• The "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home means for authors who have spent three months in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This installment comes to us from Samuel Kolawole:

    On the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Abuja, two Nigerian men argued over where to put what in the overhead luggage compartment....

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  • The International Writing Program at the University of Iowa will offer the #Flashwrite Teen Poetry MOOC, its first open online course designed exclusively for teenage students, from March 30-May 3, 2016. Students 13-19 years old are invited to write, share, and discuss poetry with Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduates and fellow teenage writers...

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  • Narrative Witness: Indigenous Peoples, Australia-United States, a publication from the International Writing Program, is now available.

    The collection features work created during an online exchange that brought together 32 indigenous writers and photographers living in Australia and the United States in fall 2015. During the two-month exchange, the artists created...

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  • By Laura Wang, a current student at the University of Iowa, originally published on laurayingwang.wordpress.comThe Shambaugh House in Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. It was originally the home of Professor Benjamin F. Shambaugh. After passing away in 1940, he gave his home to the University of Iowa, and the Honors Program moved in....

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  • By Alyssa Cokinis, Between the Lines ICRU Fellow

    Between the Lines: Peace and the Writing Experience (BTL) is the International Writing Program’s creative writing and cultural exchange program for teenage writers between the ages of 16 and 19. This summer, two sessions will convene in Iowa City, IA for BTL’s ninth year: Russian/Arabic, which will bring together 32 students from...

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  • Written by Karen Villeda, 2015 Fall Residency Outreach Fellow, in November, 2015

    “He always thought of the sea, as ”la mar,” which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had... more
  • The "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home means for authors who have spent three months in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This installment comes to us from Rochelle Potkar:

    Iowa is affixed in my mind as this cool place of beauty, sprawling gold fields, the rippling river blue, the talcum sky above, the bridges...

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  • On Thursday January 14th, 2016, IWP joined dozens of literary organizations and hundreds of writers in a Worldwide Reading event, coordinated by the Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin to draw attention to the dire situation of the Palestinian-born poet and curator Ashraf Fayadh.  A long-time resident of Saudi-Arabia, Fayadh was arrested in 2014 for “spreading blasphemous ideas among...

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  • The "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home means for authors who have spent three months in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This week's installment comes to us from Raed Anis Al-Jishi:

    I lived in Iowa for more than 12 weeks. It felt like home—a dream home for a writer.

    Libraries with enormous resources. An...

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  • By Karen Villeda, 2015 Fall Residency Outreach Fellow

    In the course of the fall 2015 semester, in my role as the International Writing Program’s Outreach Fellow, I developed a web-based project, titled INTERNATIONAL WRITING PROGRAM: WRITING LIVES!

    First off, the site is a documentary combining text with multimedia (images, videos) generated by some of the IWP 2015...

    more

Iowa City Unites for Reading in Support of Ashraf Fayadh

On Thursday January 14th, 2016, IWP joined dozens of literary organizations and hundreds of writers in a Worldwide Reading event, coordinated by the Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin to draw attention to the dire situation of the Palestinian-born poet and curator Ashraf Fayadh.  A long-time resident of Saudi-Arabia, Fayadh was arrested in 2014 for “spreading blasphemous ideas among young people”; then, in November of 2015, together with dozens of other prisoners, he was placed on death row for “apostasy,” accused of spreading atheism through his writing, in particular in his poetry collection Instructions Within (which had been published in Beirut in 2008).

Associate Director Hugh Ferrer reads from Fayadh's work. Two dozen students, faculty, staffers and the Program’s friends gathered at the Shambaugh House, taking turns to read—in English, Arabic, and German—from several of Fayadh’s sharp, witty and poignant prose-poems, in the hope that adding our voice to so many others all over the world will contribute to the effort of saving his life, returning him to freedom, and ultimately challenging the premises under which he was jailed. Listen to the reading through the Virtual Writing University Archive.

From "The Last of the Line of Refugee Descendants"

{}

Being a refugee means standing at the end of the queue
to get a fraction of a country.
Standing is something your grandfather did, without knowing the reason.
And the fraction is you.
The country: a card you put in your wallet with your money.
Money: pieces of paper with pictures of leaders.
Pictures: they stand in for you until you go back.
Going back: a mythical creature that appears in your grandfather’s stories.
Here endeth the first lesson.
The lesson is conveyed to you so that you can learn the second lesson, which is “what do you signify?”

