[iae|320|r] May 17-26, 2013, four American authors—bestselling novelist Ann Hood, acclaimed memoirist and poet Stephen Kuusisto, Nigerian-American fiction writer Chinelo Okparanta (recently short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing), and poet and non-fiction writer Christopher Merrill—are traveling in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as part of an International Writing Program (IWP) reading tour. The tour, organized by the IWP in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, is designed to foster greater understanding and stronger creative ties—including opportunities for artistic collaboration—between the U.S. and the Central Asian nations.
[iae|325|r] Despite air travel to some locations in the region being limited to one flight per week, the writers are venturing outside the capitals of Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Ashgabat (Turkmenistan), giving public readings, leading writing workshops, meeting with literary organizations, and visiting cultural sites. Two of the writers—Ann Hood and Stephen Kuusisto—are also chronicling the tour in real time on their personal blogs.
[iae|322|l] “It was quite hot, but worth every minute in the blazing sun to gaze at the domes sparkling in the sunlight and to learn about the culture here,” Hood writes, after visiting Sharh-i-Zindar, Gur Emir, the Registan (at the heart of the ancient city of Samarkand), and Bibi-Khanym Mausoleum in Uzbekistan, where the tour began.
“The aim of these reading tours is two-fold,” says writer Christopher Merrill, who also directs the IWP. “We want American writers to discover the culture and literature of these countries, and to encourage interaction and collaboration.”
Students in Angren get writing advice from novelist Ann Hood The group’s third day in Uzbekistan included an hour and half journey down bumpy roads to teach writing workshops to students in the town of Angren. Okparanta led students in an exercise on character development while Kuusisto collaborated with students to write poems. Many of those participating in the workshops were students at Angren State Pedagogical University.
[iae|321|l] “The students were enthusiastic, and eager to try their new English skills," Hood writes. "At the end of our afternoon with them, they performed traditional Uzbek dances and songs. All marvelous and touching."
IWP reading tours, which take place every year in the spring, are designed to introduce American writers to a country or region with a relatively sparse history of literary liaisons with the United States.
[iae|326|r] Since arriving in Uzbekistan, the group has also met with the Uzbekistan Writers Union and with faculty and students at Samarkand Foreign Language Institute. Today, Kuusisto (who is blind) spoke to a group of people with disabilities at an event sponsored by the U.S. Embassy. “I've been thinking about of the global dynamics of disability” Kuusisto writes on his blog. “In many parts of the world blindness is still imagined to be caused by spiritual forces or worse, is thought to be a product of sorcery. As time goes by and my travels accrue I see the solution—the response—has to do with lingo. You can't be put in a closet if you are singing.”
[iae|323|l] Although geographically remote, Uzbekistan, one of two “doubly landlocked” countries in the world (a landlocked country surrounded entirely by other landlocked countries—the other is Liechtenstein) has sent four writers to the IWP’s fall residency program since 2004. The most recent is poet, translator, and journalist Alina Dadaeva who spent ten weeks in the United States as an IWP resident in 2012, who, along with and ’04 resident Aazam Abidov, recently caught up with the group.
[iae|318|r] Amid a busy schedule of readings, workshops, meetings, and visits to cultural sites, the writers still found time to sample the national dish of Uzbekistan—plov. “The plov is rice, carrots, peppers, raisins, chickpeas, lamb, and...yes, folks, horse,” Hood writes. Later this week, the group travels to Turkmenistan—one of the least-visited countries in the world—for the second leg of the tour.
Check back here for updates on the group’s travels and visit IWP on Facebook for more photos of the tour.
Come, come, whoever you are.
Worshipper, wanderer, lover of leaving, it doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.
One of the best parts of being a writer is that I sometimes get to travel for work. It's not the kind of travel of businesspeople and bankers, or politicians or doctors, but the kind of travel that writers do: in caravans of joy, to visit faraway places, to be inspired by that travel and the discussions, conversations, and friendships that take place in that space and time.
Poets and writers in Konya for The Same Gate Last week, I traveled to Konya in Turkey, as a participant in The Same Gate - a creative exchange of 18 poets and writers celebrating the life and work of the Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi. This six-day conference was envisioned and executed by the University of Iowa's International Writing Program, the international residency I had participated in back in 2011. But Christopher Merrill, IWP's director, also takes groups of American and international writers all over the world, and so our band of writers from Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, America, and Pakistan met to undertake a poetic, spiritual, and intellectual journey. This too is the best kind of cultural diplomacy, and I feel extremely committed to this path, having seen how effective it can be in bringing diverse groups of people together under a common artistic banner.
[iae|310|l] I flew into Istanbul and met some of the group at the airport, and we flew to Konya late in the evening. From then it was five days nonstop of sightseeing, travel, discussion, and socializing. We visited the tomb of Jalaluddin Rumi and Shams Tabriz in Konya; the tomb and mosque of the Turkish Sufi poet Yunus Emre and the tomb where Rumi's mother is buried in Karaman, 70 miles away. We visited a Greek village called Silla (the Greeks settled this part of Turkey, Anatolia, in ancient times); Armenian churches, Greek orthodox churches and temples -- we even saw a popular Turkish soap opera being filmed in one of the villages -- and gathered together in the afternoons to talk about Rumi, Rumi, Rumi…
I am no expert on Rumi. I've long avoided delving into his work, perhaps wary of the extreme sentimentality and commercialism that 20th century charlatans have introduced into his legacy. But I was forced to think long and deep about who Rumi is to me: the best metaphor I could find to understand him is that Rumi is a mirror: we look into his work to see ourselves.
[iae|311|r] The exchange was also meant to foster closer relations between Iranian and American poets, and our Iranian colleagues from Tehran had spent their academic lives studying Rumi. They dominated the conversations with their expertise, but at times on the bus or at dinner they would break into recitations of his poetry in beautiful Persian, and the other Iranians from America and Mexico City and the Afghans would join in, reciting together in Persian and Dari while the rest of us looked on, amazed. One afternoon I gave a talk on the role of women in Rumi's life and work; and then we translated together the famous lines of Rumi that begin:
Morden bodam, zindeh shodam
Geryeh bodam, khaneh shodam
(I was dead, then I came to life/ I was sorrow, then I became joy)
There was much laughter, some wine, lots of prayers, and so much poetry. I who am no poet, but a prose writer, sat enthralled while listening to my colleagues talk about rhyme, rhythm, meter, the merit of some words over others. I learned that poetry, which has sometimes eluded me, is nothing less than a mystical code that you could spend your whole life learning to write, or learning to decipher. And I wrote these lines while I was on the road with them, listening to their talk:
Poets to me are holy people
Their faces glow, their heads are expansive and enlarged
They have auras and halos around them
Like the angels in the paintings of Michelangelo
[iae|312|l] Then we traveled by bus three hours east, to Nevesehir Province, to visit Cappadocia, the Land of Beautiful Horses. This land was shaped by volcanos that spewed lava and ash which then formed the most unusual geographical formations I've ever seen: giant conical caves, mushroom-shaped spires called "fairy chimneys", and miles and miles of valleys with more conical dunes. The people of the area found that the structures could be easily shaped, because they were soft, and so they etched out dwellings, churches, temples, and monasteries - and people were living in caves up until the 1950s in this region.
