• tribute to heaney.JPG
    "It is not always apparent, but behind the inspiring programs and projects that the International Writing Program undertakes, pulse invisible networks whose filaments are vital to our success and ongoing evolution” writes IWP director Christopher...
  • [Click to Enlarge] The first MOOC in the How Writers Write Series will focus on Poetry.
    [Click to Enlarge] The first MOOC in the How Writers Write Series will focus on Poetry. The International Writing Program (IWP) is delighted to announce The University of Iowa’s first creative writing MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): How Writers...
  • [Click to Enlarge] Portela leading a guided tour of the HORTUS installation in downtown Iowa City.
    With the process to select 2014 IWP Fall Residents in full swing, we thought it might be fun to look back at one of the highlights of the 2013 Fall Residency.[Click to Enlarge] Portela leading a guided tour of the HORTUS installation in...
  • [Click to Enlarge] Members of the Iowa City audience, waiting for Book Wings Iraq to begin.
    A special guest post by University of Iowa student Sara Cooper.[Click to Enlarge] Members of the Iowa City audience, waiting for Book Wings Iraq to begin. I participated as an audience member in both performances of Book Wings 2014, the first a...
  • [Click to Enlarge] Ranzo teaching in Uganda.
    The "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home means for authors who have spent three months in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This week's installment comes to us from Oscar Ranzo,...
  • Iraq program cover.JPG
    A special guest post by GWENDOLYN GILLSON, a PhD student in the University of Iowa Department of Religious Studies, who was in the audience during the March 11, 2014 Book Wings theatre exchange with the University of Baghdad. Book...
  • Whiti reading at Shambaugh House (on the University of Iowa campus) during the 2013 Fall Residency.
    The Shambaugh House blog's annual "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home is like for authors who've spent nearly three months writing and researching in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's ...
  • Instructors include American poet Kiki Petrosino, who teaches at the University of Louisville.
    The University of Iowa’s Between the Lines (BTL) creative writing and cultural exchange program, which brings aspiring writers ages 16-19 from around the world together for two weeks of intensive study, has announced that it will be administering $...
  • Sridala Swami in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where she took part in a Jazz Poetry Festival). Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
    Sridala Swami in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where she took part in a Jazz Poetry Festival). Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing several short essays commissioned from writers who participated in the 2013...
  • IWP Distance Learning offers several free writing-related Open-Application Courses and MOOCs each year.
    15 applicants representing a broad geographic range will be selected to participate in the seminar.The idea of nonfiction is simple: tell the truth. But as anyone who has ever attempted it knows, telling the truth can be a lot more complicated than...

#Iwritehere: Where do you write?

[Click to Enlarge] Nana's writing space in Iowa City, Iowa (USA).
[Click to Enlarge] Nana's writing space in Iowa City, Iowa (USA).
In just over three weeks, the University of Iowa will kick off the first session in its first-ever creative writing MOOC: How Writers Write Poetry, a free six-week online course. How Writers Write Poetry will bring thousands of poets, aspiring poets, and poetry-lovers from across the globe together through writing exercises, interactive writing workshops, and discussions of the craft of poetry. With participants coming together from more than fifty countries and every continent except Antarctica (come on, Antarctic poets!), we’re hoping participants might share a glimpse of where their poems are coming from. In the same vein as The New York TimesA Writer’s Room, The Guardian’s Writers’ Rooms, and the IWP's own 91st Meridian, we’re inviting poets enrolled in the course to share photos of their creative spaces. Where do you write? Take a photo of your writing place and Tweet it at us @UIIWP hashtag #Iwritehere or share it with us on Facebook and we’ll retweet the ten best examples.

There’s still time to enroll in How Writers Write Poetry, which opens June 28, 2014. The course is part of a new University of Iowa MOOC series: How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment; a fiction writing course will launch in September 2014.

Special thanks to Between the Lines counselor Nana for letting us post this photo of her writing space. More photos of Nana's spaces here.

