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A Formal Introduction...

The question seemingly on everybody’s minds around here lately is “Why Iowa City?” Home to the world’s top writing programs, the first public university to admit women, and the third UNESCO City of Literature; in a state ranked second overall in 2008 state-by-state Happiness (!?), and recently the third state in the nation to declare banning gay marriage unconstitutional. A city nicknamed by some the “Athens of the Midwest;” in a state often confused for Ohio or Idaho, Iowa has largely been unable to claim much more for, or excuse, itself beyond “Is this heaven? No…”

But it was a series of recent space-negotiations that got me most thinking I’d better have an answer to that question at some point. I’ve lived in Iowa City long enough to have one in my holster, but it took the misgivings of a Swedish singer-songwriter and a Scottish cultural liaison before I had the proper caliber for the fight. Fresh off recent big-city stops on his American tour, dressed in the highlights and hoopla he’d created at the South by Southwest music festival, the Tallest Man on Earth (consequently revealed to be the smallest musician on earth) took one early look at the basement-setting of the Public Space One concert he’d later be mesmerizing, and according to that look on his face during sound check, thought to himself, “Why, of all places, here?” And Ali Bowden, the ever-graceful Creative Queen of Edinburgh’s UNESCO City of Literature designation, danced around errant Englert lighting and video projection malfunctions during our Iowa City C.O.L. ceremony in order to, amongst other pursuits, show a wanting crowd “Why Iowa City?” by way of “Why Edinburgh?” To be honest to Place, the question is quite natural. Iowa City’s reputation hardly precedes it, and though it may not be New York, it may not be Edinburgh, and it may not even be Austin, Texas, parts of the world continuously pulse through our streets more than they may ever know. But it is where two-hundred chest-to-shoulder, air-conditionless fans sat silenced and grateful by one of the greatest solo performances in memory in a downtown basement, and where an auditorium adopted a Scot as one of its own when they’ve so graciously accepted Iowa City as their literary sister-city-in-arms.

Currently at the IWP our roster for the Fall’s Residency of writers from around the world is beginning to take shape, and with those 40 honorary-citizens-to-be on their way we’re asking ourselves, ‘How will they each fare in our town?’ by way of ‘How does one exactly fit into a new space?’ How does the translation of the self take shape into a part of the new whole, and vice versa, how does the whole translate and take shape with new parts?

On the dawning of a UNESCO designation, in the company of the world’s greatest cities, we have a moment to appreciate that Iowa City is a sum of manifold parts. It’s on our sidewalks where you can walk on literary worlds and connect the dots to the city’s literary history, where mere days apart a stage hosted both Rap legend GZA and State Poet Laureate Marvin Bell. Where a music festival attracts the talents of artists we otherwise wouldn’t be able to salute, and at a ceremony where the brightest of Edinburgh reminds us, exactly, Why Iowa City. We accept, with hospitality, and we celebrate. We ARE where the world comes to write. We ARE a City of Literature. We couldn’t be more grateful for the time of those passing through, and we will celebrate the only way we know how, because it’s not that something is in the air, but rather that something is below our feet…

joe tiefenthaler, program assistant

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