Between the Lines


Between the Lines

**Applications are closed for 2019. Please check back in early 2020 for application details.**

If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.

--Emile Zola

Since 2008, Between the Lines (BTL) has hosted young writers at the University of Iowa for a cultural exchange program that focuses on the art and craft of creative writing. Participants, aged 15-18, come together in Iowa City for an intensive two-week session. During session, they live in campus dorms and spend their days in creative writing workshops and global literature seminars designed to broaden their literary horizons and deepen their empathy for and understanding of one another’s identities and stories.

Evenings and weekends are spent on assorted adventures—attending literary and cultural events in Iowa City, swimming and hiking in nearby Lake MacBride State Park, and exploring each other’s cultures through open-mic nights and collaborative filmmaking. At the program’s end, participants have the opportunity to publish their work in the annual camp anthology. Each session is led by a faculty of prize-winning poets and writers from the U.S. and abroad, who are also experienced creative writing teachers.

Starting in 2019, BTL will expand into two yearly summer sessions—Between the Lines: Peace and the Writing Experience, and Between the Lines: Identity and Belonging. Read on to determine which program fits you best.


Between the Lines: Peace and the Writing Experience

Between the Lines: Peace and the Writing Experience is sponsored through a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US State Department. Alongside 10-12 American peers, 30 international participants come together for two weeks of rigorous BTL summer programming at the University of Iowa. New in 2019: In addition to Russia, eligible countries include those along the historic Silk Road land route.  Posts in the following countries are invited to nominate students for the 2019 BTL program: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Georgia, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. With professional U.S. and international writers as their teachers, participants broaden their literary horizons, deepen their empathy and their understanding of one another’s culture, and improve their communication skills. All programming is conducted in English. Programming partners include the University of Iowa, Prairie Lights Bookstore, and other local groups and university departments.

Between the Lines: Identity and Belonging

Between the Lines: Identity and Belonging is sponsored through grant funds provided by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art’s Building Bridges Program. Building on the successful 2017 pilot, BTL: Identity & Belonging brings U.S.-based Muslim and non-Muslim teens to the University of Iowa for a rigorous BTL curriculum of seminars, workshops, and special events. For two weeks in the summer, Muslim and ten non-Muslim students live as roommates in a UI residence hall, share meals together at Burge Dining, and embark on an exciting exploration of creative writing, literature, and intercultural exchange.
In addition to creative writing workshops led by esteemed Muslim and non-Muslim faculty, participants attend discussions designed to work through cultural biases and promote team-building and collaboration. The IWP’s Youth Programs Coordinator and BTL staff collaborate with the University of Iowa, the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, the Iowa Youth Writing Project, the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, Prairie Lights bookstore, and other local groups and university departments to enrich programming and encourage complex conversations around identity, narrative, and what it means to belong.

Why Between the Lines?

As countless alumni have expressed, “Between the Lines will change your life.” The immersive project of cultural exchange and creative writing leaves an indelible impression on participants.
Hannah (BTL '14) from Arizona writes on the BTL Tumblr:
“These two weeks opened up my eyes to a glimpse of a whole new world – and there’s so much I haven’t even seen yet. From cultural exchange at the Russian and Arabic 101s to learning about Russian hipsters (Stilyagi) and eating dinner at a mosque, I realized that there’s a whole entire universe out there just waiting to be explored. I don’t hope I’ll see these people again; I know I will. And if not in person, then on shelves, because the talent and promise of the writers I’ve encountered here will surely be noticed. This isn’t goodbye. This is just the beginning.”
Another participant (BTL ’17) wrote in their post-program survey:
“Studying and writing with my international peers was beyond all my expectations. I plunged into literary and cross-cultural discussions and interactions. BTL broadened my perspectives and allowed me to look at literary works from a different angle.”
And a third (BTL ’18) had this to say at the end of their session:
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would ever feel this way. I feel more comfortable in my skin. I now know that I am valid the way I am and I don’t have to change a thing. I have more confidence and passion towards writing more than anything. I also learned that it’s ok not to know. It’s ok to be confused and it’s ok to ask questions. I never expected to find a family and leave it. I never expected that home wouldn’t feel like my own anymore. The only home my soul now knows is 7 thousand miles away, tucked carefully in Iowa.”

Learn More About BTL

Don’t forget to check back with our website, visit our FAQs pages for American applicants and International Students, and follow Between the Lines on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Also, visit our Past Sessions pages to gain a better understanding of Between the Lines and see more photographs. For more detailed information, please email

BTL: Peace and the Writing Experience is sponsored through cooperative agreement funds provided by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. State Department.


Happening Now

  • Behind the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature, shared by novelists Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke, are translators--one key among them Jennifer CROFT, translator from the Polish, the Ukrainian, and the 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).

  • Death is Hard Work, the fifth title of the Syrian novelist Khaled KHALIFA (IWP '07), published by FSG in Leri Price's translation, is on the long list of the 2019 National Book Awards, in the Translated Literature category.

  • In the travel journal Off Assignment,  journalist and novelist Milagros SOCORRO (Venezuela, IWP '12) recalls a snowy day in Iowa City, and one woman's special gesture.

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