Student Spotlight: UI transfer student explores trauma through slam poetry and creative nonfiction essays

During the COVID-19 outbreak, UI junior Amanda Pendley has been writing slam poetry and creative nonfiction to explore relationships and trauma.


Samantha Murray, Arts Reporter

The transition from school life at the University of Iowa to home life in Olathe, Kansas, has been a big adjustment but also a familiar one for junior and transfer student Amanda Pendley. Before coming to the UI, she worked full-time and attended Johnson County Community College in Kansas while living at home. Although she might be used to a chaotic mix of school and home, she has more free time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Without a full-time job now, the junior majoring in English and creative writing on the publishing track said she has been able to focus on her writing more. She works to improve her poetry and nonfiction writing daily, taking inspiration from online prompts and posting her responses. She said she reads for hours when she can.

Pendley said she also is able to spend more time with her brother, a big inspiration for her and her work. She also helps out with his education.

“He’s in a special needs class, so I get to kind of see what goes on in his education,” Pendley said. “These zoom calls have been really interesting because my mom, and I both never really got to see that before.”

The writer performs slam poetry, too, and it’s a common sight to see her participating in an open-mic event in Iowa City, or helping to run one. Yet Pendley said it has been difficult for her to find slam poetry opportunities online while staying at home after campus closed due to COVID-19.

Because of this, Pendley has shifted her focus to working on nonfiction essays instead of slam poetry. Right now she has been exploring the idea of what she calls unremembered trauma, particularly she and her family’s individual experiences with surgeries.

“I’ve kind of been exploring this idea of what it means to be cut open in a surgical sense and a metaphorical sense, and trauma that comes with recovery and things like that,” Pendley said.

Pendley’s work is not just for herself. She’s been published in a variety of magazines including Savant-Garde Literary Magazine, Vagabond City Lit, and Ghost City Review.

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Pendley’s nonfiction work has also caused her to focus on her brother, and her relationship with him as a caregiver. While a role she has held her whole life, she said she has felt distanced from it because of college. She said that even though she did have her own life in Iowa, it still felt good to come home and resume this role for him.

Even though these sorts of explorations of her brother could always be seen throughout her work, she said she has grown more comfortable and competent writing about him and her personal experience helping with his special needs. With time, she said she has learned how to make her emotions truly vivid through writing.

“I think they always have been included in my work, but as my voice as a writer is strengthened I’ve been able to articulate what I’d like to say in a smoother way,” Pendley said.



Fast facts:

Hometown: Olathe, Kansas

School Year: Transfer Junior

Age: 20

Favorite artist: Audre Lorde

Dream place to live: San Francisco

Dream job: Publishing house

Favorite movie: Super 8

Last song stuck in head: “Anna Sun” by Walk the Moon

Favorite place for a late night bite: Freddy’s Frozen Custard