Hey Poets: 32 Day Countdown to Poetry Writing MOOC

Just 32 days to go until the launch of the University of Iowa’s first creative writing MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): How Writers Write Poetry, which opens June 28, 2014. The free six-week course will include bi-weekly video sessions featuring craft talks by established poets, writing exercises, online discussions, and workshops; participants will be invited to share their work and provide constructive feedback.  The IWP is so excited about this new poetry experiment that we’re counting down the days with 32 Statements on Writing Poetry from contributing poet Marvin Bell; we’ll be posting one wry and useful observation from Bell per day—visit IWP on Facebook and Twitter (hashtag #heypoets) to count down with us. You can reserve a free seat in the MOOC today by enrolling at: http://courses.writinguniversity.org/courses.

Here’s a quick introduction to the course from instructors Mary Hickman and Christopher Merrill. A complete course syllabus can be found here.

How Writers Write Poetry is part of a new University of Iowa MOOC series: How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment; a fiction writing course will launch in September 2014.

Who is Your Rumi? New Film Explores Rumi's International Poetic Legacy

[Click to Enlarge]
[Click to Enlarge]
In May 2013, seventeen poets, writers, and scholars from the U.S., Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran met in Konya, in central Turkey, to discuss the poetic legacy of 13th century mystic Rumi. A new documentary, The Same Gate: A Poetic Exchange, by Beirut-based filmmaker Nigol Bezjian, captures that encounter as well as the sights and sounds of Rumi’s world, from whirling dervishes to the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia.

The lyrical 49-minute documentary can be viewed at: http://iwp.uiowa.edu/programs/international-conferences/the-same-gate alongside a 13-minute companion feature in which participants tackle the question “Who is your Rumi?” exploring how, eight centuries after his death, Rumi remains a central poet in Afghan, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish literature and a bestselling poet in the U.S..

Karachi-based writer and journalist Bina Shah offers her views on Rumi during The Same Gate conference.
Karachi-based writer and journalist Bina Shah offers her views on Rumi during The Same Gate conference.
"Rumi accepted women into the spiritual tradition…he had female disciples, he corresponded with female mystics…I’ve come to understand Rumi as the best kind of humanist…Rumi was somebody universal, like Shakespeare...”

--Bina Shah (Writer/Journalist, Pakistan)

Bezjian recorded dozens of hours of interviews with participants, who included Pakistani writer and New York Times columnist Bina Shah and National Book Award winner Marilyn Hacker, capturing excursions retracing Rumi’s steps in Turkey, visiting the poet’s shrine in Konya, and even meeting with Esin Celebi Bayru, Rumi’s granddaughter twenty-one generations removed.

Esin Celebi Bayru, Rumi’s granddaughter twenty-one generations removed, offers her views on Rumi's legacy.
Esin Celebi Bayru, Rumi’s granddaughter twenty-one generations removed, offers her views on Rumi's legacy.
“Shot in English, Pashto and Persian, The Same Gate gives you a sense of how writers from different traditions engage with Rumi, and how varied their interpretations of his work are. You have scholars engaging with Rumi as a historical project and others for whom the connection is more visceral, like young Afghan journalist, writer, and human rights worker Farkhonda Arzooaby, who comes from Rumi’s home region of Balkh. You have people like Pakistani writer Bina Shah who make the case for Rumi as enlarging women’s place in Islam, and others with more traditionalist visions,” says 91st Meridian Editor Nataša Durovicová who is compiling the 120-page volume of ghazals (a poetic form employed by Rumi), prose reflections, and essays by The Same Gate participants, to be published by Autumn Hill Books.

"If you want to write something like Rumi, you have to be no one," says Golan Haji.
"A great prolific poet like Rumi who writes tens of thousands of lines…he’s a spiritual master, humble, simple...the way he uses to teach is the metaphor…like Christ, like Buddha, Rumi is everyone’s and no one’s…”

--Golan Haji (Poet/Translator, Syria/France)

The Same Gate conference brought writers from six countries together to converse, collaborate, and challenge each other’s ideas, using Rumi’s poetry as common ground. The film and accompanying volume of collaborative work capture the rich intellectual and cultural exchange made possible by the project, embodying the Rumi ghazal that gave The Same Gate its name.