I stayed in a cave hotel, Serinn House, which had been carved out of cave rock. We visited Derinkuyu City, an eight-story underground city where early Christians hid from Roman armies in 35 meters of labyrinthian rooms and tunnels set with booby traps. We went to the Gorime Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which was a huge religious complex with a monastery, nunnery, and churches with colorful and mystical religious frescoes etched into the walls. And we took a walk in a "Fairy Chimney Forest", where I sat and had Turkish tea and a friendly Turkish man told me he recognized the Pakistani clothing my Afghan colleague was wearing.
On our last day, as we drove to the airport in the early morning, we saw hundreds of hot air balloons up in the sky, exploring the lunar landscape, like alien life forms. Nothing could better encapsulate the experience of being in Cappadocia, or indeed on that entire trip, than the joy of uplift and elevation and being able to defy gravity underneath the bright hues of a globe-shaped multiverse. As a Muslim, worshipping at the shrines of the enlightened beings, I received affirmation and confirmation of my beliefs, and understood the connection across borders, generations, and centuries of those of us on the Path. As a writer, I made friendships with fantastic poets and scholars, learned at their feet, danced and sang with them in bliss and celebration. As a human, I saw places I never thought I'd be able to go.
May we all be blessed in such ways of seeking!
It is no longer the delightful rays of light through the window that start my day. It is the vibration of the water pump that serves as my wake-up alarm. When I open my eyes, the walls, the ceiling, the curtains, the wardrobe, the washing machine at the corner of the room and most evidently, a mosquito net covering me and my hubby sleeping next to me…. all these confirm that I am home.
I spent almost three months in Iowa City and other cities in America. What is specific about Iowa City, to me, is “tranquility” though the same might not necessarily be true in all parts of America. Most days I encountered in the fall season were cool enough to create a fresh atmosphere and warm enough to keep an Asian visitor like me comfortable. Most Iowans use their own legs to get around town yet they don’t look tired. They seem relaxed yet active. They don’t have to be in a hurry yet still are on time. I lost a few kilos walking around town during my residency. The changing colors of beautiful leaves enchanted me, being a person who has never experienced a four-season country. New Orleans’ crazy nights raised my spirits. Art museums were my favorite places to visit in Chicago, Washington DC, and New York.
Back in Yangon, I miss the opportunity to walk naturally from place to place. I find myself in a vehicle most of the time but I usually have to be in a rush. The increasing import of cars is making driving inconvenient, even for those who own cars, not to mention those who take public transport. Going downtown during the daytime is a sweaty journey in heavy traffic. I miss the breeze blowing across the bridge over the Iowa River. Nevertheless, what is a relief to me is the momentum of the “transition” in my country. Finally we’re starting to see a faint light at the other end of the tunnel.
I arrived back home from the States in mid-November last year, which is considered the cold season in my country. Hence, after witnessing the prettiest fall in the States, excepting Sandy hurricane, I was back home to enjoy the best season in my country. For most IWP writers, the day after they landed might have been hectic, with piles of tasks on their desks. I am fortunate enough to still be on a long leave from my job in Singapore (since late 2011) in order to enjoy the sense of home and plan for my family. Fortunately again, the timing also coincides with significant changes in my country, the so-called transition period.
Transition brings us a more open outlook of the world toward a closed country. We are receiving global attention to literature and culture along with political changes. After the gradual easing of censorship to some extent, literary and artistic events can be held without needing to pass through a strict process, unlike in previous times. Among them are the Blue Wind Multimedia International Art Festival, the Irrawaddy International Literary Festival, and several other art exhibitions and literary events.
The voice of the people is also heard louder in the transition although whether that voice can carry the expected changes is another story. Such a voice is also reflected in literary and artistic work. Messages are clearer and styles are more direct as compared to the past, when we had to be very cautious about each and every word we expressed. Applause for such writings is also heard from the audience. Some poets express their excitement at the shifting trends in poetics and at witnessing the new challenges of writing in the process of openness.
I remember the students I met in Iowa City, Des Moines, Spirit Lake and News Orleans. I was so envious that regardless of their ages, from primary school to seniors in college, they had opportunities to learn about contemporary international literature and hear updates from international writers. Such opportunities might not come quickly to Myanmar, but I was so glad when an IWP team visited universities in Yangon and gave lectures this year [poets Christopher Merrill, Robert Hass, and Brenda Hillman, and fiction writer Zuwena Packer visited Burma/Myanmar on an IWP reading tour January 11 - 17, 2013]. I hope that this will pave the way for future long term collaborations in creative writing between universities in the States and Myanmar.
Transition is not a perfect process. Despite some improvements, we are still hearing the ugly roar of civil war in the north and the noise of ethnic conflicts in the western part of the country. Farmers are still struggling for their land rights against big industrial projects. Factory workers are fighting for a better quality of work-life. We hope that democracy, still in its infancy, is not overwhelmed by the feeble educational system and the fundamental inequalities that have existed since the time of the tough ruling regime. Don’t these poor, long-suffering people deserve a pleasant future ahead?
Now, many streets all over the country are decorated with yellowish Ngu and reddish Sein Pan: the local seasonal flowers. People are waiting for Padauk, the national flower, which is supposed to blossom only once in a year right at the time of the Water Festival. The Water Festival is also called “Thingyan”, which comes from a Pali word meaning “transition”. During the “transition”, people wish for bad deeds to be cleansed by cool water and replaced with a genuinely clean body and mind in order to welcome a better New Year. Despite some still unclean dirt, I believe that the brighter and cleaner days are on their way, seen or unseen.
Maybe it’s also the time when the IWP is preparing for the upcoming fall residency. Perhaps the sweet memories of IWP’s fall 2012 residents will be replaced with those of the new batch soon. But I believe that my little footprints will remain indelible in Iowa City, whether visible or invisible.
For more from Pandora, watch her On the Map interview.
Last Friday, 17 poets and writers from the U.S., Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran arrived in Konya, in central Turkey, to participate in The Same Gate, a six-day conference centered around the life and work of celebrated poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi. Beirut-based documentary filmmaker Nigol Bezjian is recording the encounter, organized by the International Writing Program (IWP), which includes discussions, collaborative writing sessions, and visits to museums, shrines, and cultural sites. The conference culminates in a collaborative book of ghazals (a poetic form employed by Rumi), prose reflections, and translations composed by participants as a homage to the value and importance of international creative exchange.
A CENTRAL POET ACROSS CONTINENTS
The Same Gate is organized around 13th century poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a central poet in Afghan, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish literature and also the bestselling poet in America. “All countries claim Rumi,” says IWP director Christopher Merrill, who is travelling with the group; “his life and poetry provide fertile ground for collaboration and exchange.” While in Turkey, participants are meeting with Esin Celebi Bayru, Rumi's great granddaughter (21 generations removed), visiting the Rumi Shrine and the shrine of his mentor, Shams e Tabris in Konya, traveling to the southern town of Karaman, exploring a village where Rumi once lived with his family, and visiting the tomb of Rumi’s mother, among other activities.
FOSTERING CLOSER RELATIONS BETWEEN AMERICAN AND IRANIAN POETS
The product of more than two years of planning, The Same Gate is also designed to foster greater understanding between Iranian and American poets (MacArthur and Guggenheim fellow Richard Kenney and National Book Award winner Marilyn Hacker are among the U.S. participants), building upon the memorandum of understanding signed by the presidents of the University of Iowa and the University of Tehran to increase collaboration between the two institutions. With Rumi’s poetry as common ground, the project bring poets together to think and talk about poetry and to produce innovative new collaborative work, nearly 800 years after Rumi composed the ghazal that gave The Same Gate its name.
