On June 22nd, twenty-two talented young writers from all over the United States and the Arab World will convene in Iowa City—a UNESCO City of Literature—for Between the Lines (BTL) Arabic, one of two sessions of the IWP’s creative writing and cultural exchange program for youth ages 16-19 to be held on the University of Iowa campus this summer.
“There was tremendous interest in the program this year,” says BTL coordinator Kelly Morse, who assumed the reins in January. “We fielded questions from students in sixteen countries. The quality of the applications—and of the creative writing samples in particular—was impressive. We had to make some very tough decisions.” American students submitted their applications to the program directly, while international students had to first be nominated by their respective embassies, with dozens of students competing for the coveted slots.
Students selected for the program will travel from seven U.S. states and ten Near Eastern countries, from Morocco to Yemen (the first time BTL has hosted a Yemeni participant since the program began in 2008). During the intensive two-week program, the young writers will work closely with instructors John Murillo and Ghada Abdel Aal, receiving feedback on their writing and honing their craft.
Students will even get a chance to meet their instructors and peers and participate in a practice workshop from their homes next week, using Blackboard technology, with help from IWP Distance Learning coordinator Rebecca Boyle. “That way, when they arrive in Iowa City, they really hit the ground running,” Morse says.
Murillo, an award-winning poet who serves on the creative writing faculty at New York University and whose honors include a Pushcart Prize, two Larry Neal Writers Awards, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York Times, and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and who Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz has called “headbreakingly brilliant,” will lead the English-language writing workshops.
The Arabic language workshops will be led by bestselling Egyptian novelist, screenwriter, blogger, and newspaper and magazine columnist Ghada Abdel Aal, an alumna of the International Writing Program’s Fall Residency, and a recipient of the 2012 Bauer Prize for promising new writers at Incroci di Civiltà, Venice’s International Literary Festival.
Murillo and Abdel Aal will also collaborate, co-teaching a daily literature seminar, with guest lectures offered by IWP Fall Residency alumni who will connect with the students using digital video conferencing technology.
“Having instructors like Ghada and John on board is part of what makes BTL such a unique creative and cultural experience for students,” Morse says. “They’re both accomplished young writers with diverse cultural experiences and they’ll encourage students to consider writing and literature from new angles and help students to bring their own writing to the next level.”
BTL Arabic will take place from June 22nd through July 6th.
The program is organized in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. Department of State.
As part of our ongoing series Where Are They Now? in which we profile alumni of Between the Lines (BTL), the IWP’s creative writing and cultural exchange program for writers ages 16-19, we check in with Jacob Oet, of Cleveland, Ohio, who participated in BTL Russia 2012. Jacob, who recently completed his freshman year at Swarthmore College, stopped by the Shambaugh House to say hello. He is back in Iowa City taking part in a three-week intensive poetry workshop led by poet James Galvin of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
IWP: You have an impressive track record of publications for a writer so young. Have you always been interested in writing poetry? What attracted you to BTL?
Jacob: I’ve been interested in poetry for a long time, and in playwriting as well. I was most excited by the cross-language aspect of BTL. I’m a heritage Russian speaker, so BTL offered the perfect blend of what I was looking for in a summer program. [BTL Instructor] Camille Dungy and I still keep in touch; she was a really wonderful teacher for me. And being around Russian students rekindled my interest in the Russian language. My parents spoke mainly Russian to me until I got to be school age. I vividly remember learning to speak English—confusing “kitchen” and “chicken”—but they switched to English as I got older. I'd forgotten a lot. But then I’d hear one of the Russian BTL students ask a question in Russian and I’d answer in English—I didn’t tell them I could understand initially. The first week, I kept it a secret.
IWP: Did you learn anything about Russian culture that surprised you?
Jacob: At one point, two Russian students from different regions were giving the American students a lesson in the Russian alphabet and they ended up disagreeing not only about how the letters were pronounced, but also about the order of the letters. I didn’t realize how large and diverse Russia was until then. There was an etiquette difference at first as well—the Russian students tended to assume everything that was said was earnest and sincere, while the American students liked to joke around. I think how informal Americans can be surprised them—though we ended up close friends. The first week, people were a little bit shy, but the second week the groups really started to intermingle. I spent a lot of time with the Russian students.
IWP: Have you stayed in touch?
Jacob: Yes. They don’t use our Facebook in Russia, so it’s been a challenge. We talk on Skype sometimes, share books, ideas, and our work, send each other poems. Sometimes I ask them to help me with a poem I’m writing in Russian. One of my Russian BTL friends is a songwriter and he writes lyrics in English. He asked me to look over them. It was fun. I look forward to hearing the songs.
