Queer love letters provide unique audio tour through University of Iowa campus
Beginning at the theater building on the University of Iowa campus, a series of queer love letters wait to be discovered.
Visitors can hear them read aloud as they walk a path that leads through the campus, where familiar spaces become the backdrops to lovers promising themselves to one another and to partners in anguish over relationships coming to an end.
These queer love letters, some written during the 1980s and ‘90s, are told in a 50-minute audio experience called, “I’m Writing to You Today.”
It was created by master’s degree candidate Ann Kreitman in collaboration with the Pride Alliance Center — "made by queer people for queer people,” Kreitman said — and is part of the “Borderless” series.
“Borderless” is curated by the Department of Theatre Arts to produce works that represent the diversity of experiences that are essential for the campus and Iowa City community to see on stage.
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Listeners start the outdoor experience at the front of UI’s theater building at 200 N. Riverside Drive.
Kreitman said that some of the places featured in the audio experience are “deeply significant” and are discussed in relation to Iowa City’s queer history. Others, she said, are just “lovely” places to be.
“Giving my audience that walk through those places, I hope to teach them how to reimagine the campus,” Kreitman said. “This is a very heteronormative, Big Ten football school. I am aware of that. And yet, I think because of that, the queer community finds each other with such an intensity, and I think needs spaces specifically where we can be ourselves … and own the campus in the same way that other people feel an ownership or a loyalty to the campus.”
Listeners will hear letters carefully selected by Kreitman, who tried to pick ones that she connected with most immediately, as well as letters that didn’t need too much backstory.
While there were many options, Kreitman focused on her audience.
Though she wants everyone to listen to “I’m Writing to You Today,” she said she is trying to reach queer undergraduate students. She wants to leave them with the understanding that they will have more than one relationship, explaining that between coming out, finally acknowledging yourself and learning how to be yourself, your first relationship can be intense.
Kreitman can relate. She believed her relationship was her one chance at being loved, something she had to make work.
“It was really important for me to think about this as cycles, and to say, you know what, there is that joyous, beautiful, ‘Oh my god, we just met,’ feeling, and that can turn into something beautiful, and then it can also sour,” she said. “And then it can happen all over again.”
“I’m Writing to You Today” is also an exploration of Kreitman’s journey of self-discovery and love.
Kreitman, 30, tells listeners that it wasn’t until she was 24 that she realized she is gay. Around the same time, Kreitman bought a book of lesbian love letters.
Kreitman said that, for a while, she was hiding behind the love letters when thinking about “I’m Writing to You Today.”
“In thinking more deeply about the piece, I realized, ‘OK, where am I in this? Why do I want to talk to these people? Why am I so insistent that people listen to these letters?’” she said. “And so I started thinking about the question, 'What does love mean to me?’”
If the audience was expected to connect to the audio experience, to the letters, Kreitman said she knew she needed to open herself up first.
The letters are yours to have, Kreitman tells listeners early in “I’m Writing to You Today.” They're yours to carry with you, available whenever you need them.
Although “I’m Writing to You Today” debuted in the spring, it returns so that students new to UI this fall can see that, in spite of the challenges the pandemic presented, creativity and connection still happened, according to Kreitman.
“I’m Writing to You Today” can be downloaded on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or listened to on a browser using a link on the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences page under the Events tab.
According to the website, “I’m Writing to You Today” will be available through Sept. 26.
Before the audio experience ends, Kreitman invites listeners to write their own letter.
That way, “I’m Writing to You Today” continues, Kreitman explained, highlighting that while these historical letters are great, lives in the present are equally important to document and can be valuable to pass on to future queer folks.
She also hopes the experience opens up conversations.
Kreitman said that it can be vulnerable to find queer elders to talk to, to have intergenerational conversations that people say to have because you may be unable to talk to your parents about being queer.
“It's very hard to admit that you don't know things, or how do you engage with a stranger who you have something in common with but your experience of it might be vastly different,” she said. “So I think the letter is the beginning of that conversation, of how do we talk to each other about these hugely important things in our lives.”
Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Reach her at PBarraza@press-citizen.com or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.