This week, the International Writing Program (IWP) adds Arabic, Polish, and the first-ever Malay translation of Walt Whitman’s famous poem “Song of Myself” to the 9-language WhitmanWeb multimedia gallery. The gallery, which presents one section of the 52-section poem each week, along with an audio recording, foreword, afterword, and discussion question, already includes Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian, as well as the first-ever translation into Persian.
“I am large, I contain multitudes,” Whitman wrote; by adding Arabic, Polish, and Malay (bringing the total language count to 12), WhitmanWeb encourages a multitude of new readers to discover the poem and join the conversation. The gallery, currently in its 26th week, will publish the three new translations beginning from section 1 of the poem, with the 52 weekly installments to run from now through May 2014.
A WEALTH OF RESOURCES
WhitmanWeb combines the scholarly resources and expertise of the Walt Whitman Archive with IWP’s international network of poets and translators. University of Iowa professor Ed Folsom, one of the world’s premier Whitman scholars and co-director of the Archive, collaborates with WhitmanWeb translators working to produce first-ever translations (like the Persian). Folsom also writes the weekly forewords to each new section of the poem, replete with analysis, commentary, and even trivia. There’s a cliff in Canada called “Old Walt” where the final three lines of section 20 of “Song of Myself” are carved in stone in three-foot-high letters—who knew?
2 RADICALLY DIFFERENT ARABIC TRANSLATIONS FROM IRAQ AND SYRIA
The Arabic page of WhitmanWeb actually includes two translations: a 1976 version by Iraqi poet Saadi Yusef tracked down by IWP alumnus Soheil Najm (who offers his opinion on it, including some of Yusef’s questionable changes and omissions in a short essay in the “Resources” section of WhitmanWeb) and a 2005 translation by Abed Ismael, a professor of Modern American Poetry at the University of Damascus, in Syria. The IWP is digitizing the Yusef translation for the first time—no easy task, since the Arabic text has to be transcribed before it can be uploaded to the gallery. Presenting the two Arabic versions side-by-side allows Arabic-speaking readers and scholars to compare and contrast the decisions made by the translators, as Nadia Fayidh, a professor of English and American poetry at the University of Mustaserya in Baghdad (Iraq) does in her short essay in the WhitmanWeb “Resources” section. Prof. Fayidh also translates the weekly comments into Arabic (made possible by funding from the Cultural Affairs Office at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad), and is the voice of the audio recordings of the Yussef translation.
FIRST-EVER MALAY TRANSLATION
IWP alumnus Eddin Khoo is translating a new section of the poem into Malay each week, the first time anyone has attempted to make “Song on Myself” available to Malay readers. (Malay is spoken by more than 200 million people in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, and Borneo).
DIGITIZING THE POLISH, LINE BY LINE
While visiting the University of Iowa from Poland, Dr. Marta Skwara, an Americanist at the University of Sczecin, mentioned a Polish translation of “Song of Myself” to WhitmanWeb collaborator Ed Folsom. When she returned home, she tracked it down and has worked to digitize it, retyping all 52 sections so that they can be uploaded to the gallery, proving that, for scholars and admirers of Whitman, WhitmanWeb is a labor of love.
“Translators have been approaching us since we launched WhitmanWeb last October,” says IWP editor Nataša Ďurovičová, who oversees the design and coordination of the gallery. “They let us know about other existing translations of the poem and propose new projects.”
IWP hopes to also translate the forewords, afterwards, and discussion questions for each section, but, with limited funding, only the Persian, Russian, and Arabic tabs include translations of these rich materials. “We would love to have these commentaries in the other languages as well,” says Ďurovičová. “Especially Chinese. That’s the language in which the conceptual distance is the greatest, so having these resources translated could really help the conversation.”
Individuals interested in contributing to the project should contact Nataša Ďurovičová, natasa-durovicova[at]uiowa.edu.
WhitmanWeb will also serve as the virtual “textbook” for the IWP’s inaugural free online lecture series, which will invite anyone with an internet connection to engage in discussion led by Whitman scholar Ed Folsom and IWP Director Christopher Merrill. “Like” WhitmanWeb on Facebook to stay up to date on this and other news.
Once you’ve written the first draft of a poem, what happens next? Find out by applying for the International Writing Program (IWP)’s upcoming Poetry Masterclass, one of two free 7-week virtual poetry seminars to be taught online through IWP Distance Learning this summer.
Poet and filmmaker Nick Twemlow will lead the class, which will explore radical revision from Walt Whitman’s obsessive reconsiderations of Leaves of Grass to Elizabeth Bishop’s drafts of “One Art” as well as alternative editing strategies culled from the likes of Frank O’Hara, Robert Hass, Lyn Hejinian, and Srikanth Reddy.
“Each drafting of a piece is an opportunity to rethink its destination,” says Twemlow, an Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate whose poetry collection Palm Trees received the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. Poets participating in the masterclass will forego mere tinkering and push their poems into new territory. “We will embrace all kinds of revision exercises,” says Twemlow, who in addition to his work as an editor for The Iowa Review and Canarium Books, is also an accomplished filmmaker. The revision techniques explored will include everything from the investigation of outtakes and omissions to formal challenges, sonic dares, and other uppings of the poetic ante.
The masterclass is designed for poets with a significant publication history from nationally recognized small presses or magazines, and/or who have published at least one collection of poems. The course is taught entirely online, so anyone with a reliable internet connection is encouraged to apply. Fifteen writers will be selected to participate from the U.S. and abroad. So far, the IWP has received applications from these countries:
More information about the course and instructions for submitting your application are available here. Application materials, including a resume, statement of purpose, and a writing sample (5 pages of poems maximum) should be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org by May 8, 2012
This month, the International Writing Program (IWP) released the 2012 edition of "On the Map," a series of video interviews recorded with international writers in Iowa City last fall to participate in the IWP's 2012 fall residency. The series, made possible by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, includes interviews with 14 writers discussing everything from their favorite books to the state of current affairs in their home countries. The interviews, ranging from 5 to 30 minutes in length, offer a frank and intimate glimpse into the creative lives of these authors as well as a valuable portal into the countries they hail from and what it means to be a writer there.
Certain universalities emerge from the interviews, among them, the personal satisfaction the writers derive from their writing. “Being a writer, it gives many gifts,” says Genevieve Asenjo (Philippines).
“I’m a civil engineer, but writing gives me things that engineering couldn’t,” observes Taleb Alrefai (Kuwait). “It lets me be very close to people, lets me enter their houses, enter their hearts.”
“[Writing is] a passport,” echoes Rodrigo Garcia Lopes (Brazil), “[offering access to] new experiences and new insights into human life.”
But in talking about writing, stark differences in political realities also surface. When asked about the happiest moment in the writing process: Alina Dadaeva (Uzbekistan) muses: “the beginning, when you try to go through the fog using only your senses.”
“When I write the last sentence of my novel” quips Yaghoub Yadali (Iran), in answer to the same question, “and the pain of writing ends.” He pauses for a moment: “Another happy moment is when I hear that my novel has been approved for publication by the government,” he adds.
Yadali is not the only writer to have faced more than a bad review. Nay Phone Latt (Burma/Myanmar) spent 4 years in jail for his activities as a blogger; he read 20-30 books a month and wrote a collection of short stories while in prison. “No matter where you are, what you are doing there is more important,” Latt says.
