The 2009 East African Reading and Lecture Series: Kenya

June 9—18, 2009

Eastleigh • University of Nairobi • Kenyatta University • Kibera Aga Khan University • Dadaab Refugee Camps • Kenya National Library Service

The IWP reading tour, made possible by a grant from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, provides an opportunity for American writers to gain an understanding of a country’s unique landscape, its cultural tensions, and the environment of its literatures. It commonly includes encounters (readings, talks, class visits, teas, etc.) with language and literature students and faculty members, meetings with literary groups, and exchanges/mutual interviews with publishers and journalists. We also encourage future collaborations between the delegation and their counterparts in the region.

This year’s second Reading and Lecture Tour, occurring between 6/9-6/18, took the delegation to Kenya, for meetings with students and faculty at the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University and the Aga Khan University.  The group met with Somali writers and editors in the Eastleigh district of Nairobi, and with community organizers in the city’s sprawling Kibera district. They then spent several days in three UNHCR refugee camps in Dadaab, conducing writing workshops for nearly 200 Somali students.

Their stories have been collected here at the University of Iowa, and are being transcribed. You can read a number of them here. Their stories have been collected at the University of Iowa, and are being transcribed. You can read a number of them here with an introduction by Eliot Weinberger.


Dana JOHNSON is the author of Break Any Woman Down, for which she received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and came in as a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the Patterson Fiction Prize. Her stories have been published in the Missouri Review, American Literary Review and Ninth Letter, among others, and are anthologized  in Shaking the Tree: A Collection of Fiction and Memoir by Black Women and The Dictionary of Failed Relationships: 26 Stories of Love Gone Wrong and  California Uncovered: Stories for the 21st Century. She is an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California.

Tom SLEIGH’s most recent book of poetry, Space Walk won the 2008 Kingsley Tufts Award.  His collection of essays, Interview with a Ghost came out from Graywolf Press in 2006. He has also published After One, Waking, The Chain, The Dreamhouse, Far Side of the Earth, Bula Matari/Smasher of Rocks, and a translation of Euripides' Herakles. He has won the Shelley Prize from the PSA, and grants from the Lila Wallace Fund, American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim and the NEA. He teaches in the MFA Program at Hunter College. A new volume of poems, Orders of Daylight, is forthcoming in 2010.

Terese SVOBODA has four books of poems, two novels, and one short story collection; her writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly,, Yale Review and The Paris Review. Her experiences in the Cook Islands and in Sudan with the Nuer people informed both her book of poetry, Laughing Africa, and her novel Cannibal.  Svoboda’s poetry videos and documentaries have been shown on PBS, the Getty and MOMA, where she also curated the show "Between Word and Image." Her honors include an O. Henry prize for the short story, a Pushcart Prize in nonfiction, an N.E.H. translation fellowship, a PEN/Columbia Fellowship, and two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships. She has taught at Sarah Lawrence, Fordham, the New School, and at Davidson College. Read her Nairobi poem "Hope Wanted Alive."

Eliot WEINBERGER’s 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, and the editor of an anthology of classical Chinese Poetry, as well as the translator of Bei Dao. 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.

Directing the Tour

Christopher MERRILL 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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