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BTL, version 3.0

This year's Between the Lines (BTL) was our most ambitious yet.

  • We received a record number of student applications from a record number of embassies. Our final set of 12 students ranged in age from 16 to 18, and represented Algeria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Authority (both West Bank and Gaza). Among them were poets, prose writers, and one playwright; several were either pre-med or hoping to become pre-med; two will start college in the States this fall.
  • We worked even more closely with the Iowa Young Writers' Studio (IYWS) to ensure interaction and collaboration between our students and the American students. To that end, most BTL students had an American roommate, and all BTL students took creative writing workshops in both English and Arabic. This year's Arabic workshop was facilitated by two former BTL instructors, Tarek Eltayeb (IWP 2008, Egypt/Austria) and Dunya Mikhail (Iraq/US).
  • Our first-ever "Arabic 101" evening event, led by chaperone Gladys Youssef (Lebanon), gave IYWS students (and some IYWS and BTL staff) the opportunity to learn the Arabic alphabet and some common words and phrases, and to write their name in Arabic. I'm still thinking of creative ways to display mine:
  • We participated in two events during this year's Iowa City Book Festival. Students in the Saturday translation seminar read their work at Poets on the Patio (south of the UI main library), and Tarek and Dunya read their work in a special bilingual reading at Shambaugh House on Sunday.
  • We invited Randa Jarrar, author of A Map of Home and newly installed professor of creative writing at California State University-Fresno, to read from her work and speak to the students.
  • We were invited to the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, which manages the oldest mosque in continuous use in the United States.
  • We took a long trip through Iowa countryside to see the Mississippi River at Savanna, Illinois.
  • We spent two fantastic days in Chicago shopping, sightseeing, and, yes, writing. (Note to self: Remind participants about airline baggage allowances WELL in advance.)

It's because of the BTL class of 2008 that I'm on Facebook. ("How else will we be able to keep in touch with you?") Two years later, a whole bunch of new Facebook friends are sharing their photos and impressions of their time here. At our graduation ceremony, which was held at Chicago's John Hancock Observatory (in anticipation of Navy Pier fireworks that, unfortunately, were canceled), I gave the advice I've always given to young writers: Write a lot, read a lot, and be part of a supportive writing community. From what I can tell, less than a week after we said goodbye, the community they built -- in Iowa City, Chicago, on Facebook, and who knows where else -- is off to an incredible start.

You can see photos of the BTL class of 2010 and their adventures on the IWP Facebook page. (Hey, if I'm on it, you should be too. Resistance is futile.)

--Kecia Lynn

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