Many of the authors broach the question of censorship in their interviews. Government intrusion “restrains the creative spirit of writers” sums up Alisa Ganieva (Russia), whose native Dagestan has been mired by political and religious tensions.
Still, the need to write subsists. "When I read something beautiful in Russian, English, Arabic, or Kurdish, I want people to know," says Gulala Nouri (Iraq), who, like many if the writers profiled in On the Map, is also a translator. “Being a writer or a poet is a destiny,” says Luis Bravo (Uruguay) fondly. “I don't think it's a job."
Watch the full interview with Iranian writer and filmmaker Yaghoub Yadali below.
For more videos in the On the Map series, including interviews with Khaled Alberry (Egypt), TJ Dema (Botswana), Bilal Tanweer (Pakistan), and Mohib Zegham (Afghanistan) visit IWP’s Shambaugh House YouTube channel.
From now until May 8, the International Writing Program (University of Iowa) is accepting applications for an Advanced Poetry Seminar, one of two virtual poetry seminars to be taught online through IWP Distance Learning this summer. Fifteen poets will be selected to participate in the Advanced Poetry Seminar, which will “meet” once a week for 7 weeks, from May 20 to July 1, 2013. The course, taught online, is free.
“The seminar is a wonderful opportunity for poets,” says Distance Learning Coordinator Rebecca Boyle. “Not only will participants receive feedback from an accomplished young poet [instructor Micah Bateman]…they’ll also have a chance to interact with other participants from rich and diverse literary traditions from around the world.”
The seminar will focus on modern and contemporary poetry, including works by Inger Christensen, Jorie Graham, Tomas Tranströmer, Simon Armitage, Wisława Szymborska, James Dickey, and Lucille Clifton, but will also feature more classical works by authors such as Sappho, Rumi, Bashō, Dickinson, and others. Participants will complete weekly writing prompts and receive written feedback to mark their progress.
Instructor Micah Bateman is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Poetry Society of America’s Lyric Poetry Award. His work appears in the Boston Review, Cutbank, Denver Quarterly, New York Quarterly, and Verse, among other publications. He has taught poetry and literature at the University of Iowa, where he was the Postgraduate Provost’s Fellow in Poetry. He is also the editor of PetriPress.org, an online poetry journal.
More information about the course and instructions for submitting your application are available here. The deadline is May 8, 2013.
When Distance Learning at the International Writing Program (University of Iowa) announced its first Virtual Poetry Seminar this winter, the interest from poets around the world was overwhelming. We received over 150 applications from 28 countries:
Ultimately, 15 poets representing 8 countries were selected to take part. With so many talented poets interested in participating, IWP has designed 2 new Virtual Poetry Seminars. *Poets from Africa and South America are particularly encouraged to apply.
What kind of seminars are they?
The free 7-week Virtual Poetry Seminars include an Advanced Poetry Seminar taught by poet Micah Bateman, and a Poetry Masterclass taught by poet Nick Twemlow. The instructors will lead weekly online sessions and offer students regular feedback on their writing. 15 poets will be selected to participate in each course. [Work will not be graded, and is not eligible for University of Iowa credit.]
Which seminar should I apply for?
The Advanced Poetry Seminar is designed for advanced writers with an active commitment to reading poetry and refining their craft, although no previous experience is required. Unpublished poets and applicants with a limited publication history are welcome to apply. The Poetry Masterclass is for writers with a publication history in nationally recognized small presses or magazines. The Masterclass is ideal for poets with at least one published collection.
What kind of technology do I need?
Since both courses are offered entirely online, anyone with a reliable internet connection is encouraged to apply, regardless of where you live. A headset may be helpful when participating in online discussions, but is not required.
When can I start?
The courses will meet once a week from May 20th through July 1st, 2013 at a time to be mutually agreed upon by participants, who will span many time zones.
How do I apply?
Submit a resume, a statement of purpose, and a writing sample (in English, no more than 5 pages of poems) to email@example.com. The deadline for submitting an application is May 8, 2013. Questions? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about IWP Distance Learning, see our December 2012 blog interview with distance learning coordinator Rebecca Boyle.
America was an introduction to vastness. I returned to my one-bedroom condominium unit in Manila last November feeling suffocated. I wondered how to best fit and display those shipped boxes of books from Prairie Lights, The Haunted Bookshop, Faulkner, The Strand on my already cramped shelves.
Space! This is one thing that awed me about America. Its big open skies and long stretch of land brought me not to seas and beaches comparable to the Philippines but to equally amazing bodies of water: Lake MacBride, The Mississippi River, Barataria Swamps and Wetlands. The 4-hour ride from Iowa City to Chicago was considered near; I relished the 9-hour road trip to Michigan State University the last week of October with two Filipino-American graduate students for a Philippine Studies Conference. And oh, how I wanted to dance either in my long skirt or peasant dress in the middle of cornfields and prairies in that autumn breeze and burst of colors! The closest thing I got, of course, was a portrait by Tom Langdon shot inside the Iowa House Hotel on an October afternoon.
By then, the autumn chill made me fret for home, or somewhere Southwest. I consoled myself that I still needed to see my ‘first real snow.’ A fellow writer with a good view of the Iowa River promised to summon me on the first instance of flurry. No luck, even to the moment the airport-bound limousine collected us from the Broadway-street hotel of our post-Sandy New York trip. Could the regret and relief in my sighs be assuaged by the Kronos Quartet that astonished us all at The Englert Theatre when news of a snowstorm all over the Midwest reached me last December by smartphone in the sunny comfort of my parents’ farm? The farm is on an island in the heart of the archipelago, an hour by plane from Manila and 2-hour land ride boasting an Instagram-worthy seascape. I thought of Scarlet O’Hara’s Tara and Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead. I stayed there throughout Christmas with a heightened valuation of things rural and agricultural as they have become synonymous to slow, organic, well-being. There’s nothing romantic about Philippine poverty; I deeply appreciated the farm trips to Erem Acreage and Solstead. It affirmed for me the possibility of a writing life nourished by my own share of land in a community capable of growing its own produce. And you bet, it become closer and nearer to any point I could find myself using Google maps.
But coming home was really about hard-boiled eggs for breakfast and all-time favorite Filipino dishes like sinigang, adobo, lechon. Never mind rice, I had it from the New Pioneer Co-op. My hunger and sadness in Iowa rested on pizza, bagels, microwave meals, paper cups and plastic utensils yet I was glad to be introduced to the Cajun and Creole cuisine of New Orleans.
“How was Iowa? How much have you written?” Friends asked. To the young ones, I told them about meeting Hualing Nieh Engle in person and giggled with them about Paul’s line for her, “In terrible haste, in full love,” as she told us in the documentary One Tree Three Lives. To colleagues, of how witty Elaine Showalter was, and to many other fellow writers, the thought after listening to Junot Diaz: that we should be writing about our Filipino doctors and nurses and seafarers, so maybe our writing in English will also be read, primarily, by our countrymen and women in diaspora.
