Hytrek: My Favorite Stories I Wrote in 2021

Photo by Derek Hytrek

With 2021 coming to a close, the Starting Line team is taking a look back at some of our favorite stories and accomplishments from this year. The following are my favorite pieces I wrote this year—not ranked in any way, just the order in which I thought of them.

Seven Haunted Places In Iowa To Visit

I’ve explained on Twitter and Facebook that I love a good story. Stories that are a little weird or have some mystery or intrigue are some of my favorites, so putting this together was right up my alley. Squirrel cage jails are bizarre and fascinating. Huge angel statues in cemeteries that happen to have turned black? Creepy and weird. And I’ve always found the idea of ghosts intriguing from a story perspective. 

Writing this was fun, and it was a light-hearted departure from breaking news coverage. It was different from anything I’ve written at Starting Line, too. 

Going forward, I hope to do more pieces like it. Pieces where I can tell a story about people or places in Iowa, and have some fun reading the details necessary to do it. And the hope is to share those for other people to enjoy and/or learn from. But that’s a 2022 project. 

Book Banning stories:

Here’s Some Helpful Context About Those Books In Iowa Schools You’re Hearing About

Iowa Students Fed Up With Angry Adults At School Board Meetings

Following in the lines of the first entry, I love books too. Always have. And I’ve always been in favor of easy-to-access information and school libraries, and an opponent of taking those resources away from people, especially people who need to have that information. 

In this case, two things made it worse. First was how blatantly wrong and disingenuous the attacks were. And second, the fact these efforts targeted specific groups that already don’t have enough visibility in schools. 

Working on these stories was a way to fight back against that, and to inject the context about the books themselves and the truth about the suppression these book-banning campaigns represent. I thought it was important to point those things out and to raise the voices of the people who will be affected, and the advocates who work with these issues.

I included both because I do think it’s all one story that had to be broken up to pay the right attention to the multiple angles. 

I liked writing every story I did about efforts to ban books, even if I don’t like how it’s expanded to include other books in other schools, but these two stand out as the first responses.

Meet The Volunteers Cleaning Iowa’s Rivers, One Plastic Bottle At A Time

I enjoyed every story I wrote about water quality this year, but this one stands out. For one thing, it’s a little different from explaining the various issues with Iowa’s water. Instead, I was able to focus on people who do an important, effective thing in a fun, group effort that sounds more like summer camp than a volunteer project picking up garbage. 

The story was fun to write and, as with all water quality stories, the people were passionate and friendly. 

Iowa Families With Children in Vaccine Trials Grateful for Opportunity

I also enjoyed most of the COVID stories I wrote this year too; there was a lot of important information to share. This story was probably the most interesting though because it’s a little different from parents simply sharing their thoughts about another year of navigating COVID. 

It captures the anxiety and determination of parents in another way while also being about them and their children stepping up to do something important. When reading COVID news, it’s easy to get discouraged by the people who don’t trust science or don’t care anymore about the pandemic. This story is a nice counter to that.


by Nikoel Hytrek

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2 Comments on "Hytrek: My Favorite Stories I Wrote in 2021"

  • I certainly enjoyed the water quality stories as well. Although, when I read certain stories, the enjoyment included a certain amount of mental snarling at Iowa’s polluted situation. Please keep writing environmental stories in 2022.

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