A hub of connection & new ideas: IWP’s 2013 annual report

"It is not always apparent, but behind the inspiring programs and projects that the International Writing Program undertakes, pulse invisible networks whose filaments are vital to our success and ongoing evolution” writes IWP director Christopher Merrill in the opening letter of the 2013 IWP Annual Report, recently published on the IWP website. The report represents 365 days of IWP programming and creative exchange spanning every continent except Antarctica.

 

The 50-page report offers an inside look at the 2013 Fall Residency, which brought 34 writers from 31 countries to Iowa City for ten weeks; overseas reading tours to Iraq, Burma, Sudan and South Sudan, Uzbekistan, Turkemenistan and elsewhere; the WhitmanWeb multimedia gallery featuring translations, commentaries and audio recordings of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”; The Virtual Writing University’s development of the Open Courses website as a platform and home for University of Iowa and IWP MOOCs (massive open online courses); and other exciting IWP programming.

 

Amid snapshots and highlights of life at the IWP, the report showcases the many forms of creative innovation--from new publications to ground-breaking collaborative projects like Book Wings--that arise out of the countless interpersonal connections IWP strives to facilitate between writers around the globe. It also includes a glimpse of IWP’s first Community Engagement Fellow Patrícia Portela’s HORTUS sound installation as well as an excerpt of the moving tribute Fall Resident Martin Dyar offered during a celebration of the life and work of late Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, held in Iowa City in October 2013. We hope you'll stop by, take a look, and let us know what you think. 

Read the report.

University of Iowa launches Creative Writing MOOC Series

[Click to Enlarge] The first MOOC in the How Writers Write Series will focus on Poetry.
[Click to Enlarge] The first MOOC in the How Writers Write Series will focus on Poetry.
The International Writing Program (IWP) is delighted to announce The University of Iowa’s first creative writing MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): How Writers Write Poetry, now open for enrollment. The free six-week course (June 28-August 9, 2014) will include discussions and workshops, as well as craft talks by more than 20 contributing poets, including former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, Kwame Dawes, Kate Greenstreet, Kiki Petrosino, and Shane McCrae. The course is part of a new University of Iowa MOOC series: How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment; a fiction writing course will launch in September 2014.

Writing exercises, discussion, and workshops

Robert Hass, who served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997, will give a craft talk as part of the MOOC.
Robert Hass, who served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997, will give a craft talk as part of the MOOC.
How Writers Write Poetry will be guided by poet and IWP director Christopher Merrill and by Mary Hickman, poet and editor of Black Rainbow Editions. Twice a week, Merrill and Hickman will introduce and contextualize two short video “craft talks” by contributing poets and assign a writing prompt to MOOC participants. Merrill and Hickman will be supported by a team of teaching assistants, all MFA graduates with substantial experience in teaching poetry.

In the course discussion forum, Hickman, the teaching assistants, and the MOOC participants will examine points raised in the craft talks. The IWP expects to draw an international roster of users, so the teaching assistants will maintain an active presence in the discussion forum around the clock to support ongoing interaction in all time zones (though the course’s working language is English). Participants will be invited to post their poetry for discussion, and each week Hickman and the teaching assistants will workshop a representative collection of the submitted poems.

“The response to our first MOOC was terrific,” said IWP distance learning coordinator Susannah Shive. More than 2,000 people enrolled in Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself in February 2014. “We were thrilled by the participants’ deep engagement with the subject and one another in the discussion forum, and we’re especially excited to offer How Writers Write Poetry participants the opportunity to bring that energy and commitment into workshops of their own poetry. Workshopping hasn’t really been done in the MOOC world yet, and we’re confident we’ve figured out how to make it work.”

