• Remants of a castle in the center of Qatif, a place that inspires Al-Jishi.
    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 Raed Anis Al-Jishi:...
  • BANNER.png
    By Karen Villeda, 2015 Fall Residency Outreach FellowIn the course of the fall 2015 semester, in my role as the International Writing Program’s Outreach Fellow, I developed a web-based project, titled INTERNATIONAL WRITING PROGRAM: WRITING LIVES!...
  • El Jones is featured in News from Home.
    By Andrea Chan, Fall Residency Outreach AssistantEl Jones is featured in News from Home. “Today we say all art is political. But I'd say all art has to do with ethics. Which after all really comes to the same thing. It's a matter of attitudes.” —...
  • A page from Walt Whitman's notebook, written during his trips to visit hospitalized soldiers.
    A page from Walt Whitman's notebook, written during his trips to visit hospitalized soldiers.Join us for the latest iteration of WhitmanWeb, Whitman Civil War, where we explore Walt Whitman’s literary response—in poetry and prose—to the American...
  • fall and rise cover.jpg
    By Hanna Busse, IWP ICRU FellowIn April of 2011, the exchange “Writers in Motion: Fall and Recovery” brought an international group of established writers together on a tour throughout the United States. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s...
  • books.jpg
    Lanterns of Hope: A Poetry Project for Iraqi Youth, a new initiative from the International Writing Program, closes its call for submissions May 1, 2015. Launched in March, the program is designed to encourage Iraqi youth, ages 16 to 23, to...
  • Walt_Whitman_-_Brady-Handy_restored.jpg
    One hundred fifty years ago, on April 9th, 1865, the Battle of Appomattox Court House brought the American Civil War to an end. In order to commemorate this historic moment, the International Writing Program is pleased to announce the next...
  • Sadek Mohammed and his children.
    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 Sadek Mohammed:It...
  • _IWP_2014_Photo_Letter_FINAL_Page_12.jpg
    “Photo-letter pairing” is a project from Andra Rotaru (IWP '14) in collaboration with Jared Krauss as part of the 2nd Annual Outreach and Engagement Fellowship, an additional IWP fellowship that is focused on cultivating public outreach and artistic...
  • Photo by Thomas Langdon
    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 Abdullah Al Wesali:...

The little girl and la mar

Written by Karen Villeda, 2015 Fall Residency Outreach Fellow, in November, 2015

“He always thought of the sea, as ”la mar,” which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as “el mar” which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Sometimes I wonder about the gender of the sea. In Spanish, my beloved mother tongue, we think of the sea as an enchanting her--“la mar”--and we also fear the sea as an inclement he: “el mar.” The plural is masculine, too: “los mares.” It is an ambiguous substantive. I love neutral words, but when the subject matter is pain, the terms need to be accurate. When you are part of a complex demographic phenomenon like immigration to the United States, you are constantly questioning yourself about gender, sex, race, class—and, last but not least, the sea.

I have been in Iowa City for three months. I am looking at the United States through my language. Spanish equals mama, Spanish equals cuisine, Spanish equals love, Spanish equals joy—and joy, to me, is reading and writing. Spanish equals my literary career. I am one of the lucky ones. In Mexico, literature is a privilege. And poverty is a fact. Half of my country's population lives in poverty. That is their main motivation for coming to the United States. Another fact: this is endless. We have more poor people every day, and the growth of poverty fuels migration. Children are thus fleeing not only their countries but their language. Spanish equals war, Spanish equals violence. Spanish equals sadness and misery. And Spanish equals death. In Spanish, death is a feminine noun: “la muerte.”  And deportation is another one: “la deportación.”

A student's work from a Spanish Creative Literacy Project workshop.
A student's work from a Spanish Creative Literacy Project workshop.

