Prairie Lights returns to hosting in-person events

In-person readings and Q&As have begun again on the second floor of Prairie Lights since they decided to reopen following spring break.


Dimia Burrell

The inside of Prairie Lights is seen in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporter

The second floor of Prairie Lights Bookstore once held lively and inspirational Q&A’s from local authors, then the pandemic forced it to sit still and quiet, its long shelves full of books ignored for almost two years. Now, a new spring has sprung, and in-person events are aflutter yet again.

Prairie Lights Owner Jan Weissmiller called the reopening exciting, and said she is glad to have people be able to come back to participate in the readings.

“It gives people an opportunity to feel connected to the writer and to see other people that they know,” Weissmiller said. “It’s not just the writer, but other people from the community that they know and can talk to, before and after the reading, about the book.”

The decision to return to hosting in-person again had to be decided in January, because the bookstore works ahead of time with publishers and authors scheduling book tours.

Weissmiller immediately thought of spring — a time that tends to have lower COVID-19 cases and better weather — to make the change.

So far, the bookstore has hosted three in-person readings since reopening after spring break. On April 1, local author and University of Iowa Academic Coach Mike Meginnis participated in a live reading of his new book Drowning Practice, and did a Q&A in conversation with author LaTonya McQueen.

RELATED: Ask the Author: Mike Meginnis 

Meginnis previously participated in a reading at the bookstore back in 2014, noting the biggest difference between now and then — masks. Masks are still required inside the bookstore.

Prairie Lights hosts their events on the second floor of their bookstore, closing the café and pushing around shelves to allow for seating to be spread out. At the front of the space, there is a podium and a small table where authors can sit on either side.

When the author finishes reading, the bookstore opens the floor to audience questions, and afterward, provides a chance for the author to sell and sign their book.

Meginnis said he was very excited to share his pre-apocalyptic book with an in-person audience. He said he didn’t mind having to speak on Zoom but feels it is important for bookstores and local businesses to have in-person events.

“I did feel really grateful to be in a physical space with people who are interested in books again because it has been a long time,” Meginnis said. “It was really exciting to get to be a part of it and see people in the community in a way that we haven’t had as much over the last few years.”

Because the bookstore has hosted Zoom events for the last two years, they now have the capacity to host hybrid events in the future, for both those who want to attend in-person or join events online.

“We are continuing with some reading being only virtual, which is exciting both in terms of accessibility and writers that might not be able to travel, and might not want to travel, that are more well-known,” Prairie Lights Bookseller Mira Braneck said.

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