More than newly-acquired books, Facebook updates on meaningful moments and photos of places traveled to, collaboration with New York Battery Dance Company, friendship with the staff and fellow international writers, some of whom I introduced in an elective course titled Contemporary World Fiction when I resumed teaching last January, the International Writing Program (IWP) gifted me with empathy for America and the Americans. The rodeo trip, barn dance with the seniors, and farm visits unveiled to me the rural side of America; “the other side,” maybe even “the real America” beyond Hollywood and foreign policy. Engagements toward the reelection of Barack Obama attuned me to America’s share of miseries and burdens. It was made believable by sights of many homeless people in parks and streets, stories of unemployment and that of veterans and families of American troops, and the tug of tax and tipping.
Every time I go out to my terrace and am confronted by a dense cityscape, my mind zooms out and settles in a vast void. A horizon. There, a lingering – the delight I knew well, for instance, when I read Clarice Lispector for the first time, in translation, from the University of Iowa Library, or when I rediscovered Robert Hass, skipping a grocery trip with Mary. Here, I hunger for more words like I desire an oyster. Clear, simple words for those intimate gestures of the mind and heart one keeps in different time zones, thousands of miles above sea level. At times I am startled, as if a squirrel passed by. Mostly, I feel light; glad to have walked Iowa’s ground and made peace with history.
WP: What was your BTL experience like?
Johnny: BTL was like nothing I’d ever experienced before; it was the best thing that ever happened to me. When I was 17, my life changed forever. I had so much fun learning about American culture and meeting different people from all over the world. I always wanted to attend writing workshops in my country but there were almost none, going to the US…never crossed my mind. BTL really did change me, and I’m so thankful for that.
Memories are now rushing back while I’m writing this! I wish I could live those memories again! We had this morning writing activity, before going to the workshops at 9 am, and it was about replying to [fictional] letters from old people. My reply was to an old lady from Texas; it was kind of rude, but funny, and the room gave me a big round of applause; it was the first time I read something I’d written in front of more than 50 writers; I was thrilled.
IWP: Had you been to the US before?
Johnny: I’d never been to the US; I’d never been outside my country! When I got accepted to the program I didn’t Google Iowa City; I wanted to keep it a mystery in my mind. I started picturing giant buildings, a lot of traffic jams (reading into the word “City”). But Iowa blew me away, it was nothing like I’d expected. It was more like a town, no traffic jams nor city noises, clean air… I guess no words can describe my “OMG“ moment when I woke up in the morning; nature has a place in Iowa City. Squirrels and rabbits ran around houses when I went outside Currier Hall. I tried to catch a squirrel since It was the first time I’d see one in front of me, silly me. Frankly, I was surprised by everything, so I took a lot of pictures.
I really loved walking downtown, going to bookshops and libraries; I miss Prairie Lights and The Haunted Bookshop. After a year, I Googled places in Iowa City and I said to myself yup, I was there! I loved the museum next to campus, oh and the big malls; the mall was bigger than my whole town Lol! I loved all the activities, the morning writing exercises, readings sessions from amazing writers who participated in the IWP fall residency and the Iowa Youth Writing Studio (IYWS) program, going to watch the last Harry Potter movie, karaoke, 2 talent shows… I was totally into this program and never missed a thing (well maybe just one English workshop because I was so exhausted and sick but it happens, right?).
IWP: How would you describe your BTL cohort? (Are you still in touch with any of your BTL peers? What kinds of things did you do together?)
Johnny: I had two Arabic teachers, Yasser Abdel-Latif and Khaled Khalifa, amazing writers (I learned so much from them), and one workshop with Ibtisam Barakat, a truly phenomenal woman. She helped me to be the best me. I was trapped and by reading what I wrote for an assignment she’d given, I started crying (that’s another story to tell). The English teacher I had for creative writing was Dan Rosenberg, a truly awesome, funny guy. The way he gave workshops was unique and I had a great time. The chaperones Mohammad Al-Hemaid and Ghada Abdel-Aal [also an instructor for BTL Arabic 2013] were great companions and we are still in contact via e-mail. As for my BTL friends, we became friends the first day. We shared our stories and writings, went downtown, to bookstores, restaurants, malls, and The Java House (everyone is obsessed with this cafe). We had this writers’ connection, maybe because we were almost the same age, coming from the Arab-sphere. They were beautiful friendships, friendships you want to hold onto for the rest of your life; they are now a piece of my heart. I wish I could live the moments with them again, because in these moments I never felt so alive before, so independent. I miss them every day and I can’t wait to meet them again.
IWP: Why did you come to BTL?
Johnny: Learning English on my own and reading a lot of books weren’t enough for me, and BTL was the chance to improve my English writing, ask writers for advice, learn from them, and know about their journey in writing. I mean, I didn’t run into writers in my small community, so I was really fortunate. I became very open minded and I accepted their criticism. Going to a place where people appreciate writing and writers is a place where you wish you could live forever. Before my trip I asked a few BTLers about their experience, I like to call them “The Elders.” Lol! So they gave me an idea of what to expect. The only thing that bugged me was the two weeks; I wished the trip lasted a little bit longer. It was really frustrating to leave everything, the friends I made, the PIESHAKES!
IWP: What are you doing now? Any writing projects?
Johnny: I’m now first year science student. Yeah I know, science and literature geek! I’m studying to get accepted in pharmacy. I’m working on some short stories, some of which I’ve been revising since Iowa, but I’ve gotten really busy with college, tutoring. Being a science student ain’t that easy in The Lebanese University (LU).
IWP: Advice to young people applying to BTL?
Johnny: To my fellow writers, this is a chance of a lifetime; this program is amazing. You will be really fortunate if you are accepted; I really wish I could apply again! I would give anything to go back; well, it wouldn’t be the same without my friends. Be yourself in your application and in your writing and I wish you all the best.
IWP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Johnny: Students can always contact me through Facebook. If you have any questions, I would love to give you advice about the BTL program. I might give you some long comments and posts that I wrote for students last year!
The Between the Lines (BTL) program brings young writers ages 16-19 to the University of Iowa for creative writing study and cultural exchange. As young people from the U.S., Russia, and 17 Arabic-speaking countries prepare to apply for BTL 2013, we are profiling past BTL alumni in a blog series, Where Are They Now?
This week, we feature Amr Bennis of Tripoli, Libya, who participated in BTL Arabic 2010, when he was 18-years-old.
IWP: What was your BTL experience like?
Amr: I had a wonderful time at BTL and in Iowa City. It was really great to be a part of the Young Writers’ Workshop and BTL at the same time. I learned different things at both workshops and I feel that they really complimented each other and helped me become a better writer. I was quite fond of attending readings and just walking around the university campus.
IWP: Had you been to Iowa before?
Amr: No. I had been to Huntsville, Alabama, in the summer of 2009 for a trip to Space Camp organized by the State Department. In Iowa City, there were a couple of cafes (Java House, Times Café (inside Prairie Lights Bookstore), Teaspoons) where I just practiced sitting and writing everything that was going on around me (that really helped me with paying more attention to detail in writing). Also, if I remember correctly, there was a mural that was very inspirational and definitely helped with creativity during my stay in Iowa City as well as a cigar shop that I loved writing at. Behind the dorm (where BTL students live in Iowa City), there are some basketball courts where I played 5-a-side street football (soccer!) which was really fun. Also, weather permitting, there's a huge grass field that would be on your right if you're walking towards the city hall. It was always nice to just sit underneath some shade and write or play full-team football.
IWP: How would you describe your BTL cohort?
Amr: I am still in touch with most of my friends from BTL. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to attend BTL with. They really made my experience at Iowa wonderful.
IWP: Why did you come to BTL? What were your expectations?
