UNI student’s writing takes the international stage

Navigate Left
Navigate Right
  • With support from faculty, Townsend will be presenting original work at Sigma Tau Delta’s international convention.

  • Sigma Tau Delta is an English honor society open to all majors. The faculty and students pictured above celebrated the UNI chapter’s induction ceremony in October 2022.

  • As a husband, parent and veteran, Mykel Townsend’s college experience has looked different from most. However, he has found his place in Sigma Tau Delta, a worldwide English honor society.

  • Members from around the world will gather at the Sigma Tau Delta convention where Townsend’s writing will be featured.

Navigate Left
Navigate Right


Senior Mykel Townsend to present creative writing at international convention

A UNI student will present his short stories about life in the army to an international and national audience. Mykel Townsend will be presenting his very first piece from his collection, “Fort Hudson,”  a set of short stories about his experience in the army. “Fort Hudson” is based on stories about Townsend’s drill instructor that he made up or heard from others. 

“Lots of people were scared of him. But all drill instructors are scary,” Townsend said. “Hudson made a big impact on my life during basic training. He’s like my David Goggins.” Goggins is known to many as an inspirational figure for his heroism as a Navy SEAL, his weight loss of 125 pounds to become a Navy SEAL and is considered to be one of the world’s top athletes for marathons and ultramarathons.  “When I ran into Hudson in Alaska during my station, it felt like a full circle moment,” Townsend said. 

Townsend is a senior majoring in teaching with a minor in creative writing. He is a veteran, husband and father. He is also the only UNI student who will be attending Sigma Tau Delta’s international convention in Denver, Colo. from March 30 to April 1. Sigma Tau Delta is an English honor society that has over 900 chapters both abroad and in the United States. Its main goal is to promote service to society through literacy. 

Jesse Swan, an English professor in the Department of Languages and Literatures at UNI, leads UNI’s chapter for Sigma Tau Delta. Swan was an instrumental part of Townsend’s journey into applying for Sigma Tau Delta and submitting his piece to the convention.

“I’ve had a lot of teachers encourage me to keep writing throughout my life,” Townsend said. “Dr. Swan strongly suggested I apply to Sigma Tau, and once I was inducted, he suggested that I submit one of my pieces for the convention. He helped me finish the piece. I really appreciate his approach to writing and teaching. Instead of always focusing on the organization of the piece or mechanizing it to fit a modern standard, we were able to just write whenever I felt like I had something to write about instead of forcing the words out.” 

A Veteran’s Journey

Townsend’s “Fort Hudson” collection is about the plight of veteran PTSD conveyed through the mode of creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is telling true stories with creative writing techniques. “It’s playing off the structure of a memory and mixing fictional elements with what really happened,” he said. “I blend in real scenes but mix them with scenarios that happened at another time or are slightly fictional. Oftentimes, my poetry is in objective, third-person perspective—essentially what the reader sees is what they get.” 

Townsend is not your traditional student. “I graduated from Storm Lake High school in December 2016 and enlisted into the army. I completed basic training in Fort Benning, Louisiana,” he said. 

Townsend’s service took him even further away from Iowa. “I was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska for three years and nine months, basically in the middle of nowhere for four years. The winters are brutal and always dark. The summers were nice but people would lose sleep when summer came because it’d be sunny all day. It felt like time wasn’t passing,” Townsend said.

During a training deployment in Australia, he suffered an injury that led to his medical discharge.  “Yeah, that sucked. So I came back and worked in Des Moines as a plumber. I was bored and didn’t know what to do with my life. Then I met a lovely lady who convinced me to move up here, go to school and now we’re married and we have a kid,” Townsend said. 

“As a parent, I don’t have time for extracurricular college activities. I can’t really join a frat so Sigma Tau is the perfect fit for me. It was only 75 bucks to apply. You really just need to meet the academic standards,” he said. 

Sigma Tau Delta is inclusive of all non-English majors as well. “This is a really great opportunity to further my career and professional development. “This will open many doors for me in terms of career development and my future,” Townsend said.

When the Muse Speaks to Me 

Townsend’s writing process is certainly unique. “Right now, I’m currently working on the ‘Next Great American Novel’ as UNI English Professor Dr. Jeffrey Copeland said. It’ll be about the meaning of the American dream,” Townsend said. 

Writing for Townsend is more than just an academic discipline. “For me, creative writing and poetry is just kind of my thing. I had a high school teacher who really pushed me to go this route, and it’s greatly impacted my life. Writing is more than a class or an elective,” he said. 

Townsend writes what comes to him whenever it comes to him. “I don’t believe in having a mechanized, organized writing system,” he said. “If something comes to mind in the middle of the night, I’ll write it down. If something is weighing on my heart, I’ll sit down and write about it. I even carry little notes for my thoughts.”

“My best stuff comes from doing meaningful work or just spontaneous middle of the night thoughts. I get inspired by thinking about the world, my lived experiences, building a brooder box for raising hens and tending to chicks. When the muse speaks to me, I write,” he said.  

Teaching has always been on the back of Townsend’s mind when it comes to his future. “I thought about becoming a police officer or firefighter, but teaching is another kind of the same service,” he said. 

Townsend chose writing as part of his minor because, “I’ve always really liked to read and free-write. I did a lot of that in the army with poetry. I also had a very impactful teacher who helped me feel confident with being in a leadership position. As long as I know what I’m talking about, I know I can teach well. I want to pursue my education further and teach college kids one day too.” 

Creating Spaces for Creative Writing Students 

In the coming future, Townsend wants to work and inspire high school kids to write their feelings. He did his Level 1 student teaching at Waterloo East High.  “I’ve lived their life and I know what it’s like. I want to give kids a safe space to write,” he said. “I hope to inspire kids to express themselves honestly through writing instead of hiding themselves. It’s a lot easier to break s— than to write about how you feel. I don’t want to put barriers between them and expressing themselves through writing.” Townsend will be student teaching in the fall and will soon be applying to UNI’s graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in writing. 

Townsend has a GoFundMe to help with the costs for the trips that can be found at gofund.me/4bcd5b26. He will be making thank you cards for all who donate. Townsend’s advice to all his fellow students is: “There’s a lot more to do in life than just sitting in your dorm all day for a semester. Go after the things you want to do. Things are only impossible until they’re done.”