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Writing is about leaping into the unknown. Between the Lines: Arabic World students take that risk together.
Writing is about leaping into the unknown. Between the Lines: Arabic World students take that risk together.

Late last week, 24 talented teen writers packed their bags, said goodbye to family and friends and braved traffic, checkpoints, and airport security lines, arriving in Iowa City from near and far to participate in the Between the Lines: Arabic World creative writing and cultural exchange program.

BTL Arabic World 2013 includes students from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories & Saudi Arabia
BTL Arabic World 2013 includes students from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories & Saudi Arabia

Selected from among the largest and most competitive pool of applicants since the summer program began in 2008, these young writers hail from 10 Arabic-speaking countries and territories and 7 U.S. states and include the program’s first-ever Yemeni participant. They are aspiring poets, playwrights, and journalists, united by a common interest in and passion for writing.

Students taste the famous pie shakes at The Hamburg Inn (a traditional stop on the U.S. presidential campaign trail).
Students taste the famous pie shakes at The Hamburg Inn (a traditional stop on the U.S. presidential campaign trail).
After checking into the dorms and attending an orientation and welcome ceremony this weekend, they were off to sample the famous pie shakes at local Iowa City landmark The Hamburg Inn. Up bright and early Monday morning, they quickly got down to the business of writing.

In addition to participating in daily writing workshops and literature seminars and other program activities that keep them busy until evening, BTLers also found time to get to know each other, talking, playing music, and reading others’ writing. Wednesday night they attended a reading by their instructors, poet John Murillo and novelist, blogger, and screenwriter Ghada Abdel Aal at Prairie Lights Bookstore, good practice, since the students will be giving a reading of their own at Iowa City’s The Haunted Bookshop next week.

BTL students talk writing with instructor John Murillo.
BTL students talk writing with instructor John Murillo.
Tonight, after workshops and seminars, the Arabic-speaking students offer an Arabic 101 lesson to their American peers. On Friday, the group travels to the Seldom Seen Literary Festival in Monmouth, Iowa where BTL participant Zora Hurst is among those slated to perform. Stay up to date on BTL activities, including daily dispatches from BTL documentarians on a new BTL Tumblr blog and on Facebook.

BTL is put on in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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