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Meet the Instructors: BTL Arabic 2013

On June 22nd, twenty-two talented young writers from all over the United States and the Arab World will convene in Iowa City—a UNESCO City of Literature—for Between the Lines (BTL) Arabic, one of two sessions of the IWP’s creative writing and cultural exchange program for youth ages 16-19 to be held on the University of Iowa campus this summer.

“There was tremendous interest in the program this year,” says BTL coordinator Kelly Morse, who assumed the reins in January. “We fielded questions from students in sixteen countries. The quality of the applications—and of the creative writing samples in particular—was impressive. We had to make some very tough decisions.” American students submitted their applications to the program directly, while international students had to first be nominated by their respective embassies, with dozens of students competing for the coveted slots.

Students selected for the program will travel from seven U.S. states and ten Near Eastern countries, from Morocco to Yemen (the first time BTL has hosted a Yemeni participant since the program began in 2008). During the intensive two-week program, the young writers will work closely with instructors John Murillo and Ghada Abdel Aal, receiving feedback on their writing and honing their craft.

Students will even get a chance to meet their instructors and peers and participate in a practice workshop from their homes next week, using Blackboard technology, with help from IWP Distance Learning coordinator Rebecca Boyle. “That way, when they arrive in Iowa City, they really hit the ground running,” Morse says.

Murillo, an award-winning poet who serves on the creative writing faculty at New York University and whose honors include a Pushcart Prize, two Larry Neal Writers Awards, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York Times, and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and who Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz has called “headbreakingly brilliant,” will lead the English-language writing workshops.

The Arabic language workshops will be led by bestselling Egyptian novelist, screenwriter, blogger, and newspaper and magazine columnist Ghada Abdel Aal, an alumna of the International Writing Program’s Fall Residency, and a recipient of the 2012 Bauer Prize for promising new writers at Incroci di Civiltà, Venice’s International Literary Festival.

Murillo and Abdel Aal will also collaborate, co-teaching a daily literature seminar, with guest lectures offered by IWP Fall Residency alumni who will connect with the students using digital video conferencing technology.

“Having instructors like Ghada and John on board is part of what makes BTL such a unique creative and cultural experience for students,” Morse says. “They’re both accomplished young writers with diverse cultural experiences and they’ll encourage students to consider writing and literature from new angles and help students to bring their own writing to the next level.”

BTL Arabic will take place from June 22nd through July 6th.

The program is organized in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. Department of State.

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