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Literary Connections: Marilynne Robinson in United Arab Emirates


Writer, thinker, and University of Iowa Professor Marilynne Robinson will read and answer student questions while in UAE.
Writer, thinker, and University of Iowa Professor Marilynne Robinson will read and answer student questions while in UAE.

January 11-14, 2014, two Iowa-based authors, Pulitzer Prize-winner Marilynne Robinson and poet and non-fiction writer Christopher Merrill, will visit cultural and educational institutions in the United Arab Emirates to give readings and engage with students, writers, and teachers as part of a reading tour organized by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP). The tour aims to foster greater understanding and stronger creative ties with the region in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.


Marilynne Robinson is the author of the novels Housekeeping, Gilead (which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize and the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction), and Home, and the nonfiction  collections When I Was a Child I Read Books, Absence of Mind, The Death of Adam and Mother Country. Housekeeping was included in The New York Times Books of the Century and listed as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time by the UK Guardian Observer. In 2013, she was awarded a National Medal of Arts and Humanities.

Christopher Merrill’s books include the poetry collections Brilliant Water, Workbook, Fevers & Tides, Watch Fire and Necessities, and the nonfiction works, The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War, Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain, The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer, The Old Bridge: The Third Balkan War and the Age of the Refugee, and Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages.

Both Robinson and Merrill teach writing at the University of Iowa, where Robinson is on the permanent faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the oldest and most prestigious writing program in the United States.  Merrill teaches workshops in literary translation and directs the IWP, which has hosted more than 1,400 writers from 140 countries and territories since its founding in 1967.

 “I try to make writers actually see what they have written, where the strength is. Usually […] there’s something that leaps out—an image or a moment that is strong enough to center the story,” Robinson has said of her approach to teaching. While in the UAE, Robinson and Merrill will meet with students at the American Community School, New York University Abu Dhabi, and United Arab Emirates University.


Robinson and Merrill will also connect with poet and filmmaker Hind Shoufani, whose group, The Poeticians, hosts multilingual poetry and spoken word events in Dubai, and with Pakistani novelist and New York Times opinion contributing writer Bina Shah, both alumnae of the IWP Fall Residency.

“The aim of this reading tour is two-fold” says IWP director Christopher Merrill. “We encourage American writers to discover the culture and literature of the UAE, and open the door to interaction and collaboration.”

The IWP has yet to host a fall resident from the UAE. The next Fall Residency will begin in August 2014.

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