Amr: I didn’t have any real expectations (I guess that’s what made it such a thrilling adventure!) I came to BTL because I loved to write. Writing was the one thing that I was serious about outside of school at the time and I saw BTL as an opportunity not only to become a better writer, but as a way to interact with other writers my age. It was difficult for me to find someone to read what I wrote at 17 or 18 years of age and provide constructive feedback. However, at BTL I found a group that was warm and welcoming and that provided me with the motivation to keep writing and with skills I still use today in my writing.
IWP: How have your goals/your writing/your writing life changed since BTL?
Amr: My writing life changed dramatically since BTL. Immediately after attending the workshop I started attending college and I was writing more academically than I was creatively. Perhaps that is why over these past couple of years I slowly transitioned from fiction writing to journalism, creative non-fiction, and blogging. However, whenever I feel the need to take a break from all the serious writing I would write a short story and it would be the perfect writer’s pick-me-up! From BTL, I learned that I had to write some things in Arabic, or else I wouldn't be able to create them at all. Since BTL, I have kept a separate journal of my writings in Arabic. Language is a funny thing. I thought that I was very close to having native command of English, but after BTL I learned that some things can only be expressed in my mother tongue.
IWP: What are you up to now?
Amr: I’m currently a junior at Harvard where I’m studying Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Over the next couple of months I will be starting to conduct research on the revolution in Libya and its aftermath. My long-term project is to use my research to write and publish a book that examines the political sphere in Libya post-revolution.
IWP: What advice would you offer young people applying to BTL?
Amr: Iowa City is a magical place, and you will be surrounded by people who share your passion for writing. Simply walking around the city will flood your head with all sorts of crazy ideas. So my advice is this: let yourself go and use that creative energy to write whatever you like. Don’t limit yourself to anything. Learn from the work your peers give you to read and offer them constructive advice. Don’t shy away from sharing your work; the feedback you’ll get will be phenomenal. BTL is an opportunity to become a better writer and help others be better writers as well.
And, more importantly, have fun!
Well, it’s officially Spring, and that means time for another Shambaugh House Quarterly Roundup, in which we share good news from our associates, friends, and alumni of the International Writing Program. Have news to share? Send it our way and we'll include it in an upcoming post.
Many members of the IWP community were honored for their achievements this spring. They include U.R. Ananthamurthy (IWP '74, India) who was named a finalist for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize, Lin-Hwai-min (IWP '70, Taiwan) who received the 2013 Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for his lifetime contribution to modern dance (see the video at the end of this post), and Book Wings China playwright Dan O’ Brien who was named one of two inaugural winners of the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History. Dan’s 10-minute play, Kandahar to Canada, commissioned by Book Wings, will be produced by Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City as part of the their Marathon of One-Acts. Chandrahas Choudhury (IWP '10, India) and Anisul Hoque (IWP '10, Bangladesh) were featured in the 2013 Jaipur Literature Festival. And right here in Iowa City, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret (IWP '01, Israel) was recommended as a pleasure-read by Paul Ingram of Prairie Lights Bookstore and featured in the The Iowa City Press-Citizen.
IWP alumni also spoke out about writing, literature, and events in their home countries. Fiction writer, physician, and activist Ma Thida (IWP ’05, Burma) was profiled in The Irrawaddy Magazine (“I Write Just to Be ‘A Good Citizen'”). “As a doctor I do scientific work, but as a writer and editor I do an artist’s work,” she says. “I feel I’m useful to the Burmese people by using two different professional skills.” Poet Jayanta Mahapatra (IWP ’76, India) was interviewed at length on reading, writing, and what keeps him going (“Something in me refuses to die”) in Live Mint & The Wall Street Journal. Ogochukwu Promise (IWP '09), novelist, cultural entrepreneur, painter, and social activist, spoke about literary affairs in Nigeria in an interview with Vanguard. Taleb Al Refai (IWP ’12) was interviewed at length on trends in creative writing in his native Kuwait (“New Generation Creating Own Path in Creative Writing”) in the Arab Times. And poet Maung Swan Li (IWP ’03, Burma) was profiled in Sampsonia Way (“Maung Swan Yi: A Burmese Encyclopedia”) about his hope of returning from exile.
IWP alumni continue to publish widely. Poet and musician Rodrigo Garcia Lopes (IWP ’12, Brazil) had poems in Machado de Assis magazine and also released a new CD. Mani Rao (IWP ’05, India) had poems in Omniverse, Mascara, Muse India, and elsewhere and is translating the works of Kalidasa for publication in 2014.
Also in the news, IWP director Chris Merrill emphasized the importance of supporting the arts through cultural diplomacy in a recent edition of The Huffington Post.
And that's just a small sampling of the many achievements within the IWP community over the past three months!
Have good news to share? Send it to ashley-r-davidson[at]uiowa.edu and we’ll include it in the next Shambaugh House Roundup.
On Thursday, March 14th, audiences in the University of Iowa Theatre Building in Iowa City, IA and at the Moscow Art Theatre in Moscow, Russia were joined by viewing parties at institutions around the world, including Bennington College in Bennington, VT, California State University in Long Beach, CA, The Women's Cultural Society in Kuwait City, Kuwait and at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State in Washington DC to experience the collaborative bilingual theatre initiative known as Book Wings. These real and virtual audiences gathered in theatres, auditoriums, and meeting rooms to take in six innovative 10-minute plays from accomplished young playwrights in the United States and Russia, commissioned by Book Wings on the central theme of contact. The plays were staged collaboratively, using digital videoconferencing technology to link twin stages in Iowa City and Moscow.
Complete video of the performance is now available online, so grab some popcorn, sit back, and allow yourself to be teleported 5,000 miles from Iowa City to Moscow and back again, as you experience these emotionally complex, darkly humorous, and moving works brought to life by the phenomenal artistic and production teams of the Moscow Art Theatre and the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts.
Book Wings 2013, the second installment of the 3-year collaborative theatre initiative, is a testament to the willingness of actors, directors, writers, translators, and their audiences to go beyond the confines of traditional artistic performance space and explore the innovation made possible by digital media. A PDF containing the complete texts of the plays in English and Russian along with information about the project and bios of the playwrights is available here. Paper copies of the program are available for educational use. Educators interested in obtaining paper copes of the program should contact Ashley Davidson, Program Coordinator for Book Wings, at ashley-r-davidson[at]uiowa.edu.
From April 2nd to April 7th, writers, musicians, entertainers, and foodies from around the United States will descend on Iowa City for the 8th annual Mission Creek Festival. The Festival, whose literary line-up alone includes more than 18 events, will feature a poetry rock show, a spoken word performance, a lit crawl, two writers-in-residence, and a small press and literary magazine book fair that includes top shelf publications such as Granta and N+1 as well as prominent literary presses Sarabande Books, Dzanc Books, and others.
As the countdown to the Festival begins, here’s a peek at singer and song-writer Joe Pug, who will perform on April 5th:
“The Festival is truly a time to be more on-on-one with leading American musicians, writers, and publishers, in Iowa City than any other,” says IWP's fall residency coordinator, Joe Tiefenthaler, the festival's literary director. “Besides performing, these visiting musicians, comedians, and authors will give lectures, visit classrooms, teach youth, and collaborate with the community on a variety of stages—from traditional concert venues, to restaurants, bars and locally-owned stores, and many of these events are free.”