As the 2015 Outreach Fellow of the International Writing Program I was, among my other activities in Iowa City, involved with the Spanish immersion program at Lemme Elementary School—a key element of the Spanish Creative Literacy Project (SCLP). Ana Merino, the Director of the Spanish MFA, created SCLP in the summer of 2010 to help members of the Hispanic community appreciate the multiple dimensions of literacy in their linguistic heritage. Lemme Elementary hosts one of several children’s and teen workshops in Spanish creative writing, taught with the help of current University of Iowa students. This afterschool program is for children from five to 12 years old. This intergenerational group learns not only how to successfully communicate in Spanish, but also to appreciate their mother tongue. The majority of these children relate Spanish with the natural but fierce watercourse that is the Rio Grande or “Big River.”  We named it Río Bravo (which means “brave river” in Spanish) because for us is traditionally a stream of blood ties, surging in south-central Colorado in the United States and flowing towards the Gulf of Mexico. We could also talk about another flow, that of the Mexican migration. But the children remain silent, for theirs is an experience of an acute life crisis. Positive experiences related in, and to, Spanish are rare back in their former home.

At Lemme Elementary I had the opportunity to work with a little girl. Her name is Rubí--a very common name in Mexico because of the protagonist, a femme fatale, of a famous “telenovela.” Both Rubí’s parents are dead. I spoke to her in Spanish, asking questions about her Mexican life. She always answered in English. In speaking, she confused the sound of the Spanish “i” with the English vowel “e”; in writing, her Spanish “u” became the English “oo.” And she believed that “the sea” is neutral. She wasn’t facing the problem, my problem, of Spanish gendering when talking about “la mar”/”el mar.”

Now I say to myself that it’s time to raise another question. Which is about the sea and its salt. Let’s talk about the children’s tears. Let’s recount their suffering. Let’s also show them how to change their narrative from one of traumatic experiences and phases of life to a new adventure overseas. I believe that storytelling is a therapeutic tool: its gift is to reinforce self-esteem. For the children need to talk about their fears. They are bilingual Spanish-English individuals who in their childhood have sustained traumatic experiences related to their mother tongue. They have the specific symptoms and characteristics of traumatic memories attached to Spanish. Consequently, they want to keep a distance from their mother tongue. Their relation to English is different: is a second language. No lo han mamado --they haven’t drunk it with their mothers’ milk.  Their English memory “es padre” (meaning “cool” in colloquial Mexican Spanish, and related to the paternal figure) and also “está con madre” (“bitchin’” in colloquial Spanish and associated with the mother). But we are here to tell them that Spanish memory can be cool too. The bilingual UI faculty, alumni and volunteers are central in this process: they are role models for the children, who with these adults’ help can witness the rich emotional and inner life of being bilingual. The grown-ups are sending some powerful messages--for instance “your heritage can be your salvation too.” Storytelling will not bring back the beloved ones from death (whether that death is real or seems so, in expatriation) but it might help them recover that half of their selves which is embodied in their Spanish frame of mind. I believe that Spanish language will persevere in these children: we just need to create a new semantics, in which traumatic memory is rewritten inside a lesson of empowerment. And that lesson will then be one they can retell in their second language.

La niñita y la mar

'Decía siempre “la mar”. Así es como le dicen en español cuando la quieren. A veces los que la quieren hablan mal de “ella”, pero lo hacen siempre como si fuera una mujer. Algunos de los pescadores más jóvenes, los que usaban boyas y flotadores para sus sedales y tenían botes de motor comprados cuando los hígados de tiburón se cotizaban alto, empleaban el artículo masculino, lo llamaban “el mar”. Hablaban del mar como de un contendiente o un lugar, o incluso un enemigo. Pero el viejo lo concebía siempre como perteneciente al género femenino y como algo que concedía o negaba grandes favores, y si hacía cosas perversas y terribles era porque no podía evitarlo. La luna, pensaba, le afectaba lo mismo que a una mujer.'
"El viejo y el mar" - Ernest Hemingway.

A veces me pregunto sobre el género del mar. En español, mi amada lengua materna, pensamos en el mar como una ella encantadora: "la mar" y también le tememos como a un inclemente Él: "el mar". También es masculino en plural: "los mares". Es un sustantivo ambiguo. Me encantan las palabras neutrales, pero cuando hablamos del dolor se necesitan palabras precisas. Cuando eres parte de un fenómeno demográfico tan complejo como la migración a los Estados Unidos, constantemente te preguntas sobre el género, el sexo, la raza, la clase - y, por último pero no menos importante, la o el mar.

