Our Autumn Lookbook (shot by Stephanie Sunberg) would not have been the same had it not been for our absolutely delightful model. Not surprisingly, Erin is as multitalented as she is lovely.
Name: Erin Moon Kelleher
From: I was born in Denver, grew up in Salt Lake City, moved to Los Angeles after graduating from college to pursue acting, modeling, and journalism, moved from there to New York City to continue my work in both modeling and journalism, then came to Iowa City to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate program in fiction.
How did you get started with modeling?
I was scouted in my teens by an agency called Pulse Management in Salt Lake City, and I started getting booked on shoots from there, both locally as well as in L.A. and NYC. Then, during and after college, I would eventually be represented by various agencies in both L.A. and New York. I had some fun doing it, but because I was still so young when I initially started getting booked on shoots, I wasn’t quite as confident in my own skin as I am now. Part of me liked being in front of the camera, but I thought it was sort of strange to be treated as an inanimate object—the photographer, stylists, makeup artists, etc. would often talk around you or directly about you as if you weren’t there, and that was a really strange sensation.
Because the money could be quite good, however, I did continue modeling on and off over the years, but I knew I wanted all along to pursue a college degree and work as a writer. As I got older and became more comfortable with my own body, I started to enjoy modeling more, but becoming some kind of famous model was never something I wanted—I knew I wanted to write and to pursue an advanced degree so that I could teach college.
How do you get comfortable during a shoot?
I really try not to take any of it too seriously. Fashion is certainly a form of art, and though I do take art seriously, fashion is never a life or death situation, and it’s important to remember that. I try not to fixate on parts of my body that aren’t perfect. For instance, before the Revival shoot, I ate a huge bowl of baked macaroni and cheese and then got an ice cream cone, ha! Taking it all lightly and trying to have fun is the key element for me.
Also, chemistry with the photographer is really significant. Some photographers give absolutely no direction, while others want to tell you exactly how to move, but modeling is definitely a collaboration between the photographer and the model. Steph Sunberg (the photographer for the Revival shoot) is fantastic and really easy to work with—we’ve actually only shot together twice, but it feels like we’ve been working together for years. She too has a deep level of commitment to her art, but she understands the importance of enjoying the moment. She can sense when I’m struggling with a certain shot, and she’ll give me helpful ideas about how to change it up, or I’ll make suggestions about something I want to try, and she is totally open to that. Having that chemistry with a photographer is great, and it’s something I haven’t experienced while modeling for a long time. Working with her is truly such a pleasure.
You’re currently in the Writers’ Workshop here at Iowa. What do you enjoy most about it?
Yes, I’m in my second year here at the Workshop. So much about the experience has been totally surreal and inspiring. When I was applying to graduate writing programs, I was still living in Los Angeles and working as a freelance journalist for publications like VICE Magazine, Live FAST Mag, Dossier Journal, Milk Studios, and a number of others, and in combination with all of that, I was also going to auditions and casting calls for acting and modeling. It was a chaotic time, and I didn’t feel at all grounded, nor was I able to dedicate much time to my own creative projects like the novel I had begun to work on in a writing class through UCLA’s extension program. I was doing too much at once, and it wasn’t sustainable. I needed quiet time to read and write and focus on myself, and I didn’t have that in L.A.
Then I got a call from the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop telling me I had been accepted. It’s a really prestigious program—it’s considered to be the top writing program in the country—so obviously I was very excited, but I had no idea what to expect. I had also gotten into Columbia, NYU, Cornell, and Sarah Lawrence, all of which are in New York City, so I decided to go there for a while to work and to decide what I wanted to do. I’d been back and forth between Los Angeles and New York City for a while because I was writing for some New York-based publications like The New York Time T Magazine and PETRIe Inventory, and I had covered a number of seasons of New York Fashion Week, plus I’d been going there since I was quite young for various modeling gigs, so I decided to give it a try living there full-time. My boyfriend has been there for years, and at that time, he and I had just started dating, so we thought, “Why not give this a shot?” so I put almost everything I owned in storage, packed a few suitcases, and moved across the country to live with him in Manhattan.
Ultimately, I decided to come to Iowa; the program was just too prestigious to say no to, plus they offered me a full scholarship, a teaching stipend, and a fellowship, and that’s pretty rare when it comes to writing programs. The Workshop really believes in funding their graduate students, and that’s a fantastic thing. And I couldn’t be happier about having made the choice to come here.
