Prairie Lights will host a reading by Alessandra Lynch and Michael Tyrell for the series “Live from Prairie Lights” on Friday, Dec. 1. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

With bewitching tales of empowerment, Petrosino and Schwehn read at Prairie Lights


On Friday at 7 p.m., Prairie Lights will present Writers’ Workshop graduates Kiki Petrosino and Kaethe Schwehn as they read from their work.

By Katie Goodale

Authors Kiki Petrosino and Kaethe Schwehn will visit Iowa City to read from their appropriately bewitching, eye-opening works that center on feminism and community.

At 7 p.m. Friday, Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., presents Writers’ Workshop graduates Kiki Petrosino and Kaethe Schwehn as they read from their respective works.

Petrosino will read from her collection of poems Witch Wife, in which Petrosino pulls apart ideas about modern womanhood and motherhood as she tells stories through a variety of incantations, written in a mix of sestinas, villanelles, prose poems, and free verse.

She began writing in high school, inspired by her creative-writing teacher.

“I had a great English teacher when I was 14 and a freshman in high school,” she said. “She started doing a creative-writing group every Monday, and she invited me to join it. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but then, I started looking forward to every Monday, not just to have my own piece workshopped but also to look at what everybody else was writing.”

Schwehn will read from her début novel, The Rending and The Nest, set in a post-apocalyptic world. Her novel follows Mira, founder of Zion, a small community at the end of the world. Mira enters tremulous times as her pregnancy, and the pregnancy of others around her, is threatened by an unknowable force. Schwehn examines concepts of motherhood, community, and faith.

Schwehn begins fashioning her writing in a unique manner. Her writing begins with an image and then forms a world.

“Usually, when I first start writing, I kind of follow an image, and I saw this image of these huge piles of objects and characters sort of wandering among the piles,” she said. “So that’s sort of where the book started for me. And then, after a while, I realized that the landscape was a post-apocalyptic landscape.”

Both Petrosino and Schwehn were graduates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Petrosino, who has written two other books, directs the creative-writing program at the University of Louisville. Her works have appeared in *Best American Poetry*, *The New York Times*, *FENCE*, and many more.

Schwehn has also written two other books and teaches creative writing and composition at St. Olaf College. She has had her work published in the Minnesota Review, Fiction on a Stick, and Crazyhorse.

Schwehn found her books stand out in the post-apocalyptic genre because of the strong sense of community, though she often doesn’t think about writing to revolutionize the genre while in the beginning of the creative process.

“Well, I don’t think about those things [when I] write,” she said. “But now that the book’s done, I would say that part of what differentiates it that it’s very much about community and how communities work together … Similar to other post-apocalyptic novels coming out is women’s bodies and control over women’s bodies.”

Kathleen Johnson, the Prairie Lights coordinator of readings, said she believes the themes of the two books are important because of the emphasis they place on female empowerment.

“Both books are very timely and explore women’s issues in ways that are of great cultural importance right now,” she said. “Kaethe Schwehn’s book is a dystopian novel … about men’s use of religion to control women and women’s control of their own bodies. Kiki Petrosino’s poetry collection also centers on women’s bodies, specifically women of color.”

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