{}

 

From Instructions Within (2008), translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright.

 

 

Raed Anis Al-Jishi On Going Home

The "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home means for authors who have spent three months in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This week's installment comes to us from Raed Anis Al-Jishi:
Al-Jishi visiting a coffee shop upon returning to Saudi Arabia.

I lived in Iowa for more than 12 weeks. It felt like home—a dream home for a writer.

Libraries with enormous resources. An accommodating environment where I could spend eight or more hours, and find other writers and readers doing their magic.  I was feverish with topophilia when I was there, missing my city and the people. Now I feel the same sense of loss for Iowa, and the wonderful time with and memories I have of my friends--the writers, the translators, the IWP staff.

It has been hard to start another project, or even read a whole book, but I am now at work finishing the second project I’d started in Iowa City; I have also translated several poems by IWP participants.

Sometimes, though, I lose focus because of what is happening in my country. For example everybody knows, or should know, that poetry is not a diary, it is not a notebook of something you did, or that you plan to do in the future. Poetry is about feelings and about how you express them, mixing reality with fantasies and dreams. It isn’t a document by whose content a poet can be judged. Yet in the case of Ashraf Fayadh, I know that he was accused by someone who either misunderstood, or else tried to fabricate the meaning of his poems, and then used them during the trial as facts.

Ashraf Fayadh

Ashraf was detained and sentenced to death because of that.

This is the first case of its kind in Saudi Arabia. But if Ashraf is beheaded, it won’t be the last, for it will give some people the power to send any poet to jail or even to death if they disagree with him for whatever reason. 

And that is why I and many poets from around the world are standing up for Ashraf--putting hope in poetry itself in order to free the poet. We are writing poems to Ashraf, writing to the Saudi authorities explaining Ashraf’s poems, and reading them at public events. Our only hope now is that the Saudi king will stop this madness and save Ashraf, together with the other seven people given the death penalty because of political speeches or peaceful protests. One of them is Ali Al Nimr, the nephew of shaikh Nimr Al-Nimr, arrested when he was 17. I hope that they set them free not only because I am against the death penalty, but because I think this is the right time for Saudi Arabia to make believers from doubters, and to teach the world a lesson in justice and forgiveness. This is especially valuable at a time when we need to be focusing on fighting terrorism with everything we have—for instance religious addresses, and good poems.

Remnants of a castle in the center of Qatif, a place that inspires Al-Jishi.

That leaves me with the last thing that made an impact on me in the past month, namely the local councils elections here in Saudi Arabia where, for the first time, women could vote and also be candidates for office. Some women have indeed been elected, and that means that we are on the right way, making progress in this matter. But it means, too, that we didn't reach our goal. I boycotted the elections not because i don't trust the candidates—several were good, talented and hard-working young men and women I could trust—but because we can only elect 75 % of the candidates, and I will only vote when that number reaches 100%.

The only good thing for me as a poet—besides the support my wife gives me—are my regular weekend meetings with a writer and translator friend in a coffee shop, to talk about literature, our work, and our country.

International Writing Program: Writing Lives

By Karen Villeda, 2015 Fall Residency Outreach Fellow

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In the course of the fall 2015 semester, in my role as the International Writing Program’s Outreach Fellow, I developed a web-based project, titled INTERNATIONAL WRITING PROGRAM: WRITING LIVES!

First off, the site is a documentary combining text with multimedia (images, videos) generated by some of the IWP 2015 residents. It is also an interactive story where the user chooses his/her own itinerary through a fictional IWP residency, as if he/she were one of the writers.

