A 68-year-old aspiring writer accuses the Iowa Writers’ Workshop of age discrimination


A 68-year-old man who was rejected by the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming he was discriminated against because of his age. Dan Thomson, a former lawyer and self-published author, was among the 97% of applicants to the program who were rejected in 2017.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports that the complaint, filed with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, alleges that the University of Iowa’s creative writing program is biased against applicants older than 50 and favors those in their twenties.

Thomson cited statistics from the program that reveal that, in the last five years, just over 100 would-be graduate students over the age of 50 applied to the program, but none made the cut.


“It seems like a program just for millennials,” Thomson said. “I would have guessed that there would have been a broader range of ages.”

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is widely considered one of the most prestigious creative writing programs in the country. In statistics shared with Thomson for his suit, Iowa revealed that between 2013 and 2017, the fiction program received 5,061 applications, of which only 135 were accepted.

The program was established in 1936 and counts among its graduates authors such as Raymond Carver, Sandra Cisneros, T.C. Boyle, Ann Patchett, Yiyun Li, A.M. Homes, Jane Smiley, Yaa Gyasi, Curtis Sittenfeld and Times critic at large Alexander Chee.

University of Iowa English professor Loren Glass noted that the program is one of the most competitive in the country. “It’s hard to get into the workshop,” Glass told the Press-Citizen.”In the past, they’ve joked that it’s harder to get into than Harvard Medical School.”

In a series of emails to Thomson, Steven Wehling, an official with the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, said that applicants are judged only on the strength of the writing samples they submit with their applications.


Thomson says he believes the short stories he submitted were strong enough for him to be admitted to the program. “It may be vanity on my part ... but I have a fairly high opinion of the two pieces that I sent in,” he said.

Thomson is the author of a 102-page self-published political novel called “The Candidate,” which is available for sale on Amazon. This is its first paragraph:

“The name of Norman Telos’ car was an automatic talk show joke. The Tork rhymed with stork, pork and cork. When the talking heads were done making fun of the Tork they went out and bought one because the Tork was the best two passenger sedan since the model T. Its diesel electric engine was the most efficient one on the market. Acceleration was better than any sports car. With 2 crossing roll beams and a domed roof it was the safest car around. The price was in the midrange of two passenger cars. But what really sold the Tork was an ad in which the Tork parallel parked between two cars with less than seven and a half feet of curb space. The Tork, a black dome seven feet in diameter stopped by the open space, rotated ninety degrees to the right, went forward to the curb and then rotated ninety degrees to the left.”

In a short biography on the book’s back cover, Thomson describes his past careers as a factory worker and a lawyer, adding, “This book is the first effort complete enough for publication. There will likely be others.”