There are parts of it that have been difficult, of course—my boyfriend still lives in New York, so we’re doing long-distance, but it’s actually kind of nice because I am able to visit frequently and get my big city fix, but then I get to come back to this quiet, inspiring little city and focus on writing and teaching. The Workshop is very committed to giving their students time to write, and that’s been such a nice change from the life I was leading in L.A. I’m getting time to work on my novel while simultaneously teaching a literature class to undergrads, plus I’m taking my own classes from some of my favorite writers in the world such as Paul Harding, James Galvin, Charles D’Ambrosio, and Marilynne Robinson. I’ve also made friends with so many other amazing young writers who are really fascinating and inspiring. I really couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding graduate experience!
What inspires you in both your writing and modeling?
It’s funny, because part of what has made modeling so much more enjoyable in recent years has been my acceptance of who I am, both mentally and physically, and that has helped me to become much more relaxed in front of the camera because I’m so often genuinely having a good time and enjoy keeping things light and unserious.
But my writing could not be more different from that. I mentioned earlier that fashion is never an issue of life and death, but I think fiction should be continually examining those very elements. The act of writing is difficult, but life is difficult, and the writing should reflect that. In some ways, I really do try not to take myself too seriously as a writer, but I do think that literature is very serious. In life, I’m definitely an optimist, but my writing, especially the novel I’m working on now, has a very pessimistic view of humanity. My protagonist does not believe that people are inherently good, and the novel as a whole examines themes having to do with the violence that man is capable of. I’m inspired by other writers who understand this and who explore similar ideas in their own writing, authors like Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, and William Gay. I have similar taste in films as well—I really don’t enjoy comedies. My favorite directors are those like Steve McQueen and Alejandro González Iñárritu whose films explore difficult topics like the 1981 hunger strikes by prisoners in Northern Ireland (McQueen’s Hunger) and the exploitation of the poor and the criminal underworld that creates in Barcelona (Iñárritu’s Biutiful). There are so many terrible and difficult things that people across the globe experience every day, and I respect writers, directors, photographers, painters, or any kind of artist who seeks to explore those difficult aspects of life.
Fashion is beautiful and fascinating in its own regard, but modeling inspires me in an entirely separate way from how I am inspired by writing.
What’s your favorite thing about Iowa City and its community?
Frankly, nearly all of Iowa City has been surprising to me; I really wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I do here. Before coming to the Workshop, I had never even been to the Midwest, so I had no idea what to expect—everyone in New York kept telling me to “have fun in the middle of nowhere” and to “try not to get lost in all the corn.” And sure, when you get out onto the highway roads, there is corn and there are farms and there are large expanses of open space, but I find all of that so beautiful and energizing! I don’t miss Los Angeles in the least, and though there are things I do miss about New York, the city can oftentimes feel suffocating, and I just don’t feel that way here. There are times when it can feel a bit claustrophobic in a smaller place like Iowa City because you’re surrounded by a lot of the same people, but this place seems to draw so many talented artists who are very committed to their work, and that was something I was certainly not expecting before I came here, so most of the time, it’s a pleasure to see people so frequently.
The community here is very close-knit, yet also extremely welcoming. I certainly feel that way about the Workshop, and the same goes for my feelings about Revival. What a unique and amazing place! I’m hesitant to even call it a “store,” because it’s honestly so much more than that. About a week after I had moved to Iowa City last fall, I remember coming in to Revival 119. I was the only person in the shop (which I would later discover is a rare occurrence indeed—it’s a popular spot, and for good reason!), and Teah, the manager (and later the creative director and stylist on our shoot a year down the road), just started talking to me as though I was a friend she’d known for a long time. It wasn’t “shop talk,” the kind that immediately shifts to new products or recommendations about stuff she was trying to get me to buy—she genuinely seemed interested in having a conversation with me, asking me questions about where I’d moved from and how I was liking the city so far. After I left there (and bought several face and body elixirs, because how could I not), I knew I had found a special place.
Since then, I returned to the store every few weeks to chat and shop, and it was always like stepping into a little sanctuary after a long day. All the women who work there are so kind and so talented—the owner, Sheila, is just a feminist force to be reckoned with. She has built something so fantastic in creating such a place! And then I met Steph who had recently started shooting for Revival, and she asked me to be involved with this shoot, and because of she and Teah and Sheila and Hannah (the social media coordinator), our shoot came together so marvelously, and I’m so happy to now know all of them. This shoot was honestly one of my favorites I’ve ever been a part of, and so much of that is because of the community aspect that Revival not only represents but also actively practices. Much of that is true for Iowa City on the whole as well. I have found such a wonderful community here, and it’s unlike anywhere else I’ve ever lived. This past year has been one of the best of my life, and finding such a wonderful community in Iowa City has been a huge part of that.