. I didn’t finish that one, but I finished one in high school. The genre was fantasy, because the joy of life is having your head always in the clouds, at least a little bit.

So when I decided to go to the University of Iowa, it was a perfect fit. This school has the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a graduate school program specifically devoted to developing professional writers. This is a city where monuments to writers are laid in the sidewalks. Ruth Christoffer Carlsen. Thomas Carlyle. Aesop. When my high school English teacher heard I was going to Iowa City, she was so happy I would be in a town of writing and reading.

When I first arrived, I went to the student organization fair in late August, browsing through over 500 clubs. They seemingly had everything, but I was baffled by the absence of a writing club. In a UNESCO City of Literature, I found this gap striking. At the time, though, I accepted it and joined a few other clubs.

Throughout my freshman year, I found myself with less time to write creatively. Partially this was due to how busy college is, but it was also because I didn’t have anyone to share my writing with. By the spring semester, I decided to amend this lacking both in my life and in the university’s clubs and founded the Nightingale Writers’ Group. (Though we all called it NiteWrite.) NiteWrite has become a community for me to tell my stories and hear those from others like me.

Founding an organization was surprisingly simple. In late March, I asked four friends to help me make this idea a reality. Matt, a graphic design major whose interest in video games has led to his writing of game scripts. Max, an engineering major and fellow Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy student whose interest in fantasy and mythology led to him giving writing his own story a shot. Chloe, a pre-law English major who has written an assortment of psychologically interesting short stories. Lastly was the club’s first vice-president, Amanda, an English major and artist who writes fantasy stories with elements of the supernatural, romance, and some horror.

These four helped me get the club rolling as the first attending members. I soon found several others who were also willing to give it a shot for a few weeks. Writing the constitution for the student organization was a night’s efforts, and by early April we were having meetings.

Meetings started in the Stanley Hall lounge, just off the lobby, and other students in the building would sometimes wander in, curious about the new organization. The setting was informal at first. Pulling armchairs into small clusters in a room that was not reserved for us did not scream “this is a real organization.” We were waiting on official university recognition, and until then, couldn’t schedule a classroom. At least the lighting was nice, watching the sunset through the bank of huge windows in Stanley Hall’s lounge. Early on, though, an official setting wasn’t necessary. I remember those early days fondly, even if we were haphazard. What was important was that writers were gathering to share their stories.

Official recognition came at the end of the spring semester, so by fall of sophomore year we were ready to grow. We scheduled a classroom for meetings, sent out a mass email, and eventually started to gain a steady membership. I remember the day our regular attendance shot up to ten. I teared up in front of everyone. I was so happy to see that people were interested in something I had created.

As we’ve all gotten to know one another, the community has influenced our writing. In fact our president elect, Erin, wrote a short story in which the members of NiteWrite survived a zombie apocalypse in Iowa City. These people have become my good friends, all bonding over a mutual interest. We’ve been going strong for two years, and now that I’ve graduated I’m passing the torch to Erin. I don’t need to stop being a part of it, though. We have a meeting next Wednesday. NiteWrite will go on.

I’ve made my imprint on this campus. The University of Iowa is full of clubs of all sorts, but sometimes 500 is just not enough to choose from. Sometimes there is a gap. We gifted students often have difficulty finding our place in the scheme of things, but here at Iowa I have had no trouble finding small circles of like-minded people. So I made my own organization, and you can too.

Nate Gudvangen is a recent University of Iowa graduate at the age of 20. He majored in English and plans on studying medieval literature in graduate school. He writes, reads, draws, and loves to geek out at gaming conventions.

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