Literary City Guide | Iowa City, IA

I will tell you what I really like: the looks and the feel of this town. The university is right in the middle of it, and the town exists only because of the university. The idea is medieval and exciting and beautiful.
— Kurt Vonnegut in a letter to his first wife

Tour Guide: Jennifer Brinkmeyer

Jennifer rises early to write paranormal fiction then spends her day teaching secondary English. Visit her blog to tour the haunted side of Iowa City. (All photos by Nate Roelfs)


Relationship to Iowa City: I grew up 30 miles from Iowa City, attended The University of Iowa, and never left.

Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Dave Eggers, perhaps on our birthday since it’s the same day. I am inspired by how Eggers merges art and social justice. On top of that, his prose is just plain my favorite.

Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Deborah Madison

Writing soundtrack: Nada, as opposed to The Nadas

Pen or Pencil: Pencil

Coffee or Tea: Coffee, right now with vanilla almond milk, but I want caramel macchiato creamer and lots of it.

Paperback or Hardback: Paperback 

Good Reads


Prairie Lights. One of the most well-known independent bookstores in the country, it is located in the space where a local literary society in the 1930’s hosted Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Sherwood Anderson, Langston Hughes, and e e cummings. 

The Haunted Bookshop. They may carry used books, but the floor-to-ceiling shelves are stocked with 40,000 throughout the house it occupies, and the cats are friendly.


Iowa City Public Library. Located in the Pedestrian Mall in the heart of Iowa City, this is a true community center. You’ll see groups meeting, children playing, teens playing video games, and of course, people of all ages checking out books, such as our 2014 One Community, One Book selection, The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande.

The University of Iowa Libraries. Residents can get a card to take advantage of the resources offered by this major public university system.


Prairie Lights. This month, they’ve hosted such notables as Garrison Keillor, Steven Galloway, Cheryl Strayed, and Gabrielle Hamilton, among others. Wish you were here? Readings are broadcast on the radio as well as recorded online.

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In addition to what’s hosted in conjunction with Prairie Lights, you can attend readings in the Glenn Schaeffer Library at the Dey House, headquarters of this world-renowned writing program.

The Mill. Attendees of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop do late-night readings at this bar on a bi-weekly basis.

Mission Creek Festival. This weeklong festival in April, hosted at various businesses and university spaces, features concerts, comedic performances, film screenings, public lectures, food and culture events, and a tech and innovation mini-conference. On Friday, there is a lit crawl, where you travel between businesses with writers and listen to readings at each location. 


Summer of the Arts. When the college students leave, we rejoice, because it’s time for Summer of the Arts! You can bring your own chair to the weekend concerts in the outdoor mall or your own blanket to the Pentacrest lawn on campus to watch a free movie under the stars. You can take in one of three fantastic festivals: Iowa Arts Festival (this year featuring Euforquestra and The Indigo Girls), Iowa City Jazz Festival (featuring Joe Lovano and Tom Harrell), and the Iowa Soul Festival (featuring Al Jarreau).

Book Festival. Held in October, this festival brings in authors for readings and discussions. There are activities for kids and adults alike throughout the city related to books.

Summer Writing Festival. Come to Iowa City and take a workshop or two taught by esteemed faculty and visiting authors. The Eleventh Hour lecture series is free and open to the public.

Literary Walk. You can pick up a brochure at Prairie Lights that will take you on a tour of all the literary sculptures and quotes paved into the sidewalks of downtown Iowa City.

Good Eats


The Java House. Operating three locations in town, as well as at different kiosks through the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, The Java House is where people go for coffee in Iowa City. My favorite bakery item is the lavender blackberry muffins. For coffee, there are house blends, organics, conversation brews, and flavored coffees. The Java House hosts readings, art shows, and musicians at several locations.

Bluebird Diner. One of the most popular breakfast spots in town, it serves “Midwestern soul food” and partners with local farmers for many ingredients.

Leaf Kitchen. Recently voted Best Chef/Restaurant by the readers of Edible Iowa River Valley magazine, this tea joint serves brunch and lunch, or you can make a reservation to attend afternoon tea. 


Trumpet Blossom. A vegan restaurant that also brings in live music. I like the tempeh Reuben.

Hamburg Inn No. 2. A popular spot for burgers, as well as pie shakes (yep, a slice of pie blended with ice cream into a shake), this is the most famous restaurant in Iowa City. It’s been open for 65 years, and when political candidates come through Iowa before the caucus, they stop in for a meal. Pictures of former President Ronald Reagan and former President Bill Clinton hang on the walls.

Brix. This cheese shop and wine bar serves paninis and a variety of meat and gourmet cheese boards, in addition to featured wines and craft beers.  

Devotay. A restaurant specializing in Iberian Peninsula cuisine, Devotay serves tapas, paellas, and pintxos made with local ingredients.

Short’s Burger and Shine. Housed in a former shoe shine shop, Short’s serves Iowa Angus burgers, black bean burgers, and chicken sandwiches named for different places in Iowa. On tap, you’ll find an array of Iowa brews.


Deluxe Bakery. Celebrating “10 Years of Butter,” this bakery serves breakfast pastries and desserts. Sit outside on their patio and enjoy the view of the historic homes on Summit Street.

Howling Dogs Bakery. Located in Fairgrounds Coffeehouse, Howling Dogs specializes in vegan cookies, cupcakes, scones, and muffins.

Heyn’s Ice Cream. Approximately forty flavors made fresh on site, this popular destination also supplies ice cream to other stores throughout the city. 

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is. I met her
in a bar once in Iowa City.

“Remember” by Joy Harjo

LA NEW8.jpg

Jennifer's 5 Favorites

1. Favorite view: From my seat in Kinnick Stadium. Go Hawks!

2. Favorite place to write: Home

3. Favorite museum: Old Capitol Museum. They have a great Edgar Allen Poe exhibit right now.

4. Favorite coffee shop: The Java House

5. Favorite thing about Iowa City: We are the United States’ only UNESCO City of Literature. Our community has made it a mission to support literacy. As a writer, there’s always something craft-related happening. As a teacher, my students benefit from an overwhelming number of literary opportunities.