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Face to Face: IWP writers help empower young Iowans

What does your name mean? Where does it come from? If you could invent your own paradise, what would it look like? These were just some of the questions young writers were busy imagining answers to with the help of IWP writers Matias Correa (Chile), TJ Dema (Botswana), Nay Phone Latt (Burma), Gulala Nouri (Iraq), and Pandora (Burma) two Saturdays ago. The writers had made the trip across the state to the small northwestern Iowa town of Spirit Lake, near the border with Minnesota, to participate in a session of a new program called Face to Face. The International Writing Program and the Iowa Youth Writing Project have paired up to launch the program, which is bringing young people ages 12-18 together for free Saturday creative writing workshops at locations across Iowa throughout September and October.

“Face to Face is a simple but effective concept,” IWP writer Dema said. “Writers, most with teaching experience, get together with a room full of teenagers who love stories—as all children do—and who have the potential to become writers.” Face to Face is designed to reach out to a diverse population, including minority and rural youth around the state who might not normally have the opportunity to interact with people outside their home communities, bringing them into conversation with the international writers in residence at the IWP this fall.

“Our goal is to engage Iowa’s underserved youth with targeted creative writing workshop sessions in places where literature and writing can provide an inimitable bridge,” Iowa Youth Writing Project Coordinator Dora Malech said. Interacting with international writers is an important and powerful opportunity for young Iowans to broaden their horizons and gain a greater understanding of the world at a time when they are being empowered to find their own voices and encouraged to think, write, and share their own unique perspectives in a creative way.

The enthusiastic group of students at Spirit Lake spent four hours brainstorming, writing, and even illustrating stories with the help of IWP writers and Iowa Youth Writing Project volunteers, including students and recent graduates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. At the end of the day’s session, the young Face to Face participants got a chance to practice reading their work aloud to an audience with a little help and guidance from performance poet Dema.

“The Spirit Lake/Okoboji workshop reminded me just how important it is to create a space where children can learn to give themselves permission to make up their own stories, poems, and drawings,” Dema reflected afterwards. “Our role really was to listen and then say to each child, 'here are a few ideas you might want to explore or this is how you might go about preparing to perform or read your work out loud.'”

The Face to Face program kicked off a few weeks ago with a workshop in Des Moines, the state capital. Genevieve L. Asenjo (Philippines), Alina Dadaeva (Uzbekistan), Pandora (Burma), and Barlen Pyamootoo (Mauritius) participated in that event, hosted by Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa and Nisaa African Women's Project.  This Friday, IWP writers depart for Upper Iowa University for a Face to Face workshop that will bring students together from areas around Fayette, in the northeastern corner of the state. After another session in Ottumwa (southeast Iowa), young people who participated in Face to Face workshops all over the state will convene in Iowa City on October 27th for a day of workshops and special events.

Face to Face is funded by a grant from the University of Iowa Provost Office and the Office of the Vice President for Research. The project is just one of the many ways IWP writers interact with the local community in Iowa City and beyond. For more on these interactions, visit our Facebook page, where you can also see photos of a recent day of readings, Q&A, and workshops with students from Des Moines Central Academy, when they visited IWP writers at Shambaugh House earlier this week.

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