IWP: What’s it like to be back in Iowa City without your BTL friends? Are you revisiting any old haunts?
I didn’t realize how much my experience of Iowa City was tied to those people. It’s really cool to be back. BTL made me feel very comfortable and welcome here. My first stop was The Haunted Bookshop. Where else could I buy seven books for twelve dollars? Books I’ve been trying to find for a while. I also stopped by the antique shop—I was very drawn to collections of old letters I found there when I was in Iowa City for BTL. I read an amazing essay in Poetry Magazine recently about photography, which is closer to poetry than any other visual art form because it is time-based, so this time I found myself drawn more to old photographs. I looked at hundreds, but one that I felt inspired by is of an old grey-haired couple, husband and wife, standing with a river disappearing into the distance behind them; they’re holding a line strung with pretty big fish—I saw it and I thought, “I can write a poem about this.”
IWP: Did you?
Jacob: Yes. It’s not very good. I’m not happy with it. But I think just the experience of being there, looking through all those photographs and thinking about them was worth it, good for my writing.
IWP: What were your favorite things to do in Iowa City with your BTL cohort?
Jacob: We used to go downtown to the public pianos and perform. Or walk across the bridge to the other side of the Iowa River and explore, or visit the rock garden. The Java House was frequented. The fieldtrips were great. I really enjoyed the mall and the visit to Davenport. Another thing that was really valuable about BTL was the seminars. Most of the summer programs I’ve been to in the past didn’t have a lecture component. I realize now that I learned as much if not more from the lectures as from the workshops. It was really a great experience.
Jacob writes poetry (in Russian and English) and was recently named a runner-up for the 2013 Sutzkever Centennial Translation Prize, judged by Edward Hirsch. Here he is at Shambaugh House, performing an impromptu, informal ode, “What I would have missed if I hadn’t come last summer":
Sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, the IWP, and the University of Iowa, BTL offers students the opportunity to interact with young writers from other cultures, receive writing instruction from distinguished professionals, and experience the literary life of Iowa City (the only UNESCO-designated City of Literature in the United States).
Please visit BTL on Facebook to stay up to date on current BTL programming and alumni news.
Near the Turkmen city of Mary, the writers visited the ruins of ancient Merv, a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. Merv, once an oasis-city on the historic Silk Road, is now the site of an archeological dig.
“Watching the painstaking work of sifting through dirt for shards of colorful pottery, I remembered my parents' story of watching Pompeii getting excavated when they lived in Naples in the early 1950s” Hood blogged.
The writers also visited the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, considered a pearl of Islamic architecture, and met with librarians at the Mary library. Despite its sumptuous furnishing, the library, built in 2011, seemed to house few books other than Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s selected writings and no readers, at the time IWP visited.severely curtailed in both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). Portraits of the president hang everywhere, prominently in the Palace of Creativity in Ashgabat, where writers met with editors of various magazines and newspapers.
“That portrait gets rotated every few months throughout the entire country,” says IWP program officer Kelly Bedeian, who traveled with the group. “Considering that it is hung in just about every room we entered anywhere, switching them every few months is a big job!” Cameras from a state-run news crew filmed portions of the group’s visit.blogged about the trip, particularly his experience meeting with the disabled community.United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities […] How do you tell people who are still suffering for freedom that there are senators in the USA who […] refuse to endorse freedom and dignity for people with disabilities to make a crude point--namely that no one tells America what to do?” Kuusisto asked.fall residency program, but no writer from Turkmenistan has ever participated. With the new creative contacts made during the tour, the hope is that this may soon change. “IWP would love to host a Turkmen writer in the future,” Merrill says.
IWP reading tours, organized each spring in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, are designed to introduce American writers to a country or region with a relatively sparse history of literary liaisons with the United States and strengthen ties between creative communities. Visit IWP on Facebook for more photos of the tour and updates on other IWP programming.
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.”
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.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.”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.
Check back here for updates on the group’s travels and visit IWP on Facebook for more photos of the tour.
A guest post by Bina Shah.
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.
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.
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
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!
On Going Home is the name we've given to a short series of essays by our fall residents. We commissioned the pieces because we wanted to keep in touch and were curious about what the process of returning home was like for authors who'd spent nearly 3 months in the U.S. writing, researching, traveling, and interacting with Americans. We also asked the authors to send us a photograph that represented "home" in some fundamental way. Our second installment comes from poet and blogger Pandora, whose transition home coincided with a larger transition currently budding in Burma/Myanmar.
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
“Writers in Burma have to find a way to penetrate censorship; we have to be more innovative in terms of techniques, style, technology…more creative” –Pandora (Burma/Myanmar)
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.