By Tim Shipe, Arts & Literature Bibliographer, UI Libraries
Earlier this year I was in the Balkans, traveling on behalf of the University of Iowa Libraries; the trip was made possible by funds generously provided by International Programs for this purpose. The main goals of the trip were to establish mutually beneficial relationships with booksellers, cultural institutions, and individual writers in the region, and to acquire books for the University Libraries through purchase and donation. The chief focus was on authors who had participated in the International Writing Program throughout its history; a secondary focus was material pertaining to Dada and related avant-garde movements. The countries I visited were Albania, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia, with a final stop in Vienna to ship books back to Iowa City. On my first stop in Tirana, Albania, my chief contact was , the most recent Albanian writer to take part in the IWP, in 2006. Gent was immensely helpful in orienting me to the city and to the publishing and bookselling situation in Albania. He also donated a number of his own works to the library. Virtually all of my purchases were from Tirana’s only antiquarian bookstore, Epër7shme [sic], whose owner Arlind Novi is also a publisher, and is extremely knowledgeable about the history of Albanian literature and publishing. Arlind was able to find over fifty volumes by former IWP participants, including nearly complete runs of three journals edited by those writers. When he learned of the connection of Kurt Vonnegut with Iowa, he donated a copy of one of his own publications, an Albanian translation of Slaughterhouse Five.
I met several times with Elvis Plaku, owner of the book-vending service and bookshop Shtepia e Librit. We made arrangements for his company to supply new publications by the Albanian writers with connections to Iowa; he will also work with Arlind to locate additional out of print publications of interest. Most fortunately, Elvis was able to ship the books I had purchased in Tirana. Having carried hundreds of books on trains across Romania on trains in 2008, I was very grateful for this service. A brief tour of the National Library of Albania provided an opportunity to donate several publications of Iowa’s International Dada Archive.
Air fares to Belgrade being prohibitively expensive, my first weekend was devoted to the three-day overland journey via Montenegro to Serbia. The only notable incident on this journey was a thumb injury received on the notoriously decrepit train from Tirana to Shkodra (fare: $1.45); eventually, however, this mishap led, by a circuitous route, to one of the most important contacts on my trip. In Belgrade I visited about ten bookstores, including three antiquarian dealers, and purchased some fifty books by authors connected with the IWP, as well as an English translation series of Serbian fiction that, strangely, is marketed only in Serbia. The novelist Branko Dimitrijević (IWP ’85) donated copies of all of his books, and was most helpful in helping me to identify promising bookstores.
A flare-up of my thumb injury led me to seek medical assistance. Not only did the doctor arranged by my hotel make house calls; upon learning that I am a librarian, he insisted on setting up p a tour of the National Library of Serbia. There I eventually also met with Ivana Nikolić, head of the Acquisitions Department. It was Ms. Nikolić who introduced me to Bojan Vukmirica, the manager of Bookbridge, a book vendor little known in North America, but providing excellent, economical service. We are already working with Bookbridge to obtain titles that we would have otherwise been unable to acquire. Furthermore, Bojan helped to ship the books I had already purchased in Belgrade back to Iowa at cost, again saving considerable money, not to mention the effort of carrying an extra suitcase of books on the final legs of my journey.
Zagreb, up next, was the best city on my itinerary for bookstores, having about ten antiquarian dealers. I was able to fill many of the gaps in our collection of works by Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian authors connected with the IWP, and found one dealer, Jesinski i Turk, which will be able to search and ship additional titles in the future. I met extensively with Miloš Ɖurdević, the most recent of the Croatians in the IWP; through him, I also met the ingoing and outgoing presidents of the Croatian Writers’ Society, who expressed interest in establishing relationships with the University of Iowa and its literary programs.
