You are here

Saying “Do svidaniya” to BTL Russia 2013

Visiting the farm in Iowa
Visiting the farm in Iowa

July 27th-30th, 2013 ten aspiring Russian authors ages 16-19 will be soaking up the literary culture in Washington D.C. and getting a lesson in slam poetry from Split This Rock/DC Youth Slam. The talented teens have spent the last two weeks in Iowa City, taking part in the intensive Between the Lines (BTL) Russia creative writing and cultural exchange.

In Iowa, the students, who hail from cities and towns all over Russia, teamed up with 10 U.S. students from 9 states for two weeks of writing workshops, seminars, and literary events, including a public reading at local literary landmark, The Haunted Bookshop. 

Day 3 Documentation Crew Isabella (Madison, Connecticut) and Inna (Petrozavodsk, Russia)
Day 3 Documentation Crew Isabella (Madison, Connecticut) and Inna (Petrozavodsk, Russia)

 Each day, one Russian and one American student partnered up to document the BTL experience. BTL-issued Ipads in hand, they set out to capture the day’s activities in words and pictures, presented on the program’s blog. Together, BTLers visited farms, museums, and attended rodeo and mutton bustin’ events and sampled the fried jello at the Washington County Fair, generating ideas for new creative works under the guidance of rising American poet Kiki Petrosino and well-known Russian novelist Alan Cherchesov, an alumnus of the IWP’s fall residency.

Watching a cowboy at work in the stock corrals at the Washington State Fair
Watching a cowboy at work in the stock corrals at the Washington State Fair

“It’s a chance to discover the real America, not like we see on TV and the internet,” says BTL participant Inna Dmitrieva of Petrozavodsk, Russia. “It is life-changing.”

BTLers also got writing advice from visiting authors including bestselling non-fiction writer Lucas Mann and Indian novelist and IWP alum Chandrahas Choudhury, who gave a lecture and spoke with students from Mumbai using a Blackboard Collaborate virtual classroom set up with the help of IWP distance learning.

The students, united by a common passion for writing, staged several informal readings—crowding into dorm rooms, stretching out in parks, and, Thursday night, packing the first floor of the Shambaugh House to listen, laugh, and cheer on their peers sharing new writings with the group.

Zoya (Moscow, Russia) perusing the shelves at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago
Zoya (Moscow, Russia) perusing the shelves at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago

“It’s been a really productive time,” says American Miranda Anthony of Mansfield, Ohio, who interviewed more than twenty people in and around downtown Iowa City for a hybrid prose and poetry project she conceived and began writing soon after arriving at BTL. “Everyone has been so supportive—I’ve learned so much,” she says.

As the American students head home tomorrow, the Russian students, who had a chance to tour the Poetry Foundation in Chicago on their way to Iowa, continue on to Washington, D.C.,  the last stop on their U.S. trip.

BTL Russia students in daily Literature Seminar
BTL Russia students in daily Literature Seminar

After two weeks of reading, writing, and trading cultural knowledge with their American peers (including taking over the dorm kitchens to prepare blinis (traditional Russian pancakes) for the Americans to taste, the departure is bittersweet.

“BTL opens a door to the world for students, both U.S. and Russian—it encourages them to discover and interact with other cultures around a shared interest—writing,” says BTL Coordinator Kelly Morse. “We hope that these friendships—literary and personal—endure."

BTL is organized by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP) in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com D7 ver.1.1