The course welcomes readers as well as writers; you can participate in workshops without submitting your own work.
The course welcomes readers as well as writers; you can participate in workshops without submitting your own work.
For those interested in poetry, but shy about submitting their own work for critique, Shive had this advice: “How Writers Write Poetry is an interactive study of how a poet develops and refines the lifelong practice and craft of poetry—it’s ideal not only for poets, but also for those interested in reading and learning more about contemporary poetry. We’ve structured the discussion topics to welcome readers as well as writers, and you can participate in workshops without submitting your own work.”

The course, taught in English, is free and open to anyone with an internet connection. To enroll, visit: http://courses.writinguniversity.org/course/how-writers-write-poetry

The MOOC series How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and by the University of Iowa, and hosted by the Virtual Writing University with the goal of encouraging global academic and creative exchange.

HORTUS: a soundscape of birdsong

With the process to select 2014 IWP Fall Residents in full swing, we thought it might be fun to look back at one of the highlights of the 2013 Fall Residency.

[Click to Enlarge] Portela leading a guided tour of the HORTUS installation in downtown Iowa City.
[Click to Enlarge] Portela leading a guided tour of the HORTUS installation in downtown Iowa City.
The 4,000 plus literary visitors to the 2013 Iowa City Book Festival got an unexpected treat: a soundscape of synthetic birdsong. The birdsong was part of an innovative sound installation project, HORTUS, organized by 2013 Fall Resident Patrícia Portela (Portugal), IWP’s inaugural Community Engagement Fellow, in collaboration with Belgian artist Christoph De Boeck. For four days in October, festival-goers, pedestrians, and community members gazed up curiously into the trees or paused to read the digital plaques along Iowa City’s downtown Pedestrian Mall.  
 Speakers in the trees on the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall.
Speakers in the trees on the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall.
All the while, a network of sensors was measuring the wind and light harvested by trees and plants as part of photosynthesis, and translating these natural economies into bird calls.  The installation also reacted to human movement: a financial algorithm, taking into account solitary and crowd movement, transformed and remapped the soundscape.  Then, each time visitors stopped to read or reflect, the original sound design for the landscape returned, reflecting only the readings of natural energy.  The digital plaques featured looping micro “stories” that compared economic, political, or natural terms such as growth, beauty, regeneration, and time.  In addition, a guided tour led community members through the installation; a salon stirred debate on sustainability; and an evening lecture shared Portela’s experiences interviewing Iowa farmers and agricultural experts.  As the IWP looks ahead to all the future ways in which our visiting writers can engage with the land and people of Iowa and Iowa City, we will be guided by the echoes of those invisible birds, and by the inspiration of passersby looking up at the trees in wonder.

 A glimpse of a similar 2012 HORTUS exhibition:

For more on Portela's present whereabouts, visit her blog, Seeds of Culture.

Visit IWP's archives to read panel papers on topics such as "Freedom's Limits," "The New Sexualities," and "Religion and Writing," presented by 2013 Fall Residents at the 2013 Iowa City Book Festival.

Layers of Cultural Exchange: Spectator notes from Book Wings 2014

A special guest post by University of Iowa student Sara Cooper.

[Click to Enlarge] Members of the Iowa City audience, waiting for Book Wings Iraq to begin.
[Click to Enlarge] Members of the Iowa City audience, waiting for Book Wings Iraq to begin.
I participated as an audience member in both performances of Book Wings 2014, the first a collaboration between the University of Iowa (UI) and the University of Baghdad, the second between UI and the Moscow Art Theatre. Both performances took place in the Theater Building on the UI campus.