He estado en Iowa City por tres meses. Estoy mirando a los Estados Unidos a través de mi lengua. Español significa mamá, español significa cocina, español significa amor, español significa gozo y gozo, para mí, es leer y escribir. Español significa mi carrera literaria. Soy afortunada. La literatura en México es un privilegio. La pobreza es un hecho. La mitad de la población de mi país vive en la pobreza. Esa es la principal motivación para venir a Estados Unidos. Otro dato: esta es interminable. Tenemos más gente pobre cada día y el crecimiento de la pobreza alimenta la migración. Por lo tanto, los niños huyen no sólo del país sino de la lengua. Español significa guerra, español significa violencia. Español significa tristeza y miseria. Y español significa la muerte. La muerte es una palabra femenina. La deportación es otro término femenino en español.

A student's work from a Spanish Creative Literacy Project workshop.
A student's work from a Spanish Creative Literacy Project workshop.

Gracias a la beca de Alcance Comunitario del Programa Internacional de Escritura (IWP por sus siglas en inglés), también estuve involucrada con el programa de inmersión en español en la Escuela Primaria Lemme. que es una pieza clave del Proyecto de Alfabetización Creativa en Español (SCLP). Ana Merino, la directora de la Maestría en Escritura Creativa en Español, creó el SCLP en el verano de 2010 para ayudar a los miembros de la comunidad hispana a apreciar la dimensión múltiple de su patrimonio lingüístico. El de Lemme es uno de los talleres de Escritura Creativa en Español con niños y adolescentes apoyados con estudiantes voluntarios de la Universidad de Iowa. Este programa después de la escuela es para niños a partir de 5 años a 12 años de edad. Este grupo intergeneracional aprende no sólo para comunicarse con éxito en español, sino a apreciar su lengua materna. La mayoría de estos niños relacionan el español con el curso de agua natural, pero feroz, que es el Río Grande en Estados Unidos. En México lo nombramos Río Bravo, ya que para nosotros es por lo general un agua de sangre que se eleva desde el centro-sur de Colorado y que fluye hacia el Golfo de México. Estamos hablando de otro flujo, la inmigración mexicana. Pero estos niños permanecen en silencio porque están experimentando una aguda crisis de vida. Las experiencias positivas relacionadas con el español son raras en su antigua casa. Tuve la oportunidad de trabajar con una niña. Su nombre es Rubí (un nombre muy común en México debido a la protagonista, una mujer fatal, de una famosa telenovela). Sus padres están muertos. Hablaba en español con ella. Le hice algunas preguntas acerca de su vida en México. Ella siempre me contestó en inglés. Ella confunde el sonido del español "i" con la vocal "e" del inglés. Ella escribía la “u” del español como una "oo" del inglés. Y ella cree que el mar es neutral. Ella no estaba teniendo este problema, mi problema, sobre el género cuando se habla de "la mar" / "el mar" en español.

Ahora, me estoy diciendo a mí misma que es el momento de plantear otra pregunta. Y también se trata de la mar y la sal. Vamos a hablar de sus lágrimas. Vamos a contar sus sufrimientos. Vamos a mostrarles a cambiar su narrativa de fases de vida y experiencias traumáticas a una nueva aventura en el extranjero. Creo que la narración es una herramienta curativa. Puede reforzar la autoestima. Tienen que hablar de sus miedos. Son individuos bilingües que sufrieron experiencias traumáticas en relación con su lengua materna infantil. Están teniendo los síntomas y las características de la memoria traumática específicos en español. En consecuencia quieren estar lejos de ese lenguaje. La relación con el inglés es diferente: es un segundo idioma. No lo han mamado. Su memoria del inglés es padre y con madre. Pero estamos aquí para decirles que la memoria en español puede ser genial también. Los profesores, los alumnos y los voluntarios son fundamentales en este proceso: son modelos a seguir para los niños al ser testigos de la enriquecedora vida emocional e interior de ser bilingüe. Les están enviando algunos mensajes poderosos como el siguiente: "Su patrimonio puede ser su salvación también". Contar sus historias no traerá de vuelta a los seres queridos de la muerte (real o expatriada) pero les ayudará a recuperar la mitad de su ser, su marco mental en español. Yo creo que el español perseverará en estos niños. Sólo tenemos que mostrarles nueva semántica para ellos: un recuerdo traumático puede ser codificado como una lección de empoderamiento. Y también van a volver a contarse esta lección en su segundo idioma.

