Friday, March 1, 2024

For Glen Waters II, growing up in Dallas as a reserved child, nothing unlocked creative expression quite like poetry and music.

“Poetry was a space where I could express myself freely and get over some of my insecurities, as someone who was in speech therapy for a decade,” he recalls.

Waters planned to play football and receive his bachelor’s degree in biology at Georgetown University, but a youth of writing and dancing to the melodies pouring from his father’s speakers inevitably came full circle when, after freshman year, he switched majors to English and African American studies, dedicating his writing and studies to create a clearer path to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for graduate school.

Glen Waters II
Iowa Writers' Workshop alumnus and current adjunct assistant professor Glen Waters II, who currently teaches Creative Writing for the Musician (photo by Cale Stelken). 

“I chose Iowa; Iowa chose me,” he declares with a grin. “And as I got here and experienced Iowa I realized, yes, this is where I’m supposed to be.”

The young writer quickly embraced the nationally renowned program. Highlights of his time at the workshop include a two-day symposium conference in the Atlanta University Center Consortium, which offered Waters his first teaching engagement through co-leading a workshop, and attending Napa Valley Writer's Conference as a John Leggett Fellow, where he was advised by poet Major Jackson. Waters would graduate from the workshop in 2023 and earn certificates in African American Studies and Public Digital Humanities

Early in his graduate experience at Iowa, Waters also found opportunities to explore his musical side. At an event introducing new Black students to the university, he met Dr. William Menefield, an assistant professor of Jazz Studies at the School of Music. Menefield would provide Waters music students to collaborate on a writing project and later invite him to audition for the new Black Popular Music Ensemble. Waters joined the following year and began rehearsing, recording, creating scripts, and writing with the group twice weekly at the Voxman Music Building. He would also MC an event in December 2022, which featured a variety of singers and musicians creating an experience unique to Iowa. Waters rejoined the ensemble for his last semester as a student, and they even traveled once to perform. 

“It formed this relationship I have with the music department,” he noted. “I think the work that they do is amazing.”

Creative Writing for the Musician

Now an adjunct assistant professor at Iowa, Waters relishes the opportunity to teach his fourth course on Creative Writing for the Musician.

Glen Waters performing in the BPME in 2022.
Waters performing in the Black Popular Music Ensemble in 2022 (photo by Miranda Meyer).

“I learn as much as my students learn, and it’s always a great thing to be able to express my interest in the classroom setting and the things that got me into creative writing, the things that got me into music, and meshing both of those together,” he reflects. “There’s a strong relationship between lyrics, poetry, and music, and I try to display that within my classes, and try to form a conversation and language around, ‘What does it mean to connect poetry and music, how has that been done in the past, and how can we continue to make that connection so strong?’” 

Waters aims to broaden the scope of what he sees as a typical classroom. This includes a recent endeavor teaching a hip hop writing and culture class in which students observed regional differences, personal essay, and documentaries.

“My philosophy is bringing students into the classroom while also putting out what I believe can be really valuable to their own work and experience. And when I think about the best classes I’ve been in, they’ve operated in that same way, too, where I feel like I can bring myself into the classroom.”

Glen Waters II teaching
Waters talking with students in his Creative Writing for the Musician course at the University of Iowa (photo by Cale Stelken).

Waters, who records and composes music out of his apartment studio, has also found a wealth of opportunities in the Iowa City community to perform his craft and offer his writing wisdom. That includes leading a four-week workshop through Iowa City Poetry, performing at the Mic Check Poetry Fest, and rapping at the Stanley Museum and Public Space One, where Waters performed songs from his brand-new EP. The former Division 1 player is also working on a collection of poetry inspired by his 18 years of playing football and the physical toll that brings, as well as ghostwriting and creative nonfiction projects.

“As one of the younger writers that go through the workshop, coming straight from undergrad, there’s always a lot of questions and eyes looking at you,” Waters says, noting how his experience at Iowa has confirmed his desire to teach as well as his passion and skills as a writer. “I can safely say, by the end, when I got my diploma and graduated that most of them were answered because I developed my voice as a writer, and I had an opportunity to two teach two amazing classes while continuing to teach following my graduation.”

In the journey to find his creative voice, the young adjunct professor has come to offer a primary word of advice to his students and mentees looking to build their literary confidence.

“Write what you’re obsessed about,” he insists. “If you believe you have too much of one type of poem or subject, just keep writing in it because the only thing you can do is get better at that one thing, and that can be your thing. And build up your confidence in that.”