2019 Kazakhstan Reading Tour

Stephen Kuusisto, at photo center, speaks about memoir writing at Nazarbayev University.

Kazakhstan, may 17-27, 2019

Lines & Spaces: American Writers on Tour

A delegation of American authors Stephen Kuusisto, Michelle Pearson, Damani Philips, Cate Dicharry, and Christopher Merrill traveled to Kazakhstan from May 17-27, 2019, engaging with over 400 people in the cities of Almaty and Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana), Kazakhstan.

Group warm up exercises start the inclusive collaborative workshop in Almaty, led by choreographer Michelle Pearson. 

Damani Phillips works with musicians during the inclusive collaborative workshop.

The second day of the collaborative workshop brought the different genre groups together. Here, the dance group creates a response to work by the poetry group.

The workshop concluded with a very successful group performance by music, dance, and poetry groups to a standing-room-only crowd.

Steve speaks with members of the Inclusive Theater Project at a picnic in Nur-Sultan.

Per Katya Dzvonik, Artistic Curator and Director of the Almaty Inclusive Theater Group, "Importantly, this kind of work shows the audience and people who are not directly involved in our work that people with special abilities can be easily integrated in the society."


Stephen Kuusisto directs The Burton Blatt Institute’s Interdisciplinary Programs in Disability at Syracuse University, where he holds a University Professorship. He is the author of the memoirs Planet of the Blind, Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening, and Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey, as well as poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light, and Letters to Borges. He has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, and The Ohio State University. 

Michelle Pearson, a dancer, choreographer and master teacher, is the Artistic Director of Black Box Dance Theatre, a company with expertise in making dance relevant, inspirational, and natural for all bodies and persons; the USO has engaged the BBDT to lead Warrior Reset Programs for active duty military service members. A guest artist and faculty at many colleges, Michelle is an Associate Artist with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, and a William C. Friday Fellow committed to improving human relations in the state of North Carolina.  

Damani Philips is Associate Professor of Jazz and African-American Studies at the University of Iowa. An active performer, pedagogue, and lecturer, Dr. Phillips has taught and performed throughout the world, with artists/groups such as Lewis Nash, Christian McBride, Wycliffe Gordon, Bobby McFerrin, Marcus Belgrave, Terrell Stafford, Hank Jones, Red Holloway, and Pat Bianchi, among others. He has released five albums as a bandleader, and in 2017 published What Is This Thing Called Soul: Conversations on Black Culture and Jazz Education.

Christopher Merrill has published seven collections of poetry, including Watch Fire, for which he received the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; many edited volumes and translations; and six books of nonfiction, among them, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars, Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain, The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War, and Self-Portrait with Dogwood. His writings have been translated into nearly forty languages; his journalism appears widely; his honors include a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from the French government, numerous translation awards, and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial and Ingram Merrill Foundations. As director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa since 2000, Merrill has conducted cultural diplomacy missions to more than fifty countries. He served on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO from 2011-2018, and in April 2012 President Barack Obama appointed him to the National Council on the Humanities. www.christophermerrillbooks.com

Lines & Spaces Coordinator:

Kelly BEDEIAN received a degree in Linguistics from the University of Iowa, after which she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, then went on to work on a variety of professional development and exchange programs, including as a Country Manager for Armenia and the Caucasus Region with IREX.  She joined the IWP in 2004, where she was an Administrative and Program Coordinator.

Happening Now

  • We regret the passing, on April 11, 2024, of the distinguished Romanian author and critic Dan Cristea, who served as the editor in chief of the Luceafărul de Dimineață cultural monthly. In addition to being an alum of the 1985 Fall Residency, Cristea received his PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Iowa.

  • Our congratulations to 1986 Fall Residency writer Kwame Dawes, who has been named the new poet laureate of Jamaica.

  • Congratulations to our colleagues Jennifer Croft and Aron Aji, who are among those serving as judges for the National Book Awards this year, in their case in the category of translated literature.

  • Ranjit Hoskote’s speech at the 2024 Goa Literary Festival addresses the current situation in Gaza.

  • In NY Times, Bina Shah worries about the state of Pakistani—and American—democracy.

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