Anne Lamott examines hope, service, and laughter ahead of visit to Englert

Author Anne Lamott discusses ties to Iowa City and her search for strength, hope, and joy in a pessimistic world ahead of her visit to the Englert Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 10.


Lillie Hawker

Audience members file into Englert Theatre during day three of the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City on Saturday, April 9, 2022.

Charlotte McManus, Arts Reporter

Anne Lamott’s writing has been praised for years as refreshingly straightforward, sweet, and funny. With her short dreads, big earrings, and thick glasses, Lamott herself comes off just like her writing.

Soon, her big personality will take the stage in Iowa City. Lamott will be in conversation with Jennifer Colville at the Englert Theatre on Thursday.

Lamott is the bestselling author of nonfiction titles like “Bird by Bird;” “Help, Thanks, Wow;” “Grace (Eventually);” and “Traveling Mercies,” as well as several novels. She was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985 and inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2010.

“It seems like it makes too much sense, being a city of literature,” Brian Johannesen, the Englert’s senior programming manager, said. “It seemed really important to put her on our stage if we had the opportunity to do that, so it was a no-brainer.”

Jennifer Colville, local founder of Porch Light Literary Arts Center and Prompt Press, will hold an on-stage interview with Lamott. Afterward, there will be a question-and-answer session with the audience members.

“I’m curious to see what she’s like in person,” Colville said. “I want to ask her about her journey towards becoming a writer, because I also really love her. The way she talks about writing just for writing’s sake— I want to ask her about the benefits of just writing as a practice, something that makes you more thoughtful or more sane, if that’s possible for writers.”

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Lamott said she’s looking forward to her time in Iowa. She’s been close friends with Iowa Writers’ Workshop faculty Ethan Canin for thirty-five years and plans to visit him and his wife while in the city. She also aims to infuse hope among the audience.

“It’ll be two days after the midterms, so I’m sure people will feel very high emotions.” Lamott said. “People are very sad about the environment — not just the political environment, but the Earth. I actually have a lot of hope, in spite of it all.”

Lamott, who has enjoyed a high-profile career for over four decades, said she’s used to interviews of this scale.

“Because it’s an interview, I feel like anything that goes wrong is not my fault,” Lamott said jokingly. “It’s all on the interviewer.”

Still, she cuts Colville some slack.

“I hear Jenny is amazing,” Lamott said. “She’s doing so much for the community, and I think that she’ll be a wonderful woman to spend an hour and a half with because we have a shared vision of the role of the artist, which is to serve. We help people put to work their own creative offerings. In this scary, cold world, there’s nothing warmer than art.”

In the end, Lamott hopes to elicit strength and joy in the audience.

“I hope people take away encouragement, both to keep fighting the good fight and to get their writing done,” she said. “And I love to make people laugh. I’ve written before that laughter is carbonated holiness.  It’s such a relief to laugh in the midst of it all.”