Author Ives dives into the minds of writers in her new novel Loudermilk

Using her poetic expertise, author Lucy Ives explores the psychology and interactions of writers in her new novel, Loudermilk.

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Author Ives dives into the minds of writers in her new novel Loudermilk

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Lauren Arzbaecher, Arts Reporter

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Iowa City is famous for its literary community, as only a UNESCO City of Literature can be. Author Lucy Ives dissects this community in her new novel, Loudermilk, which explores the lives of writers and what drives them to create. And also somewhat, at times, skewers university writing programs.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Ives is powerful as both a poet and novelist. Her writing has appeared in a variety of well-known publications, including Art in America, The Baffler, and Vogue, among others. She has released several poetry collections and two novels, Impossible Views of the World, published by Penguin Press, and Loudermilk: Or, The Real Poet; Or, The Origin of the World, published by Soft Skull Press.

Loudermilk is one of her most recent works, published in May. The novel follows the charismatic philanderer Troy Loudermilk as he navigates his first year as a poetry student at the Seminars, a prestigious graduate writing program in the central Midwest. However, Loudermilk is not actually a poet. Rather, he is standing in for his introverted companion, Harry Rego, the real author of Loudermilk’s poems.

“The idea of a proxy that you would use to speak on your behalf fascinated me,” Ives said. “I thought it would be kind of fun to switch the situation by giving the agency to the very beautiful person rather than the intelligent person.”

Harry and Loudermilk, though friends, have entirely different personalities. Tensions between them arise throughout and are palpable in the following excerpt from the beginning of the book:

“The thing Loudermilk does not realize, the finer detail that is somehow constantly lost on him, is that when Harry speaks what comes out of his mouth sounds nothing like what he hears in his own head. So the voice is ugly and sometimes shrill and sometimes bass and otherwise ludicrous and very incongruous and unpleasant, but the major thing about it is that it is not even his. And this makes all the difference.”

Ives brought her unique writing style to Iowa City during a reading of Loudermilk at Prairie Lights this past Monday. Prairie Lights events coordinator Kathleen Johnson said the captivating side of the author extends past her work into her personality.

“Lucy Ives is the kind of writer who is great with the question-and-answer portion of an event,” Johnson said. “We have those for fiction but not typically for poetry. She’s very in the moment, engaged, and fun to talk to. She’s a writer who’s willing to follow an idea to where it goes rather than force a simple answer.”

While her work speaks for itself, Ives’ personality burns brightly both on and off the page. Ives’ friend and editor, Andrew Durbin, U.S. senior editor for Frieze, said her disposition plays into the witty tone of the novel.

“With Lucy, I find that her humor, and I think this is really where she needed to let herself go, kind of brings it right up to the edge of meanness, almost moving beyond the comic,” Durbin said. “But she always brings it back, and I think learning to go there, but not fully go there, really made Loudermilk what it is now.”

Ives is an author intrigued by writers and the psychology behind the creative process. Nowhere is that clearer than in Loudermilk. While taking readers through the day to day experiences of an M.F.A. writing program and those in it, Ives probes the various ways writers mentally interact with their work.

“What fascinates me about writers is that they are people who live their lives, but they also have these other spaces that they go to, where they think about the world differently,” Ives said. “I wanted to bring out some of the strangeness of the impulse that drives people to write poems, stories, and other imaginative literature.”

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