Student Spotlight: UI undergrad playwright and activist delves into powerful themes

Triple major and published playwright Emmy Lane Palmersheim is a third-year student at the UI, and writes plays dealing with themes like mental health, trauma, and identity.


Raquele Decker

Emmy Palmersheim poses for a portrait on March 27, 2021.

Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

When Emmy Lane Palmersheim was a child, their parents played a crucial role in developing their love and appreciation for the arts. Together, the family would frequently attend plays, musicals, and drag shows, which fostered Palmersheim’s growing interest in art, particularly theater.

Palmersheim is a third-year student at the University of Iowa. A triple major in English and Creative Writing, English Education, and Education Studies and Human relations, with two minors in Theatre Arts and Social Justice, Palmersheim is not only accomplished academically, but also artistically.

Palmersheim has had multiple original works published, including the serpent under’t, a feminist retelling of the classic Medusa myth. The play was performed virtually this February by the UI Theatre Department.

From an early age, the student took acting and theater classes. When they were in middle school, their father transitioned from a career in banking to an orchestra pit guitarist, creating an even more art-oriented environment for them growing up.

“Never was there any sense that doing art was not something to be cherished; it was admired and respected highly in my home,” Palmersheim said. “I think that having that energy around me made me try my hand in a lot of different things as an artist.”

Palmersheim considered themselves a performer for most of their adolescence, and briefly sought a BFA in acting at Ball State University before coming to the UI to pursue writing. They said the natural next step for them to take was to combine their interests in theater and writing to become a playwright.

RELATED: Student Spotlight: UI freshmen create game day merchandise

Last year, Palmersheim had a monologue selected for Riverside Theatre’s “Walking the Wire” national monologue competition, and is currently working on having another original play, titled The White Pants Play, published in an anthology with Mirrorbox Theatre in Cedar Rapids.

Additionally, the playwright is the Drama Editor for the literary magazine earthwords, as well as a member of the UI Student Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct.

“I’ve gotten a lot of cool opportunities to share my work. Especially as a playwright just starting out, that’s never something I expect,” Palmersheim said. “I’m lucky as a theater major to be in such a vibrant theater community.”

Usually, Palmersheim said, their work doesn’t deal with one specific genre of art. However, they do tend to incorporate themes like mental health, trauma, family structures, and complications of identity into their writing, all of which reflect their own life experiences. They also said the current play they’re working on is semi-autobiographical, with an exploration of their Asian identity.

Palmersheim’s inspiration for storytelling stems from their secondary interest in education, as well as their artistic background. Palmersheim said they think there is an obligation not only for creators and educators, but for everyone on the planet to tell stories, putting thoughts and ideas out into the world in a kind and conscientious way.

“If I could teach or share one huge thing,” they said, “it would be that you can tell the stories you want, but that there’s always a way to share and tell stories that are thoughtful and considerate and conscientious of your audience and keeping them as safe and secure as possible.”