The most interesting aspect of Book Wings 2014 for me were the many layers on which cultural exchange could be tracked. While one channel of exchange expressed one kind of relationship between the two countries, another channel portrayed the relationship differently. For example, while the verbal exchanges between the Iowa City and the Baghdad moderator in the Iraq-America Book Wings were polite and gracious, the staging of the American plays in Arabic in the Baghdadi theatre gave a different message.  Thus the decision, by the Iraqi director, to omit portions of the original text from the American play “Shelter Drills” and instead have the actors perform silently or to mime made the audience in the US (which had access to the full original texts in their program booklets) assume there was tension between the two countries that could not be surmounted by the fiction, and that dialogue was therefore deleted in favor of more neutral acting techniques. Face to face the two countries’ moderators interacted amicably, but the performances made me feel as though the relationship between the two countries was much more complicated than the moderators' tone and style have any hint of.

UI Director Carol MacVey (on screen) with MXAT host Adam Muskin and Russian playwright Ksenia Dragunskaya on stage in Moscow.
UI Director Carol MacVey (on screen) with MXAT host Adam Muskin and Russian playwright Ksenia Dragunskaya on stage in Moscow.
On the other hand, the Russian-American Book Wings gave the impression of an opposite relationship. When there was any technical difficulty, the Russian moderator acted, I felt, rather rudely.  His exertion of control over the situation made me feel as though the relationship between the two countries was less than comfortable. The Russian adaptations of the plays, however, were lively and entertaining, and stayed faithful to the American texts, portraying a different, more comfortable relationship between the two countries. What made the interactions even more interesting was that Russian moderator was American-born. But I don't know what to make of that.

Baghdad host and interpreter Dr. Maysam Saleh (on screen) interacts with UI host Christopher Merrill during Book Wings Iraq.
Baghdad host and interpreter Dr. Maysam Saleh (on screen) interacts with UI host Christopher Merrill during Book Wings Iraq.
One part of both Book Wings performances that I found especially striking was the absence of translators on the American side. In both performances the interpreting of the conversations, both between Arabic and English and Russian and English was done by the overseas moderators.1 It should have been easy enough to find someone in Iowa to do the interpreting on our side, yet for some reason that job was left to the overseas moderator alone.2 This discrepancy provided another insight into the relationships between the two countries. While the Arabic moderator handled the interpreting job fairly straightforwardly, saying a complete thought in Arabic and then translating it into English, or waiting for the American speaker to finish before translating the complete thought into Arabic, the Russian moderator went back and forth between Russian and, sometimes translating everything and sometimes leaving either the Russian or the American audience in the dark. I thought that the differences between the moderators’ interpreting strategies reflected the relationships emerging out of the moderator exchanges in each performance: the Iraqi and American moderators gracious and conciliatory, the Russian moderator more determined to make the show his own. In both events there were many more layers of exchange, but the textual and verbal performance levels were the ones that I found most interesting.

1Shambaugh house blog note: Vladimir Kulikov provided interpretation on the Iowa Stage during the Book Wings Russia Q&A immediately following the performance.
2Shambaugh House blog note: the decision to have only one interpreter was made jointly by the partners in both cases, in the interest of streamlining the performance and shortening the performance time.

Oscar Ranzo On Going Home

The "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home means for authors who have spent three months in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This week's installment comes to us from Oscar Ranzo, writing from Uganda in January 2014:

[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo (at center, in red shirt) with family in Uganda.
[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo (at center, in red shirt) with family in Uganda.
Several weeks have passed since I returned home from the States.  Incognito.  Chose to do so because I didn’t want any fussing, by family and friends, surrounding my return from the 10-week residency at the University of Iowa. The plan had been to sneak back into the country without telling anyone (aside from my younger brother, who I’d given the task of picking me up from the Airport) spend a few days adjusting back into Ugandan mode, before plunging into my pre-departure routine, of writing, visiting schools, and running the day to day business of the Oasis Book Project as swiftly as though I had never been away. I’d hoped I’d be able to lay low for some time while gradually shocking people who still thought I might be abroad by calling them using my Ugandan phone. But as soon as I called the first person, the word quickly spread that I was back, and before I knew it the very thing I’d been desperate to avoid – the excitement synonymous with returning home from a trip to America – was happening: the fusspots were organizing a welcome party for me. In vain I tried to stop it, but my siblings were adamant it had to happen, and gave so many reasons why it had to, until in the ended I relented and let it be, but not without insisting that it be kept a kindred affair.