Authors including Aleksandar Hemon, Roxane Gay, Mary Jo Bang, Amelia Gray, Matt Bell, Aase Berg, Johannes Göransson, Janaka Stucky, Feng Sun Chen, Rauan Klassnik, Susanne Scanlon, Jac Jemc, Jensen Beach, Eleni Sikelianos, and Eileen Pollack will be joined by writers and festival-goers from Iowa City, the Midwest, and across the country for a series of free public readings. A complete list of literary events is available here. For those who can’t make it to Iowa City for the Festival, many of the literary events will be streamed live by The Writing University, available for listening wherever there’s an internet connection.
The Festival will also feature performances by Iris Dement, Janeane Garofalo, Grizzly Bear, Divine Fits, Tig Notaro, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, White Lung, Mister Lies, Ital, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside, Julianna Barwick, and many others. A full line-up and ticket information is found here.
Building on the successful partnership that led to the inaugural production of Book Wings in 2012, the International Writing Program (IWP) and the Moscow Art Theatre are linking up again (on March 14th 2013, 10:30am Iowa time, 7:30pm Moscow time) to present the second year of the three-year collaborative theatre initiative. The 2012 edition featured poetry; now, in 2013, Book Wings Russia presents six new 10-minute plays by young and distinguished playwrights in the U.S. and Russia. In collaboration with the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, the Virtual Writing University, Information Technology Services, and UITV, Book Wings will use the latest high definition videoconferencing technology to link twin stages—one in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building and another at the revered Moscow Art Theatre—to produce one unified dramatic performance.
Playwrights, translators, actors, directors, and new media specialists have come together across more than 5,000 miles to produce Book Wings Russia, a free evening of collaborative bilingual theatre, in English and Russian. The six never-before-seen plays were commissioned for Book Wings, with grant support from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Dept of State. The playwrights, who include National Endowment for the Arts Fellow Sherry Kramer, Ofner Prize winner Carlos Murillo (who heads the Playwriting Program at DePaul University in Chicago), and Francesca Primus Award winner Victoria Stewart, created 10-minute plays on the central theme of “contact.” Their counterparts in Russia—Marina Krapivina, Maksym Kurochkin, and Natalya Moshina—did the same. The plays then went to the Book Wings translators and playwrights in both countries worked to refine the translations of their counterpart’s work for the stage.
Today’s performance will teleport the live audiences in Iowa City and Moscow back and forth between the two stages as artistic and production teams use videoconferencing technology to produce (in real time, across 10 time zones) a collaborative performance that strengthens creative and cultural ties between the two nations.
The complete scripts of the plays—complex, moving, and darkly funny—are printed in the program in both English and Russian, available on the Book Wings website. English supertitling will allow the Iowa City audience and live stream viewers to follow the Russian sections of the performance. The live audiences will be joined by viewing parties at the Women’s Cultural Center in Kuwait City, Bennington College, California State University—Long Beach and others around the world, all tuning in to watch the performance via the free live internet stream hosted by the Virtual Writing University. Audience members and viewers can tweet their questions for the live talk-back session to follow the performance using the hashtag #bookw.
The live stream will be archived online for later viewing and paper copies of the program containing the full texts of the plays are available to educators free of charge. Contact Book Wings Program Coordinator Ashley Davidson at ashley-r-davidson[at]uiowa.edu for more information.
Six new plays, two stages, and playwrights, translators, actors, directors, and new media specialists 7,000 miles apart come together Tuesday, March 12th at 9pm (10am Wednesday, March 13th in Shanghai) to present Book Wings China, a free evening of collaborative bilingual theatre.
The International Writing Program (IWP) and the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre(SDAC), working in partnership with the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, the Virtual Writing University, Information Technology Services, and UITV will use the latest high definition videoconferencing technology to link the twin stages—one in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building and another at SDAC in Shanghai. Together, they’ll present—in English and in Chinese—six never-before-seen plays by distinguished young playwrights in the U.S. and China. The plays were all specially commissioned by Book Wings, a 3-year collaborative theatre initiative funded by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Dept of State.
In September 2012, the playwrights, who include recent Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History winner Dan O’Brien, Whiting Award winner Naomi Iizuka (who also a heads the MFA in Playwriting at the University of California, San Diego), and Chay Yew, Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, were asked to write 10-minute plays on the central theme of “migration.” Their counterparts in China—Qian Jue, Wang Haoran, and Xu Yaqun—did the same and, in December, the newly written plays went to the Book Wings translators. Once translated, playwrights in both countries worked to refine the translations of their counterpart’s work for the stage.
In the meantime, new media specialists in both countries began conducting test calls and experimenting with software to ensure a high quality connection, with two-way talk back ability between the two stages, allowing Iowa City and Shanghai to switch back and forth between their respective live streams and converse with each other seamlessly in real time, producing one unified performance.
Actors and directors in Shanghai and Iowa City then began rehearsing the plays and working with production teams to develop lighting and set designs that will translate to the live stream.
When the house lights go down Tuesday night, from the comfort of their theatre seats, audiences in Iowa City and Shanghai will experience a kind of teleportation, bouncing back and forth across 8 time zones, experiencing plays that explore what IWP Director Christopher Merrill refers to as “the many dimensions of migration—discovery, flux, hope, nostalgia, and reinvention.” The scripts, in Chinese and English, are printed in the program, now available on the Book Wings website, and English supertitling will allow the Iowa City audience and live stream viewers to follow the Chinese sections of the performance.
The live audiences will be joined by viewing parties around the world who will tune in to watch the performance live via the free live internet stream hosted by the Virtual Writing University. In the U.S., viewing parties are scheduled at Bennington College, Pacific Lutheran University, The University of Hawaii—Honolulu and elsewhere.
During the live talk-back session to follow the performance, audience members and viewers can tweet their questions for the actors, directors, and new media specialists who make Book Wings a reality by using the hashtag #bookw.
The live stream will be archived online for later viewing (available beginning March 19th, 2013) and paper copies of the program containing the full texts of the plays are available to educators by emailing a request to ashley-r-davidson[at]uiowa.edu.
The Between the Lines (BTL) program brings young writers, ages 16-19, to the University of Iowa for creative writing study and cultural exchange. As young people from the U.S., Russia, and 17 Arabic-speaking countries prepare to apply for BTL 2013, we are profiling past BTL alumni in a blog series, Where Are They Now?
This week, we feature Irene Ghattas of Bethlehem, Palestine. A university graduate and mother, Irene participated in BTL Arabic 2009, when she was 19-years-old and in her second year of university.
IWP: What was your BTL experience like?
Irene: The BTL experience was a unique one. I loved the way the instructors taught their students; it’s completely different from our ways of teaching. For example, my style of writing wasn’t accepted by many teachers in my country because I write what my heart tells me to write, I hold the pen in my hand and start writing without thinking about whether it’s true or not true. For me writing is about feelings, emotions, passion; it’s not about rules or strike-through lines in red marker. In BTL, I was accepted as I am without rules or restrictions. The best memory I have of the experience is getting to know my friend Laura; she was my roommate. I will never forget meeting my best friend outside my country.
IWP: Had you visited the United States before?
Irene: The BTL experience was my first trip to the United States. I was shocked (in a good way) by the people I met. They were all good readers and they read everywhere. For me it’s different. In our society most people don’t read books, only newspapers. My favorite activity was walking in the street, observing the culture, people, and even nature: trees and squirrels.
IWP: How would you describe your BTL cohort?
