UIowa Professors Speak of Their Encounter with the ‘Unknown Knowns’ at Prairie Lights

Patricia Foster and Jeff Porter read excerpts from their new book Understanding the Essay at Prairie Lights bookstore on Valentines Day.


Professors of English at The University of Iowa, both Patricia Foster and Jeff Porter, are enthusiastic writers looking to show the next generation that essays are still an art form.

Foster and Porter have both received awards for their previous works in the literary world. Ranging from nonfiction to radio and film work between the two of them. Their newest book Understanding the Essay brings the readers to a realization that reading is a big part of the art of writing. The book consists of a collection of essays by many famous authors such as Joan Didion.

The atmosphere was warm and inviting on the second floor of Prairie Lights as people began to claim seats for the reading that would take place in just a short while. Attendees were of all varieties, young and old.

Prairie Lights has been holding these live reading sessions for up-and-coming authors and also those who are already established from all over the globe to interact with their followers and a new audience.

Two young men in the audience caught my eye right from the start. They immediately started speaking to each other as if they were old friends. Josh and Chris are former students of Jeff Porter and came to hear their previous professor speak about his new book.

Chris spoke of how he attends readings like this on occasion but what really brought him in on February 14 was that he “took a couple of classes from Jeff.”

As the crowd began to wind down Foster and Porter took the stand introducing themselves with a very fun and energetic personality and Foster making a joke about no kissing in the aisles due to the holiday.

After getting herself situated Foster began her reading by telling the audience that Porter and herself wanted to take a new adventure on learning about the “unknown knowns” in the literary world. This led to the construction of Understanding the Essay.

The reading consisted of Foster and Porter taking turns reading from their favorite authors essays and the way they analyzed them. One of those authors was in the audience that night. David Hamilton, author of an essay on the boudoir, assisted Foster by reading an excerpt of his own essay from his seat in the audience.


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