Marvin Bell

recorded in Iowa City, IA


Marvin Bell

I’m Marvin Bell. I live in Iowa City, Iowa. However, for about 26 years now, my wife Dorothy and I have gone to Port Townsend, Washington for part of the year—right now, it’s about four months of each year. And for about 20 years, Dorothy and I have gone to Eastern Long Island to the town of Sag Harbor. We do that partly so we can lure one of our sons, who lives in New York City, out on weekends. We’ve lived a great many other places too. I come from Eastern Long Island, from a very small town called Center Moriches. I went to school in upstate New York, lived in Alfred, NY, where the university was, lived in Rochester and Syracuse and then went to Chicago, where I met Dorothy, and then to Iowa City for the first time, in 1961. I was a graduate student bum in the writers’ workshop at the University of Iowa, for three years. Then I went into the army for two years and was stationed in Indianapolis. And after that, was asked to come back to teach in the writers’ workshop, and taught for the workshop for 40 years. During those 40 years, we did sometimes live elsewhere too, and I even taught for other schools at times. So we ended up living in Santa Cruz and Santa Fe and San Francisco, in Hawaii, in Seattle, in rural Vermont when I taught for Goddard College. We lived a couple places in Mexico, a couple places in Spain. I think there may be other places in there. We lived in Portland, Oregon. So we’ve kind of moved around; we’re crazy people. We drive every year, all the way to Port Townsend, Washington on I-90 from Iowa.

The Knox Writers’ House

Do you like Iowa City?


I liked Iowa City right away when I first came here. At that time, the university was perhaps 10,000, maybe 12 at the most when I came back to teach. Now, it’s over 30. I liked the town, I liked it being a university town, I liked being among people who have energy, which is to say, young people. And there’s always a lot to do, the writers’ workshop, of course, was a very special kind of place. Perhaps it still is, but it certainly was then. There weren’t many MFA programs, indeed, there may only have been a couple of others. And it was very funky, if you will. We were all outsiders, we had come here by circuitous routes, some of us had wives and children, some of us were veterans. Things were pretty chaotic and informal. So it was exciting. It was very exciting to be here. And coming back to teach, it was still exciting, and it always was because the students in the writers’ workshop were exceptional. There were good poets and better poets and good fiction writers and better fiction writers and so forth. And Iowa City is kind of an odd place anyway, it’s a secret many people know. It’s full of artists and writers and musicians and playwrights and what have you, as well as big time athletes. So we’ve liked it here, and we’ve kept our permanent address here. Our friends in Port Townsend, Washington used to say, Oh, someday you’ll retire and you’ll be able to come and live here and we didn’t have the heart to tell them we would never do that [laughs]. Because in Iowa, in the winter, the sun shines, and of course in the Northwest, that’s not so much the case. So we’re probably in Iowa City to stay, even though we do live elsewhere part of each year.

Lines on His Birthday by John Logan


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