This project is based on HTML5 and the open source code Twine to generate interactive stories of several writers as characters in conversation. The user can make her/his own adventure at the IWP residency using the different backgrounds of IWP writers related to gender equality, freedom of expression, and human rights. The role player and difficulty rating in the storytelling will be defined by the contexts of the writer chosen and common problematics (migration, violence or gender inequity) related to countries as Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Armenia, Austria, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, Cuba, Egypt, Estonia, Philippines, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Macao, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Togo, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

The 2015 IWP participants were welcome to contribute with a text, image, video, audio and/or other media. This double-sided project is both an exploration of how it is to be an international writer in our times in a City of Literature and a tribute to the International Writing Program. Its story, its objective, its spirit shows in the website. This project intends to capture the many ways of telling the same story: we took different formats and sizes of photographs, we watched differently-gendered films. But we talked the same language: the human language. And we write this experience with our senses: we laugh, we cry, we hug and we comfort each other. Each one of us was a home for every one of us. Our conversation was guided by respect, love and willingness to learn from the other. The Other was Me. Me was the Other. We learned that there was no Other after all. Just We. And We translated this into a beautiful chapbook, which is available online.

The IWP experience is indescribable. You have to live it! 

Fall Residency 2015: News from Home

By Andrea Chan, Fall Residency Outreach Assistant

El Jones is featured in News from Home.
El Jones is featured in News from Home.
“Today we say all art is political. But I'd say all art has to do with ethics. Which after all really comes to the same thing. It's a matter of attitudes.” —Ingmar Bergman

Is art inherently political? Is it shaped by the systems of governance we are exposed to? The 2015 Fall Residency brought together 34 writers from 33 countries, all of whom come from vastly different political cultures. Some are moved to write, to make sense of political turmoil, and some distance themselves from it, wishing to write for the self and not for the state.

With the advent of social media and instant news headlines, it has become increasingly easy to access news from halfway across the world—something writers so far from home might find comfort in. In the video feature News From Home, five residents unpack the role that local politics and headlining events play in influencing their writing. The interviews feature:

The writers were careful not to paint a wholly bleak picture of political events from home –they focused instead on thinking critically about the problems they felt were vital to address. Jones, though acknowledging the importance of the Canadian federal elections, felt that greater change could be made at the community level, noting that it was “those sort of grassroots community building, community mobilization, that kind of stuff that I think is more important—to me—than elections.”

Take a look at how our writers have been keeping up with news during the residency.

WhitmanWeb Presents Whitman Civil War, Exploring Peace and Reconciliation

A page from Walt Whitman's notebook, written during his trips to visit hospitalized soldiers.
A page from Walt Whitman's notebook, written during his trips to visit hospitalized soldiers.

Join us for the latest iteration of WhitmanWeb, Whitman Civil War, where we explore Walt Whitman’s literary response—in poetry and prose—to the American Civil War, which remains the deadliest war in American history.

The 36-week project will feature commentaries from Professor Ed Folsom, co-director of the Walt Whitman Archive, and Christopher Merrill, director of the International Writing Program. Launching on Armistice Day and soon after the 150th anniversary of the publication of Drum-Taps and Sequel to Drum-Taps, Whitman Civil War will be delivered in English, Arabic, and French.

Each Wednesday, a new text will be published alongside commentaries from Folsom and Merrill as well as a question, which the public is invited to answer either on the Comments section of WhitmanWeb or on WhitmanWeb’s Facebook page.

WhitmanWeb launched in 2012, featuring “Song of Myself.” The series was delivered in 52 weekly installments. Each installment presented one section of the 52-part poem in English alongside translations in eight other languages, including the first-ever translation into Persian, accompanied by photographs, commentary, discussion questions, and recordings.

The upcoming WhitmanWeb series will culminate in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called Summoning the Dead: Whitman Writing War. Those interested can still take Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” IWP’s first Whitman MOOC launched in 2014.

Essays from 'Writers in Motion: Fall and Recovery' Now Available

By Hanna Busse, IWP ICRU Fellow

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In April of 2011, the exchange “Writers in Motion: Fall and Recovery” brought an international group of established writers together on a tour throughout the United States. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the stops were selected based upon a shared experience of conflict and upheaval—in both the past and present.

