Lathan Ehlers, Iowa House Hotel

Photo by Tim Schoon.

Who knew a friend’s love for Hawkeye football could lead a person to an assistant general manager position at a hotel?

That’s what happened for Lathan Ehlers, who serves in that capacity at the Iowa House Hotel in the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus.

“I needed a job coming into my sophomore year, and a friend of mine worked at the hotel as a front desk clerk,” says Ehlers, who received an English degree with an emphasis on creative writing from Iowa. “This great friend was an equally great Hawkeyes fan. He offered to get me a job under the condition that I take any shifts he was assigned on football weekends.”

Since then, Ehlers moved up to front desk manager and the aforementioned assistant general manager post. He directs the work of the front desk staff, manages group bookings, responds to guest complaints, and keeps an eye on the budget.

Ehlers spoke with fyi about his love of writing, the experience of living in a writing community, and recent renovations at Iowa House Hotel.

When did you get the writing bug?
I started writing (albeit poorly) when I was in high school. I fancied myself a short story writer. When I came to the University, Fiction Writing was already full, so I decided to take Playwriting I. I loved it and took Playwriting II the following semester. It was then that I started to think of myself as a playwright.

My focus has shifted several times over the years, but at this point, I consider myself a poet. Poetry, for me, is the genre that most allows me to explore elements of fiction, playwriting, and creative nonfiction, and I have been fortunate to have learned from some very talented young writers.

What about writing for the stage most appeals to you?
Collaboration. What I love most about writing for the stage is that you give others a chance to express their artistic talents as well. The set, the costumes, the lighting, the direction, the acting. All of these things come together around the script and no aspect is more important than the others. I was lucky enough to have two of my plays performed in the undergraduate 10-Minute Play Festival—it was amazing to see how the others involved in the production affected the work as a whole.

Why did you come to the University for your studies, and what prompted you to work here?
I came to The University of Iowa because I planned to major in English. Being from Iowa, in-state tuition at the best writing school in the nation was too tempting to pass up. Additionally, my best friend since third grade planned to attend. When I told him I was considering Drake University, he simply said, “Come on.” How do you argue with that?

A few of my favorite things…

Bacon-wrapped dates

Perfect Maker’s Manhattan when made properly

Lunch at Short’s Burger & Shine

The World Doesn’t End by Charles Simic

Instrumental post-rock bands like The Mercury Program and Explosions in the Sky

In Bruges

How I Met Your Mother

Readings at Prairie Lights

I had no interest in teaching; I figured I would just find a job and continue to write on the side. Working at the Iowa House Hotel just seemed ideal. I mentioned this to my supervisors when I was still a student at the desk, and with that, they gave me the experience I needed so I could apply for the position I hold currently. I am incredibly fortunate to have a job with decent pay and great benefits out of an undergraduate degree; having a job in a community I love is even better.

Talk about the recent updates made at the Iowa House.
The Iowa House just finished updating the third-floor rooms. These rooms have a much more modern décor, and virtually everything in the rooms is new. They now include: all new hard goods (furniture, headboards, etc.), soft goods (comforters, linens, etc.), Sealy Posturepedic Elite mattresses, new paint and carpeting, black-out window coverings, LCD TVs and Blu-Ray/DVD players, iPod docking station alarm clocks, wireless Internet, microwaves and refrigerators, Keurig coffee brewers, and full-length mirrors.

We’re also trying to improve our green efforts by adding low-flow shower heads, shampoo and conditioner dispensers to reduce waste and use of plastics, more energy-efficient electronics, and recycling containers.

What’s the most unexpected thing that ever happened to you at work?
I work in the Iowa Memorial Union, so I have to talk about the flood a little bit. It’s one of those things I don’t think we’ll ever get over. Even though it’s years later, I still remember showing up at 8 in the morning the day after the building closed to finish moving out. We’d planned on having the whole day to move, but around 10, everyone was told to move to higher ground. We had a meeting on the Pentacrest, and I think everyone was just in shock. I had told a guest just two days earlier that there was no indication the building would be closing. At the time, I was being completely honest.

What would your colleagues be surprised to learn about you?
That I smoke hookah a little more than occasionally. I love the social aspect to it, and it’s very relaxing for me. I try not to overdo it, though. After all, it’s really not good for you.

What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken, and did it pay off?
I’m really not a big risk-taker. However, some of my closest colleagues are privy to a risk I’m currently considering. I’m applying to eight MFA programs around the country and hope to begin a program in the fall of 2012. So, I might leave a job, area, and people I love to pursue an MFA in poetry. I’ll have to let you know if it pays off in a few years.