I met some of my best friends at BTL. I still stay in touch with Laura and with Hussein; we all share the same mentality and ideas about the meaning of life. Hussein is from Lebanon, but he is studying in Italy and his continuing his life in a great way. Unfortunately, Laura, who is from Syria, because of the war is now in Jordan searching for a job. I call her from time to time and I tell her to come to my house but she can’t because she is a Syrian and can’t enter Israel. We share the same grief and the same difficulties in life.
IWP: How have your goals/your writing/your writing life changed since BTL?
My goal when I joined the BTL program was to find a fulfilling way to express my feelings, because every time I write I feel the emptiness of words, no word can voice my own sense of life, which I feel in my heart. After BTL I began to read more than before and now I have my own library in the house where I collect my favorite books. I used to write more, but I don’t have much time now with the baby and housework. I finished university two years ago and am searching for a job, but the economic situation in Bethlehem is poor. I want to work for many reasons: to help my husband and to develop my personality. Sometimes I feel that my dream of life is no more than a lie, all my life I dreamt of being a successful woman in every way, and I was raised to be one. But because of the economic and political situation, and all the pressure on us from the Israeli occupation, our dreams melt a little more every day.
IWP: What advice would you offer to other young people applying to BTL?
I advise the BTL students, once admitted, to invest every minute they have in the program to improving their writing by listening to the instructors’ advice. And I encourage every young student to apply to BTL. It is a great experience that can change your views of life.
The Between the Lines (BTL) program brings young writers, ages 16-19, to the University of Iowa for creative writing study and cultural exchange. As young people from the U.S., Russia, and 17 Arabic-speaking countries prepare to apply for BTL 2013, we are profiling past BTL alumni in a blog series, Where Are They Now?
This week, we feature 21-year-old Ghenim Houda, who lives in Oran, Algeria, where she is her 5th year of studying medicine. Ghenim participated in BTL Arabic 2010, when she was 18-years-old.
IWP: What was your BTL experience like?
Ghenim: My BTL experience was awesome. Two years have passed and I’m still talking about Iowa as if I have just come back from the trip. I met a lot of admirable people, writers and poets. I made new friends who share my passion. I still talk to them sometimes, even now. I learned a lot in only two weeks. My favorite BTL memory is of when we went with Tarek El Tayeb to see a mural in Iowa and everyone had to write a story about it. I found all the stories beautiful and original, each one its own indelible print of this wall, each of us hoping that the mural itself would never forget us.
IWP: Had you visited the United States before?
Ghenim: I’ve been to the U.S. before, but it was my first time visiting Iowa and I was really surprised by the people of Iowa. I think of all the chairs and all the green grass shaded by trees blessed to provide seats to such a huge number of writers. I don’t remember a day that went by in Iowa without seeing people sitting and writing or sitting and reading. I was really impressed.
My favorite activity in Iowa was a translation workshop. We (BTLers) translated English poems into Arabic or French while Iowa Young Writers’ Studio students translated ours into English. Then we went to a park in Iowa and read the poems to park-goers. It was so great to hear a mosaic of different languages and cultures.
IWP: Why did you come to BTL?
Ghenim: My objective was to improve my writing as well as my style. I also wanted to perfect my English. I was lucky; I surpassed my own expectations for myself. Algeria is francophone country, so French is my daily language, as well as Arabic. Throughout the BTL experience, I had the pleasure of writing long stories in English. Those two weeks were extraordinary. I learned a lot through our daily reading and also through all the [workshop] critiques that followed our lessons. Listening to the critiques is very useful and constructive. We had the great luck and the great opportunity to meet wonderful writers who were our professors. Weren’t we lucky? Yes, I think BTL is a great chance that comes only once in a person’s lifetime.
IWP: How have your goals/your writing/your writing life changed since BTL?
Ghenim: My goals didn’t change. I still want to be a brilliant doctor a fabulous writer and a great painter. I’m trying my best to divide my time between these pursuits even if it’s not easy with my medical studies. Since the BTL experience, I am reading more. I read a lot of plays to improve my own work. I completely revised and changed the beginning of the novel I worked on at BTL and I used some of the advice and things I learned from BTL to improve it; I think the novel is better now. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve written a few of poems in the past two years and I also want to write stories. This is a new goal that I’ve had in mind since my BTL trip.
IWP: What advice would you offer to young people applying to BTL?
Ghenim: I have only two pieces of advice for future BTLers: don’t hesitate to participate and prepare yourself for the best experience ever!!!
Ghenim Houda is a 5th year medical student at the Faculté de Médecine d'Oran in Oran, Algeria.
What is Book Wings?
Collaborative bilingual digitally-connected theatre that brings specially commissioned literary works by young, distinguished authors to the stage and to internet viewers around the world. This March, the IWP links up with the Moscow Art Theatre (established by Stanislavsky, home stage of Chekhov) and with the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre for two separate collaborative theatre performances. Using the latest videoconferencing technology, we’ll bring together actors, playwrights, directors, dramaturges, and stages thousands of miles apart to produce two unified performances known as Book Wings China and Book Wings Russia.
Building on the success of the Book Wings model pioneered in 2012 by IWP and the Moscow Art Theatre, which featured poetry, Book Wings 2013 commissioned 10-minute plays from twelve distinguished young playwrights (six English-language, three Chinese, and three Russian) who collaborated with translators to refine translations of their counterparts’ work. Student actors in Iowa City, Moscow, and Shanghai will perform the plays.
Attend in Person, Watch via Live Stream
Book Wings China: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 (9pm CST | 10am Wednesday, March 13, 2013 Shanghai time) in Theatre B, Univ. of Iowa Theatre Building & at Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, central theme: Migration.
Book Wings Russia: Thursday, March 14, 2013 (10am CST | 7pm Moscow time) in Theatre B, Univ. of Iowa Theatre Building & at Moscow Art Theatre, central theme: Contact.
Both performances are free, open to the public, bilingual (translation provided), and accessible worldwide via live internet stream at www.writinguniversity.org.
Videoconferencing technology will enable the audience in Iowa City to see and hear the Moscow and Shanghai stages, and the Moscow and Shanghai audiences to see and hear the Iowa City stage. Audience members and internet viewers may Tweet comments and questions for the live talk-back sessions following the events using the hashtag #bookw.
Working in conjunction with the UI Department of Theatre Arts, the Virtual Writing University, Information Technology Services, and UITV, these ambitious literary and theatrical events will connect stages 5,000 (Moscow) and 7,000 (Shanghai) miles apart.
Host a Viewing Party
The IWP is actively forming partnerships with arts institutions, theatres, literary organizations, high schools, colleges, and universities to arrange live viewings of the Book Wings 2013 performances. What better way to take in an evening (or morning) of theatre than in the company of other literature-lovers? Interested in hosting a viewing party or know someone who might be? Contact Book Wings Program Coordinator Ashley Davidson at email@example.com. IWP is happy to provide tech support, if needed.
Made possible by grant funds from the U.S. Department of State, Book Wings is a three-year collaborative exchange and performance initiative designed to bring together writers, actors, directors, and new media professionals in a virtual environment to foster cross-cultural conversation, spark new literary and dramatic ideas, and create an enduring body of work . In 2014, Book Wings will feature Russian, American, and Iraqi prose writers. Stay tuned for more on Book Wings in coming weeks.
IWP reading tour participant Chinelo OKPARANTA shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing.