2019 Between the Lines

In 2019, Between the Lines (BTL) expanded its global and U.S. reach, offering not one, but two, two-week long summer sessions for young writers ages 15-18. 

Between the Lines: Peace and the Writing Experience, in its 11th year, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, brought together 39 participants from 17 countries along the historic Silk Road and the U.S. to Iowa City for creative and cultural work that many reported to have changed their lives.

In 2019, for the first time, a full session of BTL: Identity and Belonging launched, building upon the success of an earlier short pilot program. Sponsored by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art’s Building Bridges Program, the new session was designed to advance relationships and increase understanding between young Muslim and non-Muslim writers for mutual well-being. U.S. students from diverse backgrounds and faiths engaged in writing and activities that encouraged maximum intercultural exchange and provided opportunities for open dialogue, nuanced introspection, and creative output under the guidance and care of trusted counselors, instructors, and BTL staff.  

From living together in University of Iowa (UI) dorms and sharing meals, to writing in multiple genres, discussing global literature, and exchanging feedback in workshops with esteemed faculty and peers, participants honed their craft, developed close-knit friendships, and deepened their exposure, knowledge, and cultural understanding of the lived experiences of teenagers around the world. Through performing at an open-mic night streamed live on Facebook, BTL voices were amplified and, along with the publication of a camp anthology, their words together journeyed home.

A few thoughts from BTL 2019 participants:

  • “After BTL, I feel like a writer. I am a writer. My instructor and the workshops have shown me that when I put pen to paper, I create art.”
  • “You built up a super warm community for me. I feel I have found another home.”
  • “I have more confidence in my abilities now. Writing used to just be for me, but I have begun to see that it really needs to be shared.”
  • “[BTL] showed me that I have to continue writing because nobody else has my voice.”

The BTL: Peace and the Writing Experience session was taught by four core instructors including Armen of Armenia, Yuriy Serebriansky (Kazakhstan), Asli Perker (Turkey) and Dora Malech (U.S.) who shared a public reading of their own work at Prairie Lights. Participants’ evenings were also filled with one and two-part special seminars such as those taught by UI alumni writers including “Cultural Curiosity” with Brittany Means, and “DIY Zine” with alea adigweme.

The BTL: Identity and Belonging session included daily creative writing workshops and literature seminars led by acclaimed writers Poupheh Missaghi and José Olivarez, and evenings spent exploring topical themes. A “Religion and Narrative” conversation between Imam Hassan Selim and Lori Erikson, a Christian author, was particularly well-received by participants and the participant-driven open-mic night bore witness to brave literary expression that challenged cultural biases and inspired dialogue around identity, politics, how to tell your stories, and what it means to belong.

 “We empowered each other's differences and the mixing of all the different perspectives came together to create a beautiful image that motivates me to live every day.

I used to think that the only way I can dream was with my eyes closed, BTL showed me that I can dream with my eyes wide open.” 

 – BTL ’19 participant

2019 Session Dates:

BTL: Identity and Belonging: June 22 – July 6, 2019
BTL: Peace and the Writing Experience: July 13 – 27, 2019

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