Rochelle Potkar 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 installment comes to us from Rochelle Potkar:

Rochelle Potkar with her daughter, Keya.
Rochelle Potkar with her daughter, Keya.

Iowa is affixed in my mind as this cool place of beauty, sprawling gold fields, the rippling river blue, the talcum sky above, the bridges connecting the art library, crossroads of book launches, libraries, cinema screens. If this is pristine, then every moment sliding along the infinite line of a finite life shows the grade of a difference.

And there is distance that makes the lens less foggier, meless cross-eyed.

My biggest habit in Iowa was: people. For three months, other participants who started off as difficult names, some from countries I hadn’t heard of in a decade, like Estonia, became faces and friends, voices and narratives, humans and songs, and then phantoms of memory that orbited around me at all time. I cannot forget El Jones and her sprees, Jo Aitchison and her haka. Bands of us in sixes and 10’s making our way to the Cinematheque, or jumping into the car en route to grocery runs.

I am alone now and never alone with 34 dialects of English, and its accents, with the epidermis of struggles and triumphs, philosophies and ideologies, pain, laughter, gain, and childhood stories. That undying spirit that is truly Iowan or heavenly-universal in a clear pure pitch, and an echo that says: we come from everywhere, we can do anything!

I felt un-belonged when I came to India.

Goan Holiday
Goan Holiday

I even thought of joining an organization that wanted storytellers for brands. Then I thought of time. How it could not be regenerated… spent like a 100-dollar bill.

Month two, and I was fine with un-belonging. I drafted two proposals for two-week-long artists’ residencies in India. I wanted to bring Iowa closer.

I also signed a contract for my first book of poetry, Four Degrees of Separation, which will be out soon.

I seeped back into my writing life, enjoying literature festivals outside Mumbai. Reading poetry at the Goa Arts and Literary Festival, and fiction under ‘New Indian Writing in English’ at the Hyderabad Literary Festival gave me a high.

Rochelle Potkar at the Hyderabad Literary Festival.
Rochelle Potkar at the Hyderabad Literary Festival.

My phantoms began evaporating.

Then the line got darker. The light, dimmer. The silence, deeper.

Month three, and we came face-to-face with a young PhD scholar - so intelligent, promising, and wise - who committed suicide. He was a Dalit. His death was because of the centuries-long caste-based discrimination of students by educational institutions. In his final note, Rohith Vemula speaks of the growing gap between his soul and his body, that he wanted to be a writer like Carl Sagan, that the value of a man was always reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility, that never was a man treated as a mind, as a glorious thing made up of stardust.

Rohith’s journey had been one of humble beginnings and hard work. His life trajectory was very precious. I feel helpless when such things happen. It hacks at the soul of everything progressive, putting us back into darkness.

When did labels become important? Which country do we come from - first-world, second-world, third-world? Which family…? High caste, low caste, rich, poor. The color of skin: crème, milk, caramel, bitter chocolate, rum, resin. Are we wine? Ice-cream?  

Can’t we be acknowledged for the journeys we traverse, the hardships we face, the wisdom we earn? And that alone?

What are these grades that keep some humans feeling perpetually inferior so others can feel perpetually superior? This isn’t IWP and its inclusiveness, I know.

What of the quest for spiritual superiority?

I have started watching my own writing – lines of prose peeling like dirt away from skin. What is the point of eloquence and linguistic beauty? How can it change reality?

When one Rohith kills himself, it shows me that racism, casteism, religionism, gender-and-LGBT discrimination, patriarchy are all here and very present, and our fight is not unified enough to stop it.

Then I realize we only have a voice.  And then, at least that.

Flowers and stars, they say, grow in the dark. Children of the womb.

As something untoward happens individually or collectively every day in my country, and in Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the rest of the world, I wonder when would I, when would we truly come home, and what is home.

Then it is only the self to behold,
to hold on to,
moving, sifting,
unhinged,
unbelonged,
foot loose.

Migrants, we all.

I am sorry. I had intended for this to be a happy piece.


