Thursday, February 16, 2023

Hannah Bonner of Brink at AWP 2022
MFA candidate Hannah Bonner (center) with fellow poet Catherine Pond at the 2022 AWP Conference.

Through her poetry, prose, and study of experimental film, Hannah Bonner has carved her own unique place in the eclectic local arts scene.

“I don’t think I’ve ever lived in or seen a community like Iowa City where there’s so much support at both the university level and the community level [for] local artists, organizations, and events,” Bonner says. “There’s always a reading, a show, a cool performance piece—and there’s a lot of permission in this community to embolden and enable people to try weird things.”

An MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Iowa, Bonner received an MA in Film Studies at Iowa and a BA in English & Creative Writing from UNC-Chapel Hill. Her poems and essays have been featured in a variety of journals.

Bonner’s work is often inspired by the natural word and how “exterior landscapes or geography can mirror interior emotional or psychological states.” The writing student is constantly trying to unknot her thoughts on the body and desire, power and privilege, the #MeToo movement, and the ways in which people find their moral ground.

“In things like literature, film, or art, we can often be confronted with something that we don’t fully understand. And I feel like when I sit down to write prose, specifically, I often don’t know what I think, and that is the most exciting way to start a piece,” she explains. “I feel like writing, for me, is another way of thinking.”

Literary inspiration and ambitions

Numerous experiences have shaped Bonner’s inspiration and ambitions. One such instance occurred while at the Vermont Studio Center for a residency in poetry. While reading nonfiction to help generate poetry ideas, she came across The Making of the American Essay by John D'Agata.

“It was like a switch flipped at that time, and it broke open what I thought an essay could be,” she recalls. “I remember that being a crossroads where suddenly I was really excited about the possibility of prose in a way I hadn’t been before.”

A resident of Iowa City for almost eight years, Bonner is interested in continuing to work for the University of Iowa in a tenure-track position. She would like to continue to write criticism for film full time and potentially become a traveling art critic.

“That would be a dream to be able to travel for work and continue to write about film, art, literature, film festivals,” she says. “I think that would be incredibly invigorating.”

That said, career prospects are not at the forefront of Bonner’s motivation for writing, and she cites it as one of the few creatively sustaining practices in her life.

“I just know it’s something I’m going to continue to do for the rest of my life because of the ways in which it has been so foundational to me–understanding myself and my place in the world,” she explains.

Embracing an Avant Garde community

Brink founders Hannah Bonner, Alisha Jeddeloh, Nina Lohman, and Stacia Stonerook at Porch Light.
Brink founders Hannah Bonner, Alisha Jeddeloh, Nina Lohman, and Stacia Stonerook at Porch Light.

A turning point occurred in Bonner’s artistic journey when in 2019 she received a grant through the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and an internship at The Englert Theatre intended for students unsure if they want to continue in academia after graduation. During this time, she gained a deep appreciation for being in creative spaces and participating in an artistic community.

“That was a moment where I realized I could be in a library all day with a stack of books, writing about early cinema,” Bonner recalls. “Or I could be helping arrange a poetry reading or working on my own art that I could then share with this community that I really love and has become a home for me.”

That epiphany has manifested through various outlets for the MFA candidate. In addition to being full-time student, Bonner is the poetry editor and co-founder of Brink, an Iowa City-based literary journal that supports creatives who exist outside of traditional institutions. To satiate her love of film, Bonner also serves as co-president of Vertical Cinema, a graduate student organization that showcases experimental cinema and Avant Garde work.

“When I watch experimental work, it always produces new writing for me,” she cites. “It’s an area where my love of cinema really dovetails with my love of writing.”

The writing student says it’s a unique combination of academic and communal spaces that has allowed her creativity to flourish.

“For me, just living here and getting to witness so many amazing working artists who are both my peers in the classroom but also people in Downtown Iowa City–that has meant as much to my education as anything that I’ve learned in the classroom here.”