UI graduate awarded Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant to complete essay compilation

University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program graduate Kristen Radtke was awarded the Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant to complete her work on her second project.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

The topic of loneliness is something not many discuss; however, one University of Iowa graduate has written her second novel in hopes to bring the issue to light through her essays. 

Kristen Radtke, a graduate of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program, received a $40,000 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant to help her finish her project Seek You: Essays on American Loneliness.

The compilation of essays discusses the topic of loneliness in the U.S., in science, and the media, Radtke said. The idea for the project came after she drew a series of pieces for The New Yorker in 2016 about urban loneliness. That project got her thinking more about loneliness and opened up the potential for a larger project, she said. 

Radtke completed her undergraduate at Columbia College in Chicago before arriving at the UI. She described her time at the UI as transformative, allowing her to focus on her work, Radtke said. 

“[Receiving the grant] feels like it validates the project,” Radke said. “So much of writing is … you’re just kind of working on your own, like, very much isolated. So this feels sort of like a boost as I finished the project.”

Radtke had her debut novel, Imagine Wanting Only This, published in 2017. She is also working on a graphic novel titled Terrible Men, which focuses on a female friendship and “the small ways in which we’re unkind to each other,” she said. 

John D’Agata, director of the Nonfiction Writing Program, met Radtke when she was a student at the UI, he said in an email to The Daily Iowan. Radtke took workshop and essay courses with D’Agata during her time at the UI. 

Radtke had been working on combining her interests in both writing and drawing by the time of her first book, Imagine Wanting Only This, D’Agata said. 

“Kristin was experimental from day one,” D’Agata said. “With a voracious appetite for nonfiction and everything possible that it could do — and sometimes even the impossible things it could do.” 

RELATED: UI professor awarded fellowship from Poetry Foundation

Through the grant, Radtke will be able to focus more on her work instead of trying to balance working on her piece with a full-time job, D’Agata said. 

Kerry Howley, UI assistant professor of English, was a student in the Nonfiction Writing Program with Radtke. The two became and remain friends since their time at the UI. 

“I’ve always appreciated Kristen’s work in workshop and also in the world after the program, in that it has a real emotional complexity to it,” Howley said. “As she’s moved into graphic essays, those essays are exceptional in creating a mood.” 

The work Radtke created while she was at the UI had narrative cohesion and emotional complexity that conveyed a sense of mystery with intense mood and humor, she said. 

“[The grant] is validating,” Howley said. “Kristen has been putting out excellent work for a really long time, and she absolutely deserves this.”