Iowa City Unites for Reading in Support of Ashraf Fayadh

On Thursday January 14th, 2016, IWP joined dozens of literary organizations and hundreds of writers in a Worldwide Reading event, coordinated by the Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin to draw attention to the dire situation of the Palestinian-born poet and curator Ashraf Fayadh.  A long-time resident of Saudi-Arabia, Fayadh was arrested in 2014 for “spreading blasphemous ideas among young people”; then, in November of 2015, together with dozens of other prisoners, he was placed on death row for “apostasy,” accused of spreading atheism through his writing, in particular in his poetry collection Instructions Within (which had been published in Beirut in 2008).

Associate Director Hugh Ferrer reads from Fayadh's work.
Associate Director Hugh Ferrer reads from Fayadh's work.
Two dozen students, faculty, staffers and the Program’s friends gathered at the Shambaugh House, taking turns to read—in English, Arabic, and German—from several of Fayadh’s sharp, witty and poignant prose-poems, in the hope that adding our voice to so many others all over the world will contribute to the effort of saving his life, returning him to freedom, and ultimately challenging the premises under which he was jailed. Listen to the reading through the Virtual Writing University Archive.

From "The Last of the Line of Refugee Descendants"

{}

Being a refugee means standing at the end of the queue
to get a fraction of a country.
Standing is something your grandfather did, without knowing the reason.
And the fraction is you.
The country: a card you put in your wallet with your money.
Money: pieces of paper with pictures of leaders.
Pictures: they stand in for you until you go back.
Going back: a mythical creature that appears in your grandfather’s stories.
Here endeth the first lesson.
The lesson is conveyed to you so that you can learn the second lesson, which is “what do you signify?”

{}

 

From Instructions Within (2008), translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright.

 

 

AttachmentSize
poster events wwr fayadh.pdf609.29 KB

Raed Anis Al-Jishi 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 Raed Anis Al-Jishi:

Al-Jishi visiting a coffee shop upon returning to Saudi Arabia.
Al-Jishi visiting a coffee shop upon returning to Saudi Arabia.

I lived in Iowa for more than 12 weeks. It felt like home—a dream home for a writer.

Libraries with enormous resources. An accommodating environment where I could spend eight or more hours, and find other writers and readers doing their magic.  I was feverish with topophilia when I was there, missing my city and the people. Now I feel the same sense of loss for Iowa, and the wonderful time with and memories I have of my friends--the writers, the translators, the IWP staff.

It has been hard to start another project, or even read a whole book, but I am now at work finishing the second project I’d started in Iowa City; I have also translated several poems by IWP participants.

Sometimes, though, I lose focus because of what is happening in my country. For example everybody knows, or should know, that poetry is not a diary, it is not a notebook of something you did, or that you plan to do in the future. Poetry is about feelings and about how you express them, mixing reality with fantasies and dreams. It isn’t a document by whose content a poet can be judged. Yet in the case of Ashraf Fayadh, I know that he was accused by someone who either misunderstood, or else tried to fabricate the meaning of his poems, and then used them during the trial as facts.

Ashraf Fayadh
Ashraf Fayadh

Ashraf was detained and sentenced to death because of that.

This is the first case of its kind in Saudi Arabia. But if Ashraf is beheaded, it won’t be the last, for it will give some people the power to send any poet to jail or even to death if they disagree with him for whatever reason. 

And that is why I and many poets from around the world are standing up for Ashraf--putting hope in poetry itself in order to free the poet. We are writing poems to Ashraf, writing to the Saudi authorities explaining Ashraf’s poems, and reading them at public events. Our only hope now is that the Saudi king will stop this madness and save Ashraf, together with the other seven people given the death penalty because of political speeches or peaceful protests. One of them is Ali Al Nimr, the nephew of shaikh Nimr Al-Nimr, arrested when he was 17. I hope that they set them free not only because I am against the death penalty, but because I think this is the right time for Saudi Arabia to make believers from doubters, and to teach the world a lesson in justice and forgiveness. This is especially valuable at a time when we need to be focusing on fighting terrorism with everything we have—for instance religious addresses, and good poems.

Remants of a castle in the center of Qatif, a place that inspires Al-Jishi.
Remants of a castle in the center of Qatif, a place that inspires Al-Jishi.

