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.


Cate Dicharry received a BA in Political Science from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR, and a MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside’s low-residency program. Her work has appeared in Electric Literature, Literary Hub, The Nervous Breakdown, Role/Reboot and other publications. Her debut novel was published by Unnamed Press in April 2015. Before joining IWP she taught English at Dalian Nationalities University in Dalian, China, and worked at the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History.

Christopher Merrill has published six 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 the Ukraine. She went on to work on a variety of professional development and exchange programs, first for CONNECT/US-RUSSIA, then for IREX as the Country Manager for the IREX/Armenia office, and as the Regional Manager for the Internet Access and Training Program in the Caucasus Region. Kelly joined the IWP staff in 2004.

Happening Now

  • Over on  Asymptote, in English and Cantonese, the long poem " The Man Who Lost HIs Shadow,"  by Hong Kong poet and editor Stuart LAU (IWP '17).

  • On fish-paste English and cheddar-English: a long interview at LARB (Los Angeles Review of Books) about language, politics, and language politics with Burmese poet and worker KO KO THETT (IWP '16).

  • Behind the 2018+ 2019 Nobel Prizes for Literature given to novelists Peter Handke  and Olga Tokarczuk are translators--one key among them Jennifer CROFT, novelist as well as translator from the Polish, Ukrainian, and  Spanish. Congratulations!

  • "Resisting English": at NYRB, Adam Kirsch reviews three decades of the translated work of the Japanese novelist and essayist Minae MIZUMURA (IWP '03).

  • Just out in Beirut, the intriguingly titled ['Laughter as Destructive History'] by the Iraqi poet, translator, and editor Soheil NAJM (IWP '07).

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