Substack Treasures: Three Gems from Iowa Authors

Jaqueline Kehoe has a thing for whales on “5 Fascinating Things.” Melon-headed whale, courtesy of NOAA on

Are you a Substack reader? is a place where writers of all sorts can publish their own writing. No matter what you are interested in, there is almost certainly someone using Substack to publish their thoughts about it. Some writers give readers free access to their content; others charge for a subscription (though most have at least some free content). The site takes a cut of subscription revenue but is otherwise free for writers to use.

Readers can choose to receive new content as an emailed newsletter or to read in the Substack app, which is optimized for those who want to read on a mobile device.

Here are three Substacks from authors who have Iowa connections. Believe me when I say this list only scratches the surface of what can found on the site—so I will likely return to this subject to highlight additional writers with connections to our state.

Writer and photographer Jacqueline Kehoe

The World is F*cking Cool  by Jacqueline Kehoe

Kehoe is an outstanding travel writer whose work has appeared in an array of publications. She is also a graduate of the University of Iowa—and a former student employee at Hancher Auditorium, working in the box office and on my team of interns in the marketing department. Each Friday, she publishes “5 Fascinating Things,” writing in a style that—for me, at least—honors and advances the cynicism and sarcasm often required to get through daily life while still provoking wonder and curiosity.

Here’s a bit from a recent entry:

Thing #1: Okay, I don’t know why this newsletter has a thing for giant cetaceans, but it does. We covered the killer whales knocking over yachts; we covered the gay humpback whales; and now we’re covering a pair of famous-in-South-Africa orcas, Port and Starboard. Port’s dorsal fin bends to the left; Starboard’s to the right. They’re besties. They’re adorable. And they bond by murdering great white sharks.

My Impression Now by John Kenyon

Kenyon is the executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization. He is also an exceptional arts and entertainment writer. Earlier in his career, he was an A&E writer for the Cedar Rapids Gazette before a long stint as editor of the Corridor Business Journal. I’ve always admired his writing and his ability to draw me into his thoughts about an artist, whether I am familiar with them or not.

Recently, Kenyon was considering the ways in which his listening habits have changed—for the worse, he argues—due to the amount of music that is now available instantly all of the time:

Now, whenever I read or hear about a band or album or song, I don’t jot it down and plan to search for it someday at the record store. I punch it into the Apple search bar, and nearly every time, the song is instantly pumped into my headphones. There are gaps, which is why I still have a few thousand CDs in my house, but what is there has widened my already broad horizons. In doing so, however, my listening has become a shallow pool. It is the rare album that earns a complete spin, let alone multiple listens (that album this week was Iechyd Da by former Coral frontman Bill Ryder-Jones).

Release McCracken by Elizabeth McCracken

Novelist, memoirist, and Iowa Writers’ Workshop grad Elizabeth McCracken lives and teaches in Austin, Texas. She has taken to writing morning swim reports in which she shares with readers her quiet adventures in and around the pool. Recently, she has had to move from an outdoor pool to the Y due to construction at her usual site, a development that will likely greatly reduce the appearance of raccoons in the lovely, gem-like pieces she shares.

Here’s an excerpt from a report from the Y:

The outdoor pool at my Y doesn’t open till 8AM on Saturday mornings, quite a civilized time. This morning it was in the 50s, the pool surface misty in full daylight. Beautiful, in fact. I swam for 45 minutes. On one length I even tried to do the crawl, if it’s still called the crawl, and remembered why I’m a committed breast stroker: the crawl feels as though I’m ladling water into my head through every cranial orifice.

Afterwards I went to Trader Joe’s in my after-swim attire—in pleasant weather, a long flowered muumuu of sorts, and a pair of orangey-pink fuzzy clogs, and when I got back my ball-and-chain said to me, “That’s quite a get-up.” He wasn’t wrong. It was the sort of thing that one might call Old Austin.

Again, these are just a few of the many, many writers with Iowa connections who are sharing content on Substack. I encourage you to take a look. Meanwhile, if you are so inclined, you can add your voice to the Substack conversation, too.