That leaves me with the last thing that made an impact on me in the past month, namely the local councils elections here in Saudi Arabia where, for the first time, women could vote and also be candidates for office. Some women have indeed been elected, and that means that we are on the right way, making progress in this matter. But it means, too, that we didn't reach our goal. I boycotted the elections not because i don't trust the candidates—several were good, talented and hard-working young men and women I could trust—but because we can only elect 75 % of the candidates, and I will only vote when that number reaches 100%.

The only good thing for me as a poet—besides the support my wife gives me—are my regular weekend meetings with a writer and translator friend in a coffee shop, to talk about literature, our work, and our country.

International Writing Program: Writing Lives

By Karen Villeda, 2015 Fall Residency Outreach Fellow

In the course of the fall 2015 semester, in my role as the International Writing Program’s Outreach Fellow, I developed a web-based project, titled INTERNATIONAL WRITING PROGRAM: WRITING LIVES!

First off, the site is a documentary combining text with multimedia (images, videos) generated by some of the IWP 2015 residents. It is also an interactive story where the user chooses his/her own itinerary through a fictional IWP residency, as if he/she were one of the writers.

This project is based on HTML5 and the open source code Twine to generate interactive stories of several writers as characters in conversation. The user can make her/his own adventure at the IWP residency using the different backgrounds of IWP writers related to gender equality, freedom of expression, and human rights. The role player and difficulty rating in the storytelling will be defined by the contexts of the writer chosen and common problematics (migration, violence or gender inequity) related to countries as Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Armenia, Austria, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, Cuba, Egypt, Estonia, Philippines, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Macao, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Togo, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

The 2015 IWP participants were welcome to contribute with a text, image, video, audio and/or other media. This double-sided project is both an exploration of how it is to be an international writer in our times in a City of Literature and a tribute to the International Writing Program. Its story, its objective, its spirit shows in the website. This project intends to capture the many ways of telling the same story: we took different formats and sizes of photographs, we watched differently-gendered films. But we talked the same language: the human language. And we write this experience with our senses: we laugh, we cry, we hug and we comfort each other. Each one of us was a home for every one of us. Our conversation was guided by respect, love and willingness to learn from the other. The Other was Me. Me was the Other. We learned that there was no Other after all. Just We. And We translated this into a beautiful chapbook, which is available online.

The IWP experience is indescribable. You have to live it! 

Fall Residency 2015: News from Home

By Andrea Chan, Fall Residency Outreach Assistant

El Jones is featured in News from Home.
El Jones is featured in News from Home.
“Today we say all art is political. But I'd say all art has to do with ethics. Which after all really comes to the same thing. It's a matter of attitudes.” —Ingmar Bergman

Is art inherently political? Is it shaped by the systems of governance we are exposed to? The 2015 Fall Residency brought together 34 writers from 33 countries, all of whom come from vastly different political cultures. Some are moved to write, to make sense of political turmoil, and some distance themselves from it, wishing to write for the self and not for the state.

With the advent of social media and instant news headlines, it has become increasingly easy to access news from halfway across the world—something writers so far from home might find comfort in. In the video feature News From Home, five residents unpack the role that local politics and headlining events play in influencing their writing. The interviews feature:

The writers were careful not to paint a wholly bleak picture of political events from home –they focused instead on thinking critically about the problems they felt were vital to address. Jones, though acknowledging the importance of the Canadian federal elections, felt that greater change could be made at the community level, noting that it was “those sort of grassroots community building, community mobilization, that kind of stuff that I think is more important—to me—than elections.”

Take a look at how our writers have been keeping up with news during the residency.

WhitmanWeb Presents Whitman Civil War, Exploring Peace and Reconciliation

A page from Walt Whitman's notebook, written during his trips to visit hospitalized soldiers.
A page from Walt Whitman's notebook, written during his trips to visit hospitalized soldiers.

Join us for the latest iteration of WhitmanWeb, Whitman Civil War, where we explore Walt Whitman’s literary response—in poetry and prose—to the American Civil War, which remains the deadliest war in American history.

The 36-week project will feature commentaries from Professor Ed Folsom, co-director of the Walt Whitman Archive, and Christopher Merrill, director of the International Writing Program. Launching on Armistice Day and soon after the 150th anniversary of the publication of Drum-Taps and Sequel to Drum-Taps, Whitman Civil War will be delivered in English, Arabic, and French.

