The 2008 Middle Eastern Reading and Lecture Tour

April 12—April 21, 2008

The Middle East Reading and Lecture Tour took a delegation of American writers to Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen from April 12th to April 21st. The tour was made possible by a grant from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The tour—a mix of literary and cultural events— introduced the delegation to audiences from across the region. The delegation traveled first to Muscat, Oman. The schedule of readings and lectures then took the delegation to the cities of Riyadh, Dhahran, and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. The tour concluded with programming in and around Sana’a, Yemen.

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 literary events included encounters (readings, talks, class visits, teas, etc.) with English language and literature students and faculties, meetings with literary groups, and exchanges/mutual interviews with publishers and journalists. The IWP provided short translations, and interpreters at all events, so that the delegation could share their work with local audiences in Arabic, as well as in English. We also encouraged future collaborations between the delegation and their counterparts in the region.


  • Sultanate of Oman - April 12 — 14
  • Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - April 14 — 19

2008 Reading Tour Participants

Ron Carlson (fiction writer; USA) is the director of the Creative Writing program in fiction at UC Irvine. He is the author of four novels and four collections of short stories, including Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Plan B for the Middle Class, which was selected by The New York Times as one of the Best Books of the Year; and The Hotel Eden, selected as a Notable Book of the year. His work has appeared in Esquire, Harper’s, The New Yorker, Gentlemen’s Quarterly, Epoch, The North American Review, The Best American Short Stories, The O’Henry Prize Series, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction and dozens of other journals and anthologies. Among his awards are a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, the Cohen Prize at Ploughshares, and a National Society of Arts and Letters Literature Award.

Patricia Hampl (memoirist, poet; USA) is a Professor of English in the MFA program at the University of Minnesota. She has published two memoirs, two books of poetry, and several volumes of nonfiction, including The Florists’s Daughter and Blue Arabesque. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, New York Times Book Review, Ploughshares, Antaeus, Granta, American Poetry Review, Iowa Review, Ironwood, Ms., Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, Los Angeles Times, The Sophisticated Traveller, and Kenyon Review. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Bush Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts twice, Fulbright, and a MacArthur Fellowship. She has received a Pushcart Prize in fiction, and four of her books have been named Notable Books of the year by The New York Times.

Richard Kenney (poet; USA) has authored four collections of poetry: The Evolution of the Flightless Bird, which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 1983, Orrery (1985), The Invention of the Zero (1993), and The One-Strand River (2008). His poems have appeared in The Yale Review, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Verse, Poetry, The Paris Review, Norton Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (1997), The Norton Anthology of Poetry (2005), and Best American Poetry (2007). He has received a MacArthur Fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award, among other. For more than twenty years, he has taught creative writing at the University of Washington, and for the past several years, he has led the U.W. creative writing seminar in Rome.

Michelle Latiolais (fiction writer, essayist; USA) is an associate professor of English at the University of California at Irvine. She has published one novel, Even Now, and her stories have appeared in The Antioch Review, The Santa Monica Review, and most recently ZYZZYVA.

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.

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