Beth Howard shares pieces of wisdom on writing and pie

Iowa native Beth Howard will workshop writing and making pies at the Iowa Writer’s House Feb. 22-24.



Beth Howard stands in front of her home, the house featured in the 1930 painting “American Gothic,” March 25, 2012, in Eldon, Iowa. (Alana Semuels/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Philip Runia, Arts Reporter

“What are your qualifications?” Beth Howard was asked at her first pie-making job.

“I’m from Iowa,” she replied.

After an unexpectedly cold trip to Phoenix, author and pie connoisseur Beth Howard returned to Iowa late on the morning of Feb. 20. Her farm near Donnellson is both her home and a quiet space for making pies and writing.

Previously living for four years in the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, Howard had success in her “Pitchfork Pie Stand.” This quickly became more of a burden than a beloved hobby and prevented her from finding a balance between making pies and writing. She became the tourist attraction, she said.

“When I wrote my memoir and the cookbook, people pegged me as the ‘pie lady,’ ” Howard said. “It’s made me not want to make as much pie. I don’t want to be a label, but then I keep finding myself drawn back to it; I’m trying to honor that.”

After a whirlwind of key lime and limelight, Howard has found balance between pie and pen.

She will honor her two loves by workshopping this weekend at the Iowa Writer’s House, 332 Davenport St. The workshop will start Feb. 22 and will run through Feb. 24. Writers can sign up for a day online through the Iowa Writer’s House website. Participation is $265, and writers will walk away with their own homemade apple pie, Howard’s personal favorite.

“Cinnamon and apples — I mean, come on,” Howard said. “I could eat it every day.”

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Apple pie holds a certain charm for Howard in its meditative process. It’s something about the peeling, she said. Peeling forces a pie-maker to slow down and take some time. The same is true in Howard’s writing. She said she tricks her brain: 10 minutes of writing here, 10 minutes of kneading there, and whether she’s writing a book-length project or making a meringue, her head will clear and the fun will start.

Howard equates making pie and writing to exercise: The mind wanders and rests in the process. To get brainstorming, making pies seems better than sitting a staring at the blank page (and delicious, too).

Howard’s process has been criticized along with her pies and writing. Her 2018 book, Hausfrau Honeymoon: Love Language and Other Misadventures in Germany, released her from the crust surrounding her but fell short of some fans’ expectations for more recipes. Howard relishes in her growth as a writer and in sharing all sides of her writing.

“Who wants to write about the same thing all the time?” she said. “I’m not going to let people define my growth or limit my growth … I don’t want all my books to be about pie, I can’t do that. I have to do what’s right for me.”

Just like a pie, stories can be told in different ways, and people may or may not enjoy them. Most are particular to one kind, which is OK, because taste is subjective in every arena. Howard encourages writers to share their work, just like they would share a pie — to be enjoyed and savored.

“Nobody’s going to be as critical as yourself; if they are, f*ck ‘em,” Howard said. “Don’t be overly critical of yourself or others, whether it’s pie or stories. No one will agree on what they like, it’s all subjective. There’s room for everybody, every style, every flavor.”

Writing and pies are for all occasions and all people. People enjoy pie no matter their political beliefs, race, or cause. It’s all about having a generous spirit, Howard said. Sharing a pie or written truth makes people feel connected.

“Let’s just share,” she said. “Be it pie, or our stories.”