Each Wednesday, a new text will be published alongside commentaries from Folsom and Merrill as well as a question, which the public is invited to answer either on the Comments section of WhitmanWeb or on WhitmanWeb’s Facebook page.

WhitmanWeb launched in 2012, featuring “Song of Myself.” The series was delivered in 52 weekly installments. Each installment presented one section of the 52-part poem in English alongside translations in eight other languages, including the first-ever translation into Persian, accompanied by photographs, commentary, discussion questions, and recordings.

The upcoming WhitmanWeb series will culminate in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called Summoning the Dead: Whitman Writing War. Those interested can still take Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” IWP’s first Whitman MOOC launched in 2014.

Essays from 'Writers in Motion: Fall and Recovery' Now Available

By Hanna Busse, IWP ICRU Fellow

In April of 2011, the exchange “Writers in Motion: Fall and Recovery” brought an international group of established writers together on a tour throughout the United States. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the stops were selected based upon a shared experience of conflict and upheaval—in both the past and present.

The exchange participants, either IWP alumni or visitors to Iowa City, examined issues of race, class, and regional conflict through lenses like the economic recession, Hurricane Katrina, and the Civil Rights Movement. Now, their findings are presented in Fall and Rise, American Style: Eight International Writers Between Gettysburg and the Gulf, a collection of essays. Writers include:

Not only has the group spent significant time becoming familiar with United States’ culture, all eight participants address major upheavals in their own writing. Because of these experiences, the naked realities of modern America, where the façade of American exceptionalism is stripped away, were in capable hands. Miller, a poet and writer from Jamaica, writes with elegance about his experiences, struggling to analyze and make intelligent observations during his travels. He found the exchange wholly overwhelming. His piece, “The Grief Space,” is a result, it seems, of space, and time, and reflection. He brings humanity to his views of a so-called “third world America” by discussing grief: As Miller grieves for his mother, so do many Americans grieve for people and places they have lost. Each piece in the collection approaches difficult themes with this sort of tact and sensitivity, which is no surprise given the group of writers.

To read the artful insights of eight outsiders grappling with some of America’s largest social problems, visit Autumn Hill Books today where the book is available in print and as an e-book.

Poetry Project for Iraqi Youth: Submissions Close May 1

Lanterns of Hope: A Poetry Project for Iraqi Youth, a new initiative from the International Writing Program, closes its call for submissions May 1, 2015. Launched in March, the program is designed to encourage Iraqi youth, ages 16 to 23, to creatively communicate their visions for the future of Iraq.

Lanterns of Hope welcomes poems in Arabic, Kurdish, or English that reflect in some way on life in modern-day Iraq, potentially dealing with themes like reconciliation and forgiveness. Six distinguished poets—five Iraqis writing in Arabic and Kurdish, and one American writing in English and translating from Kurdish—will act as mentors throughout the process.

From the submitted work, the mentors will select a collection of poems to be included in an anthology, where each piece will be translated into all three languages to further highlight the diversity of language and culture within Iraq.  

For more information, please visit our submission manager. Lanterns of Hope: A Youth Poetry Project is made possible by the Baghdad City of Literature Steering Committee in collaboration with the Iraqi House of Poetry, the Union of Iraqi Writers, the Iraq Literary Review, and the US Embassy in Baghdad.

WhitmanWeb Expands to Include Walt Whitman's Civil War Writings

One hundred fifty years ago, on April 9th, 1865, the Battle of Appomattox Court House brought the American Civil War to an end. In order to commemorate this historic moment, the International Writing Program is pleased to announce the next incarnation of WhitmanWeb, which in July will begin a nine-month exploration of Walt Whitman’s Civil War writings.

“We will examine Whitman’s poetry and prose, which not only testify to the terrible costs of the War Between the States but also opened up new ways to think about the American experiment in liberty,” says IWP Director Christopher Merrill, who will contribute to the project along with Whitman scholar Ed Folsom.

WhitmanWeb, an innovative web gallery launched in 2012, currently features “Song of Myself” which was originally delivered in 52 weekly installments. Each installment presented one section of the 52-part poem in English alongside translations in eight other languages, including the first-ever translation into Persian, accompanied by photographs, commentary, discussion questions, and recordings.

The upcoming WhitmanWeb series will culminate in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Those interested can still take Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” IWP’s first Whitman MOOC launched in 2014.