I also met with several individuals involved in the book arts and the visual arts in Croatia. Darko Simičić, former archivist of the Museum of Contemporary Art, arranged a tour of that museum’s library, where I met several curators and the head of the Documentation and Information Department, Jadranka Vinterhalter. The museum staff was familiar with, and enthusiastic about our International Dada Archive and our Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts collection; we exchanged publications and discussed possible collaborations, especially with regard to digitization. As it happened, on my last evening in Zagreb I was able to attend the opening of an exhibition at the museum on digitization and contemporary art in Central Europe; I met several of the exhibited artists who considered Iowa’s holdings of their works to be extremely significant; they mentioned the possibility of sending additional work for our collection. In addition, I met Dražen Dabić, a publisher of fine press books and a collector and dealer specializing in ex-Yugoslav avant-garde publications. He donated one of his illustrated poetry editions.
From 18 through 21 April I was in Ljubljana. This coincided with a book festival during which virtually all of Slovenia’s publishers were offering their current editions at a considerable discount. This allowed me to obtain practically all in-print publications by Slovenian IWP participants at a discount ranging from 20 to 50 percent—a considerable saving in a Eurozone country with quite high book prices.
I met several times with Tomaž Šalamun, one of l Europe’s most prominent poets and a 1971/72 IWP participant (with whom, as it happened, I had shared an office in EPB during my first year in Iowa). He assisted me in finding a large number of his published volumes, several of which he donated. Another significant batch of donated books was waiting for me upon arrival at my hotel; these were kindly left by the Macedonian poet Lidija Dimkovska, now living in Ljubljana, just before she left for a reading in Graz.
The antiquarian book situation was less favorable than in the other cities; the four stores held very few of the items I was seeking. The bookstore of the Gallery of Modern Art, on the other hand, provided a number of important publications on Dada and the interwar avant-garde that were quite relevant to Iowa’s programs. Since there were no reasonable options in Zagreb or Ljubljana for shipping, I carried the 100 books acquired in those two cities to Vienna by train.
This was the third major trip I have been able to take on behalf of the library using the funds provided by International Programs (including Hungary, Romania, and Moldova in 2008 and Poland in 2009), in addition to a two-day side trip to Slovakia in 2011. In every case, the relationships established have continued to benefit the libraries and the University at large, and the books acquired during these trips have significantly enhanced our support of Iowa’s various international programs.
Our Syrian friend, colleague, and alum Khaled KHALIFA (IWP 2007) has a record of writing eloquently about contemporary Syria’s complex political landscape. While much of his work has been in TV drama, a massive novel about an Aleppo family caught in the Alaouite-Islamist conflict appeared a few years ago; it was next translated in France as Éloge de la haine, and is now about to appear in English under the title In Praise of Hatred.
As the insurgency against the Assad regime has grown in scope and strength, Khaled's voice has been among those heard more and more prominently in international media; in February of this year, with violence reaching new heights, especially in Homs, Khaled circulated first a protest note to writer colleagues worldwide, then a piece highlighting the bloodshed’s historical parallels. Last Friday, in the wake of a funeral of a musician friend found dead under unclear circumstances, Khaled was amongst those beaten by plainclothes militia on a Damascus street. The book he is now working on, a diary-style account of the Syrian revolution, will have to be written with his right, unbroken, hand…..
We're so very pleased! The 2012 Best Translated Book Award for poetry, given annually by the indispensable journal and site Three Percent has just been announced at the PEN New Voices festival, and it goes to a title featuring not one but two IWP alumni: Spectacle and Pigsty is a selection from two decades of work of the Japanese avant-gardist Kiwao Nomura (IWP '05) selected, edited and co-translated by Kyoko Yoshida (IWP '05), with Forrest Gander.
In fact, Nomura and Yoshida first met and began collaborating while in residency at the IWP, in the fall of 2005, so it was a triple pleasure to be able to welcome them back to Iowa City on their reading tour last fall. In addition to a fantastic, and packed, bilingual reading at Prairie Lights Books Kiwao and Kyoko also visited their old stomping grounds, the second-floor library of the Shambaugh House, to teach an hour-long seminar on their translation process. With Kiwao at her side Kyoko, herself virtually bilingual, a writer, and a professor of English and American literature at Keyo U in Tokyo walked the seminar through a close reading, and older stranslation (by Angus Turvill) and then the several drafts of the opening poem as shuffled between her and her colleague Forrest Gander, unpacking some of its literary antecedents (say, the tanka) , the philosophical landscape of abjection (by way, especially, of Pasolini’s Accattone ) and the performative/acoustic/phonic work the original poem was doing, and needed to do again, in English. To say that the publisher of the collection, Omnidawn, took a risk on work this far from the going poetic parameters (especially in print—when read out loud the poems' incantatory quality has an energy all its own) would be an easy understatement. Good for Omnidawn, thank you Three Percent, and congratulations Nomura-san, Yoshida-san and Forrest-san.
IWP friend and past-participant Carol Spindel (Souk Ukaz/PeaceWork, 2010) , who has spent time in and written about her stay in Cote d'Ivoire, has been finding ways to keep track of the mounting crisis there. With hotter news happening now daily in the north of the continent, the Ivory Coast post-election crisis, quickly turning into a brutal civil war, has receded from the US media's headlines. Carol's citizen-journalism, conducted in part by phone calls to her friends describing the situation in and in the countryside, is an ongoing headliner at the Open Salon blog.
Our very own Peter Nazareth signals the near-future arrival of the 3-volume Ugandan Asians: Then and Now, Here and There, We Contributed, We Contribute, by Vali Jamal—a survey of and a rich anthology documenting generations of Ugandans of South Asian origins, in their homeland and in diaspora. Mary and Peter Nazareth were among them, leaving Kampala for the UK with their two kids in 1972, then finding their way to the IWP and the University of Iowa ...where they have been a mainstay of the IWP ever since, leaving behind a legacy of work, memoirs and memories. So, a backhanded thanks to Idi Amin after all?
At the Shambaugh House our colleague Kecia Lynn's main project is coordinating the Between the Lines summer program for young Arabic-language writers. Periodically, though, she leaves the house, changes hats, and becomes a suave talk show host for the UITV series "From the Workshop." Check out her thoughtful interviews with faculty and visitors to the Writers' Workshop -- Marilynne Robinson, Abraham Verghese, Yiyun Li, Michael Cunningham and many others.
In the last weeks we have been at once worried and excited about our friend Ghada AbdAal (IWP 2010), the Egyptian blogger/writer (and pharmacist) from the industrial city of Mahalla, whose intensely political atmosphere couldn’t be more different than that of Iowa City.
This past October Ghada was busy promoting her just-out book I Want to get Married (U Texas Press) based on her super-popular blog devoted to what she called ' the husband problem'. And only just a few weeks ago she happily forwarded news of her brand new Golden Pyramid for Best Comedy TV Script, awarded by the Arabic Media Association:
As of January 25th, though, Ghada's news have only been coming as Facebook posts, in Arabic, so with her permission we had a few translated even though, to paraphrase her, her updates 'don’t represent the majority position'. Clearly, with the situation changing daily, her quotes are a snapshot of a historical moment as much as anything. Here goes:
February 2, 12:54 am:
زفت ما يستاهلش نتحول لعراق تانية عشان خاطره.. قليل من العقل..الدنيا لا تتغير بين يوم و ليلة ..قليل من العقل ..إحقنوا الدماء..إحقنوا الدماء..إحقنوا الدماااءFebruary 2, 11:12 am إرجعوا بيوتكم و احقنوا الدماء.. أقعدوا في بيوتكم يوم الجمعة و إلا هتبقى كارثة محققة..مع الزفت فلان أو ضد الزفت علان ..أي زفت ما يستاهلش نتحول لعراق تانية عشان خاطره.. قليل من العقل..الدنيا لا تتغير بين يوم و ليلة ..قليل من العقل ..إحقنوا الدماء..إحقنوا الدماء..إحقنوا الدماااء Go back home, stop the shedding of blood…stay home on Friday, otherwise it is going to be a real catastrophe. No bastard deserves that we become another Iraq for their sake. Some wisdom: the world is not going to change between day and night, so stop the blood-shedding.
February 2, 8:38 am
إلى القابعين للآن في ميدان التحرير..أنتم لا تتحدثون بإسمي بعد اليوم..لم أنتخب أحد منكم..إسقاط نظام لا يستأهل أن تحرق من أجله البلد..إلي الذين ينتظرون أن تتطابق نهاية الفيلم مع نهاية فيلم تونس..الرجل تحت ضغط دولي و لن يسمح له بالتراجع..بلاش مراهقة و طفولية ..كفاية بأه To those who are no in Tahrir Square, you are not talking in my name anymore, I did not elect any one of you…ending the existing administration now does not justify that the country be burned for it. To those who are waiting for this episode to end like The episode of Tunisia,..the man is under international pressure and he will not be permitted to withdraw, enough of your childish actions.
February 2, 9:25 am
و الجيش واقف يتفرج ..و الجيش واقف يتفرج ..و الجيش واقف يتفرج..الإنقلاب العسكري شغال بالريموت من بعيد و إحنا كنا التروس في المكنة ..خلينا عايشين في ماية البطيخ..إرحموا البلد من عندكم..العند يولد الكفر..مش عشان نسقطه نولع في البلد .. و ياريتنا بنسقطه بجد ..إحنا بنلف و نرجع تاني لنسخة 23 يوليو بس موديل 2011..إرحمونا بأه حرام عليكم..إرحمونا.. The Army is standing watching… The Army is standing watching…the Military uprising is controlled by remote control from a distance and we were the gears of this machine. Let us stay living by the water of melons… have mercy on this country from your side, being stubborn will lead to God’s denial. It is not reasonable to burn the country for the sake of letting him fall…but we wish he falls we keep running in circles and come back to repeat July 23 but 2011 style …have mercy on us….please have mercy on us [….]
Among the scores of other interesting commentaries on to the situation in Egypt: those by the novelist Alaa Aswany (The Yacoubian Building, 2002/6) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/alaa-al-aswany-like-being-in-love-literary-reflections-on-the-revolution-2201506.html, the indispensable daily parsing of original Arabic-press material by Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan, on his blog /Informed Comment/ http://www.juancole.com/ and The Guardian’s survey of a score of Arabic-language writers on the situation in Tunis and Maghreb earlier this winter at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/after-tunisia-arabic-writers-reflect
When the young psychologist Guesly Michel came to Iowa City from Port-au Prince this summer to learn about writing as a therapeutic procedure (the Patient Voice program at the UI Hospitals and Clinics has had a similar program for a number of years), he was by his own admission new to the game. Two weeks into his stay here, as one of his daily assignments for the ISWF class "Memoirs of Illness and Health" he took, out came a vignette, an 'amniotic memory' of sorts—and also Guesly's very first attempt at writing in English. And yesterday his piece appeared in the UI's arts bulletin, The Daily Palette! Beau travail, Guesly!
In related news, a volume of 15 Haitian writers responding to the January 12th 2010 earthquake is forthcoming from 91stMBooks/AHB.
Let's get this new year underway with a frank interview Helon Habila (IWP 2006 and New Symposium 2007 on Justice) gave The Daily Independent while 'back home' in Nigeria. Among the topics: how to grow local writing. And another: Habila's 2010 novel Oil for Water, written in the US but set in the Niger delta's oil fields. An extract was located courtesy the brilliant Chimurenga Online; an informative review is here.
Old friend and IWP alumnus Etgar Keret is among the writers from both sides of the divide who have recently commented on the tension between Turkey and Israel in the wake of the Mavi Marmara clash, in the Turkish paper Zaman.
(Thanks to the indispensable Common Review for the pointer)