Venti or Grande?: The Iowa Review's Treatment of Interns Exposed

Sara Kosch

Intern: Meanings: imprison (v.), Synonyms: detain, confine, hold, hold in custody, release (Antonym). Well, that sounds promising, doesn't it? The 2007 Microsoft Word's definition seems to be the one that everybody thinks of when they think of 'the intern.' I can't tell you how many times I've told people I have a summer internship and they've asked how I enjoy being the office slave/personal coffee obtainer. "I wouldnt know," I tell them. And I don't. I've never been commanded to go on a Starbucks run or a journey for jelly donuts, and I myself have actually been fed on multiple occasions by the staff (they give me BAGELS!)  I guess if I were to describe being an intern at The Iowa Review I would say it's more like being a free-range office pet than an indentured servant. They feed me, give me treats (I now have quite a collection of free TIR issues on my bookshelf), and are generally quite fond of me (or so it appears). But this gives the wrong impression. I'm not just puttering around the office looking for attention. I actually am being productive (at least the majority of the time). I guess maybe the best way to describe my internship would be to say it's like an apprenticeship. Not only does that make me think of the Sorcerer's Apprentice (Mickey Mouse version), which is just glamorous, but also I really feel that the staff here are the teachers, and I'm doing my best to soak up all their knowledge. Sure I do some tasks that aren't exactly mind-blowing (like opening and sending mail or plugging the names of old TIR employees into a computer database), but I also get to read submissions, help proofread (the fun of which Russell captures in his last blog), transcribe interviews (I'm currently working on one between Michael Fauver and Allan Gurganus, and it's just fascinating to listen to), conduct an interview myself (stay tuned for an upcoming conversation with Susan Perabo, a winner of the Pushcart Prize), and oh yeah, write blog posts.

I'm gaining experience and everything else that internships are supposed to be about, but I'm also being given a chance to look at the literary world in a new and intimate way. Even the most mundane projects are introducing me to the names of talented writers that I may otherwise never have heard of, exposing me to stories, poems, and essays that are beautiful, poignant, raw, hilarious, and real, and letting me become a part of that world. Back in the fall when I first started, I sort of felt like a little kid dressing up in Mom's heels and lipstick, thinking I was so incredibly spiffy but then getting to work and realizing how clueless I was. It's still a tad painful at times, like when I'm intimidated by how intelligent and talented everyone here is, but then I remind myself that I'm the apprentice and I need to forgive myself my moments of ignorance. I'm learning what I can, building my confidence, and finding my voice, and after all that The Iowa Review has done for me, I suppose it's only fair to admit that if any of the staff did want coffee, I would be obligated to get it since I kind of owe them. A lot.