And a lovely Kindred Affair it was, a rare get together which started with my first proper Ugandan meal in months (Ugandan food is the only thing I seriously missed in Iowa) and ended with me sharing my American story right from being nominated and selected for the International Writing Program to being awarded the title of Honorary Fellow in Writing at the end of the residency, from time to time my narrative being interrupted by questions from a curious brother, sister or cousin. ‘So what does that title mean?’ A cousin asked, and everyone paid attention, but didn’t seem to understand, while I tried to explain the significance of my honorary title. That’s when it occurred to me that for the first time in months I was the only writer in a room of more than two people. Throughout my time in Iowa I had become used to being in the company of writers, most of them much more accomplished than me, and it always felt nice listening to and learning from the deep literary conversations they often had.

But that was Iowa, a UNESCO city of Literature; this was home, a literary desert, and now that I was back, I knew I had to, and have once again, become used to being the only writer, not only in my close circle of family and friends, but also in my entire hometown of more than 70,000 people. Without doubt I miss the company of other writers, and all the literary activities, especially the book readings and writer discussions that were commonplace in Iowa City. At times I also have nostalgic recollections of my life in Iowa: I particularly miss the warm baths, the washing machine, and the weekly house cleanings. I, too, miss the spacious, well stocked libraries, the gigantic book stores, the street benches, where my muse was always on a high, and, every time I use the internet here, with its frustrating speeds and unreliable connections, I miss the very fast internet speeds, let alone the stable connections that were the norm in America.

 

[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo teaching in Uganda.
[Click to Enlarge] Ranzo teaching in Uganda.
Yet, despite the aforementioned shortcomings, I have also realized that writing in a literary desert also has its advantages, the most noteworthy of which is the fact that my stories are often the only ones by a local writer available on sale in schools, helping me sell books in numbers that upcoming writers in America, Europe and other literary advanced countries would find enviable. Ever since returning home I have been exploring ways of making the most of my 10-week stay in America to increase the popularity of my stories at home: I have given press interviews and invited a big media house to support our campaign to promote the reading and writing culture in the country; and, all being well, I am optimistic that in a few years I will be able to sell enough copies per month to enable me afford the good life I lived in Iowa City.

Worthy of Pursuit: Spectator notes from Book Wings Iraq 2014

A special guest post by GWENDOLYN GILLSON, a PhD student in the University of Iowa Department of Religious Studies, who was in the audience during the March 11, 2014 Book Wings theatre exchange with the University of Baghdad.

Book Wings Iraq was a really fascinating experience. The performances were captivating and intellectually stimulating, although I admit that I was not up for some of the intellectual challenges. The plays themselves were politically charged and sometimes the tensions in the plays were palpable in the audience sitting in the Iowa City theater, as though the performances on stage and the images on screen were reaching out and affecting the audience in ways only live theater can do.

One of the highlights of the performances for me was the idea of linguistic boundaries. These performances emphasized and at the same time minimized the spaces between our respective cultures and languages. Surtitles helped with following along with the basics of communication, but I know that my inability to understand Arabic hindered my appreciation for the symbolic intricacies of those plays. At the same time, the visual format of the plays worked on a more emotional and less intellectual level so that even when I did not understand what specifically was happening on stage, I was able to connect emotional through the visual medium. When it was revealed that “Shelter Drills” was to be a completely embodied performance without speech, I was surprised but also intrigued because it challenged me to think about the ways that powerful meaning can be conveyed without words.

