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News from the Fall Residency 2013

(Click to Enlarge) Whiti Hereaka (New Zealand) reads to a packed crowd at Shambaugh House.
(Click to Enlarge) Whiti Hereaka (New Zealand) reads to a packed crowd at Shambaugh House.
The 2013 Fall Residency is in full swing. What’s going on?  A lot.  In Iowa City, writers are engaging the local community, University of Iowa faculty and students, and each other in conversations about literature, film, censorship, and even the politics of participating in a program like the Residency. They’re giving weekly readings to packed crowds at the Shambaugh House most Friday afternoons and at Prairie Lights Bookstore most Sundays. One innovation this year: the Shambaugh House readings are now being live streamed, so internet listeners can tune in from around the world to hear the writers read their work. The Prairie Lights readings continue to be streamed live by The Writing University and include a graduate student from one of the University of Iowa’s writing programs.

(Click to Enlarge) Oscar Ranzo (Uganda) reading to school children in Des Moines, Iowa.
(Click to Enlarge) Oscar Ranzo (Uganda) reading to school children in Des Moines, Iowa.
 “It was such an honor to read with Sridala; I’m a big fan,” said Iowa Writers’ Workshop student Dini Parayitam, who warmed up the audience for IWP writers Sridala Swami (India) and Oscar Ranzo (Uganda) at Prairie Lights earlier this month.

 The writers have also gotten together to organize an informal salon, “Kill the Writers First,” to debate ideas and exchange information about literature and other topics of mutual interest. So far, conversations at Kill the Writers First have included "Everything You Wanted To Know About Pakistan But Couldn't Be Bothered To Ask" with Shandana Minhas and "Gruesome Tales of Translation Editing in Israel" with Erez Volk.  

(Click to Enlarge) Mahsa Mohebali (Iran) treating passersby to an impromptu concert on one of Iowa City's public pianos.
(Click to Enlarge) Mahsa Mohebali (Iran) treating passersby to an impromptu concert on one of Iowa City's public pianos.
“In Chile, the night of the coup d'etat against Allende, the first people to be imprisoned and killed were unionists, writers, and songwriters, which makes you wonder how having ideas—and using words to express them—can be dangerous,” says IWP community engagement fellow Patricia Portela, explaining the genesis of the salon’s name. (Portela’s new blog, Seeds of Culture, offers a chronicle of the Residency experience.)

The salon arose out of a desire among the writers to discuss topics of shared interest that fell outside of officially organized IWP events, such as panel discussions to be featured in the upcoming Iowa City Book Festival and a recent Iowa City Public Library panel, “Is This Censorship?”, as part of the 2013 Intellectual Freedom Festival.

(Click to Enlarge) Books bearing the
(Click to Enlarge) Books bearing the "I ban this book because" label at the Iowa City Public Library.
The “Is this Censorship?” event, organized in conjunction with the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, was the culmination of a week-long project that invited Iowa City community members to place “I ban this book because…” labels, along with written comments, on reading materials that they found objectionable or that they knew had been challenged in the past. (Between 2000 and 2009 the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded 5,099 challenges to books for reasons such as "sexually explicit" material, "offensive language," and "homosexuality". 1,217 of these challenges targeted public libraries.) The “banned” books were then displayed in the room where the panel took place.

(Click to Enlarge)
(Click to Enlarge) "Is this Censorship?" panelists answering audience questions.
“Today I refused to go around…happily placing stickers on books for the sake of participating in one of the strangest experiments in cognitive dissonance I have ever witnessed” said panelist Lili Mendoza (Panama), whose weekly column in The Panama American newspaper was cancelled as a result of her criticism of the government. “I consider myself lucky, as I have not been brought in for questioning or worse, taken into custody,” Mendoza said. “For us [Panamanians]…expressing opinion is one of the last bastions of freedom and perhaps our only defense against tyranny. We will never take it lightly.”

(Click to Enlarge) Roland Rugero (Burundi) speaks to International Literature Today students at the Univ of Iowa.
(Click to Enlarge) Roland Rugero (Burundi) speaks to International Literature Today students at the Univ of Iowa.
Writers have also begun venturing out of Iowa City, spending a day hiking and exploring the natural prairie landscape at nearby Erem Acreage, and traveling even farther afield, accepting invitations to speak and share their work at schools and universities around the state and around the country.

This flurry of activity is about to intensify, with writers heading out for the mid-residency travel period, which will take one group of writers to San Francisco and another to New Orleans. The New Orleans group will spend time at Faulkner House Books, give a rooftop reading at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, hold small group creative writing sessions with students at Bard Early College New Orleans, and participate in a salon organized by literary and visual arts collective Press Street.

(Click to Enlarge) Lili Mendoza cuddling with local fauna (horn worms) at Erem Acreage (Photo by Christa Fraser).
(Click to Enlarge) Lili Mendoza cuddling with local fauna (horn worms) at Erem Acreage (Photo by Christa Fraser).
The San Francisco itinerary includes a reading at the Lunch Poems poetry reading series, hosted by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass.

Before they leave, you can catch Teemu Manninen (Finland) and Muhamed Abdelnabi (Egypt) this Sunday, September 29th at Prairie Lights. More information on upcoming events is available on the IWP calendar.

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