A special guest post by Mamle KABU, a 2014 Fall Resident from Ghana.Writers Project of Ghana (WPG), of which I am a co-director, had just received a commitment from the Miles Morland Foundation in the UK for a generous grant.
The WPG is a charitable organization dedicated to promoting Ghanaian writers and nurturing new literary talent. It reaches out to writers through various programs and activities including public readings, writing workshops and a weekly live radio program. It was established in 2008 with funding from the US Embassy. However it is not easy to find funding for the arts in Ghana and the organization has kept going mainly through the dedication of its principal director, Martin Egblewogbe and of a handful of staunch members.
In any society, it is daunting for new writers to find their voices and go public with their work. Ghana is no exception to this. There is no clear-cut path laying out the nebulous business of ‘becoming a writer,’ no creative writing degrees, a brutally limited reading public and a publishing industry that can be far from writer-friendly. The best-known literary names are from the older generations, many Ghanaian writers based abroad are virtually unknown at home and it is only in recent years that an appreciable swell of contemporary writing has begun to make itself felt in-country.
In this environment, the opportunity to attend a writers’ workshop or to feature as a guest reader on a radio program even without any published work to one’s name, is literally a lifeline for an aspiring writer. With its new grant, the WPG hopes to strengthen its fundraising capacity among other things and, together with other writers’ groups like the Ghana Association of Writers and the Mbaasem Foundation (for women writers), illuminate further the difficult pathway to becoming a writer.
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.
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.
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..
--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.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.
--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.
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.
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.
Writing exercises, discussion, and workshops
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, 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.
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.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.
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.
A special guest post by University of Iowa student Sara Cooper.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.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.
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: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.
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.
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.
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