The 2007 Middle East Reading Tour

April 27—May 6 and May 14—17, 2007

The Middle East Reading Tour took a delegation of American writers to Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories on April 27th – May 6th; and then to Istanbul, Turkey, on May 14-17. The tour was hosted by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, and made possible by a grant from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The tour introduced the delegation to audiences from across the region, beginning with a stop in Aleppo, Syria. The schedule of readings and lectures then took the delegation to Damascus; Amman, Jordan; Jerusalem, Israel; and Ramallah in the Palestinian Territories. After the 2007 New Symposium in Paros, Greece, the tour was then completed with a three-day visit to Istanbul, Turkey.

The tour was an opportunity for American writers to deepen their understanding of these countries’ unique landscapes and their rich cultural and literary traditions. The International Writing Program provided the delegation with short translations, and interpreters at all events, so that the American writers could share their work with local audiences in Arabic, Hebrew, and Turkish, as well as English.

2007 Reading Tour Participants

Daniel Alarcón (novelist, fiction writer; Peru/USA) is one of the most acclaimed young fiction writers in the U.S. His short story collection, War By Candlelight, was a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award. His writings have been published in several magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper's, and Salon, and anthologized in Best American Non-Required Reading 2004 and 2005. He serves as Associate Editor of Etiqueta Negra, an award-winning monthly published in his native Lima, Peru. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, former Fulbright Scholar to Peru, and the recipient of a Whiting Award for 2004, he lives in Oakland, California, where he is the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College. His first novel, Lost City Radio, was published in February 2007.

Tony Eprile (fiction writer, novelist; South Africa/USA) is the author of Temporary Sojourner and Other South African Stories (1989) and The Persistence of Memory (2004), both of which were New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Eprile has taught at Northwestern University, Williams College, Bennington College, and Lesley University. Currently, he is a visiting faculty member at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Jane Hirshfield (poet, essayist; USA) has published six books of poetry, most recently After (2006); a collection of essays, Nine Gates; and three major anthologies collecting the work of historical women poets from a wide range of cultural and spiritual traditions. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, and five editions of The Best American Poetry. Her books have been finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award and England’s T.S. Eliot Prize, and other honors include The Poetry Center Book Award, The California Book Award, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, and the 70th Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement from The Academy of American Poets.

Olena Kalytiak Davis (poet; USA) is the author of two collections of poetry, Shattered Sonnets Love Cards and Other Off and Back Handed Importunites (2003), and And Her Soul Out Of Nothing (1997), which won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including four Best American Poetry volumes. Her awards include a Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers grant, several grants from the Alaska and Juneau Arts Councils, and a fellowship from the Rasmuson Foundation. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Christopher Merrill. Director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Merrill’s books include four collections of poetry, Brilliant Water, Workbook, Fevers & Tides, and Watch Fire, for which he received the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; translations of Aleš Debeljak’s Anxious Moments and The City and the Child; several edited volumes, among them, The Forgotten Language: Contemporary Poets and Nature and From the Faraway Nearby: Georgia O’Keeffe as Icon; and four books of nonfiction, 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, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars, and Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain, which won the 2005 Kostas Kyriazis Award, Greece’s most prestigious journalism award. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages.

Happening Now

  • To mark PEN International’s centennial, Words Without Borders has published a sampler of works by writers committed to freedom of expression. Algerian novelist and scholar Med MAGANI is among them.

  • A fall harvest of book reviews coming in: of The Others by Sarah BLAU (translated from the Hebrew by Daniella Zamir); of LO Yi-Chin’s Farewell, translated from the Chinese by Jeremy TIANG; of Véronique TADJO’s In the Company of Men

  • A fascinating interview with IWP’s Senior Advisor, professor Peter Nazareth, retired from UI’s English Department in spring 2021, after nearly five decades of teaching.

  • Word reaches us that poet HU Xudong  胡续冬, who also taught comparative and world literatures at Peking University (Beida), specializing in Latin American literatures, passed away unexpectedly. RIP, Hu Xudong…

  • We note with sadness the passing of Hiroshi SAKAGAMI 坂上 弘, whose long novelistic career garnered him major literary and cultural honors. A former president of the Japan Writers’ Association, he was until his retirement also the director of Keio University Press.

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