2009 Souk Ukaz: Writing In and Beyond the City

April 28 - May 5, 2009 • Fez and Casablanca (Morocco)

Extending its successful “New Symposium,” which met for three years on the island of Paros (Greece), the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa will host a comparable gathering of writers and artists in Morocco, in the form of a Souk Ukaz —a regional tradition of intellectual and artistic exchange.

Preparing for the gathering in their home countries, through shared readings and drafting of essays, the group will spend five days in Morocco, discussing the individual presentations, visiting the surrounding cityscapes, meeting with local writers and artists, and staging public readings.

Our topic, “Writing In and Beyond the City,” springs from the tipping point reached at the turn of this millennium: for the first time in recorded history, more people live in cities than in rural areas, closer to nature. Cities are magnets and magnifiers, their concentration offering a rich terrain for the mind and the arts, a space where change is paramount. Literature has generally gravitated to cities as a theme, and now more than ever these hot spheres of innovation and creative destruction dominate our imagination of the world. Yet what if contemporary literature’s urban bias gets in the way of imagining the concerns and forms of the sub-urban, the provincial, the peripheral, the hinterland, of space abandoned? Thus if we must begin to write to the scale of endangered eco-systems, must fiction and poetry give up its love affair with the polis?

A film by Stephen Nugent • Video may be expanded to full screen


Krzysztof CZYŻEWSKI (Poland), poet, essayist and cultural activist, established The Borderland Foundation and is, since 1991, the director of its “Borderland of Arts, Cultures and Nations” Center in Sejny, work that has garnered him a number of international cultural awards. He is also editor-in-chief of the Krasnogruda magazine and of the Borderland Publishing House. Following the 1998 collection The Path of the Borderland, his essay volume Line of Return: Notes From the Borderland came out in 2008, and was named among that year’s best Polish books.

Katie FORD (USA) is the author of two volumes of poetry and a chapbook. Her volume Colosseum was named a “Best Book of 2008” by Publishers Weekly, and one of the “Top 10 Poetry Books for 2008” by the Virginia Quarterly Review; her other poems have appeared widely. The recipient of a number of distinguished grants and awards, most recently the Lannan Literary Fellowship, she is also the poetry editor of the New Orleans Review. She has taught at Loyola University, Reed College, and is now at Franklin & Marshall College.

Carlos GAMERRO (Argentina) has authored four novels and two collections of short stories; he also translates extensively from English, in a range from Shakespeare through Auden to Harold Bloom. His script for Tres de corazones was produced in 2007 as a feature film directed by Sergio Renán. A professor and literary critic, Gamerro has taught seminars on Joyce and Borges at the Buenos Aires Latin American Art Museum (MALBA).

Michal HVORECKÝ (Slovakia) has published six books of fiction, which have been translated into German, Polish, Czech and Italian. His plays have been performed in Prague, Hannover, Vienna, and in his hometown Bratislava. He is the co-founder of the music festival Wilsonic, a regular columnist for the daily Sme, and a frequent contributor to regional media outlets.

Roseanne Saad KHALAF (Lebanon) teaches English and Creative Writing at the American University of Beirut. She is the author and editor of five books, among them Transit Beirut, a 2003 collection of literary snapshots from today’s Beirut, and Hikayat: Short Stories by Lebanese Women (2006). Her experience spans creative, academic and editorial work in Lebanon as well as in the US and UK.

The Cypriot poet Gürgenç KORKMAZEL is the author of four volumes of poetry and, in 2008, of a collection of short stories, all written in Turkish. His work has been translated into English, Russian, German, French, Greek, Swedish and Dutch. He himself translates from English (the complete poems of the Cypriot-British Taner Baybars appeared in Istanbul in 2007), edits the literary journal Isırgan, and runs the publishing house “B/6.” He lives in Nicosia.

Barbara RAS (USA). Her first book of poems, Bite Every Sorrow, received the 1997 Walt Whitman Award and the Georgia Author of the Year Award for poetry. Since then, her work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, and garnered a number of literary awards, most recently a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2009. She has traveled extensively in Latin America, with long stays in Colombia and Costa Rica, editing subsequently a collection of entitled Costa Rica: A Traveler’s Literary Companion. She directs Trinity University Press in San Antonio, Texas.

Alberto RUY-SÁNCHEZ (Mexico) writes fiction, poetry and essays in Mexico City. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Paris, has been a visiting scholar at Stanford, and chair of Creative Non-Fiction Program at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Since 1988 he has served as the editor-in-chief of the distinguished periodical Artes de México; he is the author of two collections of non-fiction, several volumes of literary criticism, and four novels; among them the Morocco-set Secret Gardens of Mogador: Voices of the Earth appeared in an English translation in 2005. Alongside his many literary awards, he is also a honorary captain of the steamship “Belle of Louisville.”

Faouzi SKALI (Morocco) is the founder and director of the Fès Festival of Sufi Culture and Forum, and a co-founder of the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music, taking place since 1994. He has initiated and led a number of international projects dealing with peace and Islamic values, among them IMED, whose Fès-based institute studies and promotes dialogue between Europe and the Muslim world. Dr. Skali’s publications and co-authored works include five volumes of essays, commentaries and lectures on various aspects of Islam, Sufism and Christianity. His Saints et sanctuaires de Fès will appear in 2009.

The work of Mustapha TLILI (Tunisia/USA) includes For Nelson Mandela, co-edited with Jacques Derrida; among his novels La montagne du lion was short-listed for Prix Femina, and Un après midi dans le esert won the Tunisian Comar d’Or for 2008. His books have been translated into English, Chinese, German, and Spanish and are widely anthologized. Tlili is also the founder and director of the Center for Dialogues, a research scholar at New York University, and fellow at its Remarque Institute. He has taught at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, was a fellow at the World Policy Institute, has served as a senior UN official, and is a member of Human Rights Watch’s Advisory Committee for the Middle East and North Africa.

Anastassis VISTONITIS (Greece) has published ten books of poetry, three volumes of essays, three travelogues, a book of short stories, and a book of translations of the Chinese poet Li He. He has served as Vice-President of Greek Collecting Society of Literary Works (OSDEL) and has since 1996 held senior board positions at the European Writers’ Congress. He was the General Editor of the candidature file of Athens for the Olympic Games of 2004. His creative work has been translated into fifteen languages.

Eliot WEINBERGER’s (USA) literary writings include Works on Paper, Outside Stories, Written Reaction, Karmic Traces, The Stars, Muhammad, and An Elemental Thing. His political articles are collected in 9/12, What I Heard About Iraq, and What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles. His work has been published in some thirty languages. He is the author of a study of Chinese poetry translation, the translator the exiled poet Bei Dao, and the editor of an anthology of classical Chinese Poetry. His many translations from the Spanish include the work of Octavio Paz, Vicente Huidobro, Xavier Villaurrutia, and Jorge Luis Borges, and have earned him several prestigious awards for the promotion of Hispanic cultures and literatures.

Kyoko YOSHIDA (Japan) writes short stories in English; her PhD thesis, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, was titled The Kyoto Panorama Project. Beyond publishing in literary and academic journals, she also translates poetry and drama to and from the Japanese. She has held several writing residencies in the US, most recently at Brown University. At Keio University in Tokyo, where she is an associate professor, she teaches American literature and creative writing.

Program Director

Christopher MERRILL (USA) works across genres with books that include four collections of poetry; translations of the poetry of the Slovenian Aleš Debeljak; several edited volumes; and four books of nonfiction, Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain, The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer, The Old Bridge: The Third Balkan War and the Age of the Refugee, and Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages. He has held a professorship at the College of the Holy Cross, and now directs the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa.

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