The exchange participants, either IWP alumni or visitors to Iowa City, examined issues of race, class, and regional conflict through lenses like the economic recession, Hurricane Katrina, and the Civil Rights Movement. Now, their findings are presented in Fall and Rise, American Style: Eight International Writers Between Gettysburg and the Gulf, a collection of essays. Writers include:

Not only has the group spent significant time becoming familiar with United States’ culture, all eight participants address major upheavals in their own writing. Because of these experiences, the naked realities of modern America, where the façade of American exceptionalism is stripped away, were in capable hands. Miller, a poet and writer from Jamaica, writes with elegance about his experiences, struggling to analyze and make intelligent observations during his travels. He found the exchange wholly overwhelming. His piece, “The Grief Space,” is a result, it seems, of space, and time, and reflection. He brings humanity to his views of a so-called “third world America” by discussing grief: As Miller grieves for his mother, so do many Americans grieve for people and places they have lost. Each piece in the collection approaches difficult themes with this sort of tact and sensitivity, which is no surprise given the group of writers.

To read the artful insights of eight outsiders grappling with some of America’s largest social problems, visit Autumn Hill Books today where the book is available in print and as an e-book.

Poetry Project for Iraqi Youth: Submissions Close May 1

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Lanterns of Hope: A Poetry Project for Iraqi Youth, a new initiative from the International Writing Program, closes its call for submissions May 1, 2015. Launched in March, the program is designed to encourage Iraqi youth, ages 16 to 23, to creatively communicate their visions for the future of Iraq.

Lanterns of Hope welcomes poems in Arabic, Kurdish, or English that reflect in some way on life in modern-day Iraq, potentially dealing with themes like reconciliation and forgiveness. Six distinguished poets—five Iraqis writing in Arabic and Kurdish, and one American writing in English and translating from Kurdish—will act as mentors throughout the process.

From the submitted work, the mentors will select a collection of poems to be included in an anthology, where each piece will be translated into all three languages to further highlight the diversity of language and culture within Iraq.  

For more information, please visit our submission manager. Lanterns of Hope: A Youth Poetry Project is made possible by the Baghdad City of Literature Steering Committee in collaboration with the Iraqi House of Poetry, the Union of Iraqi Writers, the Iraq Literary Review, and the US Embassy in Baghdad.

WhitmanWeb Expands to Include Walt Whitman's Civil War Writings

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One hundred fifty years ago, on April 9th, 1865, the Battle of Appomattox Court House brought the American Civil War to an end. In order to commemorate this historic moment, the International Writing Program is pleased to announce the next incarnation of WhitmanWeb, which in July will begin a nine-month exploration of Walt Whitman’s Civil War writings.

“We will examine Whitman’s poetry and prose, which not only testify to the terrible costs of the War Between the States but also opened up new ways to think about the American experiment in liberty,” says IWP Director Christopher Merrill, who will contribute to the project along with Whitman scholar Ed Folsom.

WhitmanWeb, an innovative web gallery launched in 2012, currently features “Song of Myself” which was originally delivered in 52 weekly installments. Each installment presented one section of the 52-part poem in English alongside translations in eight other languages, including the first-ever translation into Persian, accompanied by photographs, commentary, discussion questions, and recordings.

The upcoming WhitmanWeb series will culminate in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Those interested can still take Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” IWP’s first Whitman MOOC launched in 2014.

Sadek Mohammed On Going Home

The "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home means for authors who have spent three months in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This week's installment comes to us from Sadek Mohammed:

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It has been almost three months since my return from Iowa City. The ten-week journey to that beautiful, Midwestern American city was very much like a flying-carpet journey to a utopia for writing and writers. The Baghdadi Sinbad, if I may call myself that, saw a lot, learnt a lot, experienced a lot and wrote a lot. But that is a different story, as our story tellers might say, and I will tell it on some other occasion perhaps. And as I say in a poem I wrote during my time there, "for the grand mornings near the river Iowa/ the clouds bow for the clouds."