[Click to Enlarge] The Iowa stage (with the Baghdad team on screen) during the talk-back following the performance.
[Click to Enlarge] The Iowa stage (with the Baghdad team on screen) during the talk-back following the performance.
Through various means, both sides were able to cross linguistic boundaries in order to encourage dialogue while at the same time being brought in direct contact with the importance of language in coherent communication. Questions in the Q/A period, whether coming from the audience present or via the Twitter feed never translated quite right from English into Arabic so that the answers given were fascinating, but not really answering the original questions posed. In a relationship as fraught as the one between the United States and Iraq, the fact that questions can be easily misinterpreted in such a welcoming environment points to the need for better communication in order to encourage international dialogue and cooperation. Performances like Book Wings are perfect places to stimulate strong cross-cultural communication and point to mutual appreciation of artistic expression.

[Click to Enlarge] TRAIN OF DEATH by Iraqi playwright Hassab Allah Yahya.
[Click to Enlarge] TRAIN OF DEATH by Iraqi playwright Hassab Allah Yahya.
Also of interest was the comparison of the staging of the plays. The University of Iowa stage was minimalistic with very avant-garde performances, while the Baghdad University stage was much more elaborate, with more traditional but still highly emotional performances. The juxtaposition of these two interpretations of the plays also helped highlight differences of artistic interpretation that only served to strengthen the dual commitment to artistic expression. Despite the different ways of performing the plays, they all were able to stir up deep emotional connections with the audience that transcended any particular instances in the plays.

Looking toward the future, Book Wings is an artistic experience extremely worthy of pursuit. It helps people who may not understand each other work through differences and gives a new way of thinking about language and cultural relationships. Art is an excellent way to cross boundaries and Book Wings challenges people to look across boundaries that many people do not even want to consider. For the future, I hope that there will be a more equal linguistic exchange, such that the American side will have an Arabic-language translator on location. Only through understanding and respect will the world be able to move towards peaceful solutions. Performances such as Book Wings are excellent exchanges of culture, language, and art.

Iowa City, 3/21/14 

 

Whiti Hereaka On Going Home

The Shambaugh House blog's annual "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home is like for authors who've spent nearly three months writing and researching in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This week's installment comes to us from Whiti Hereaka.

I have phantom jandal1 syndrome.  I can feel the memory of them on me:  where the rubber straps that meet between my toes bites, where the straps have rubbed and calloused the skin on the sides of my feet. I have been wearing my cheap supermarket jandals daily during the New Zealand summer; but now the weather has started to turn Autumnal and I’m wearing them less often.

I’ve been back in New Zealand now longer than I was away. When I left America in November the first snow had started to fall in New York. I arrived home to blue skies and the beginning of summer. There’s nothing like an abrupt change of season to remind you that you’ve been on the other side of the world for ten weeks.

Ten weeks doesn’t sound like a long time. Ten weeks isn’t a long time. But it is long enough for the seasons to change and the earth to shift, long enough for subtle changes in my world to compound. My nephews and nieces were taller. My garden had overgrown.

But have I changed too?

Whiti reading at Shambaugh House (on the University of Iowa campus) during the 2013 Fall Residency.
Whiti reading at Shambaugh House (on the University of Iowa campus) during the 2013 Fall Residency.
“How was it?” people ask me ; as if I am able to compress the weeks, the continent, the people into a sound bite. The constant retelling reduces the experience to a laundry list of places and sights. The friends I spent my time with in Iowa are diminished to the short-hand of name, nationality and genre – there is no room for the nuance of individuality in the question “How was it?”

That’s what I miss most; the people. I will never go to another reading in the same way as I did at the IWP – surrounded by my new whanau2 of writers, supporting the ones whose turn it was to share their work with us and the public. I miss the impromptu dance parties in the common room – crowded around a laptop shouting for our favourite songs. I miss the good-natured mimicry of my accent when I’d say “eggs” or “seven”.

I've been home for months now, but I feel like a part of me is still at the Iowa House Hotel, or at Shambaugh House, or at Prairie Lights. I’m no longer in Iowa, but the memories of my experience and the people I met there have left their mark on me. I can still feel its influence lingering like a pair of well-worn jandals.

1 Jandals = "Japanese Sandals" what New Zealanders call "flip-flops" or "thongs" (which I find a more disturbing descriptor)

2 Whanau = "family" in te reo Maori