Before my departure, I must say, Baghdad was about to fall to ISIS (at least so said the news on CBS), my wife had given birth to my youngest son, Hassan, and a new 'dinosaur' had been appointed as my new boss at the university. "Good God! This is a triple treason", I had said to myself as I boarded the plane on my way to the US. As for ISIS, I naively assumed that poetic justice would ultimately prevail. Thank God I am not a military strategist in this great era of Obama-Biden! As for my wife, I pacified my conscience by remembering that it was actually her idea that I should leave in the first place. As for the dinosaur, well, what else is new? In the Middle East, I am certain, history is always written by the buffoons. Going home was very much like going back to a poem that has been left unfinished for a long time. How to recapture its rhythm, tone, temper and passion? This is how I felt when I started packing my bags for my journey back home. How would I re-inhabit that wild wolf that had been living in the wilderness of Baghdad after having become softer, milder and tamer in my Iowan paradise? That was my biggest fear.

Thankfully, the fifteen-hour journey back took me to Dubai first, as there were no direct flights to Baghdad. This was a necessary sobering station before heading home. "Move", said the grim security man in the airport who wanted to check my hand luggage before I went to the airport hotel. "What's in this heavy bag?” he said. "Poems", I clumsily replied. "Stand aside and open it," he said, and started to suspiciously search the bag. Did You Hear About the Fighting Cats?; Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underwater World; Remains; Archeology of Scorched Cities and The General is Up, among other anthologies and novels, were all that he could find. "Close your bag!" he said with a surprised and indeed, surprising smile. Halleluiah! I am in the God-forsaken Middle East at last, with all its tight security, spies and obscene police. All I need now are checkpoints, sirens and car bombs to recapture the spirit of my old, unfinished poem.

Sadek Mohammed and his children.
Sadek Mohammed and his children.

The family reunion was very emotional. My son, Hassan, was three months old. He was completely different from that new-born baby they had put in my hands to perform the Muslim Azan in his right ear and a prayer in his left, as my father had done to me when I was born. My four-year old daughter, Leila, had shed some of her baby fat. She had suffered a lot during my absence. Intuitively, she must have felt that the birth of her brother meant the end of her reign as the undisputed Queen of the house. Furthermore, nobody had been telling her 'interesting' bedtime stories. "Grandma's stories were not sweet," she complained to me in her childish critical manner. "Well, papa's come with 'a heap' of stories from the land of Tom and Jerry," I said. "Wow!" was her immediate, innocent answer. My nieces and nephews wanted to know if I had eaten alligator meat, because I told my wife that in New Orleans some restaurants serve that type of cuisine. My wife and sisters had apparently adopted the habit of scaring these naughty creatures, especially the nephews, by telling them that "Uncle will rip off your ears if you make too much noise." My answer was in the negative, of course, because I am a devout vegetarian now. Yet, they were all looking at me with suspicious eyes. I guess the family women had been successful in solidifying their myth of me as the 'naughty boys' terminator'.

My return also saw an air of ease and comfort marking a new, prevailing spirit in the city. Gone were the days of anxiety, which had agonized the population, and where observers had feared that the city might be overrun by ISIS. The terrorists lost momentum, and their organization is in decline there. A new government was formed after the general elections. But most important of all, in my view, was that there was a new spirit of optimism and creativity in the eyes of some of the young people. The future of the city and the country lies with them. Once the genie of their creativity comes out of the bottle, the whole country will be absolutely changed.

The news of my residency in Iowa had reached the city before my arrival, and I could see the sense of pride in the eyes of my students and perhaps, the sense of envy in the eyes of some of my colleagues. I understand. After all, this is the IWP, the most prestigious creative writing program in the whole world, one of which I am OFFICIALY an alumnus now.

The creative recharge that I received at the IWP filled my mind with many new ideas and many new projects. I wrote many poems, I started translating the magical Jesus Castillo, I wrote the screenplay for a short movie on Baghdad as a Creative City of Literature, I edited a new issue of the Iraq Literary Review and I inaugurated the Flying Carpet Project in the city. I have not yet met the 'dinosaur' though. Frankly, I intend to give him a nice piece of my mind, the Iowa way of course, or maybe not.

Andra Rotaru's Photo-Letter Pairing Project

“Photo-letter pairing” is a project from Andra Rotaru (IWP '14) in collaboration with Jared Krauss as part of the 2nd Annual Outreach and Engagement Fellowship, an additional IWP fellowship that is focused on cultivating public outreach and artistic collaborations. The project functions as a connection between the IWP Fall Residents, the local literary community, and the diverse citizenry of Iowa City.

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