• 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...

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Allen Ginsberg Challenges You to a MOOC!

 

Poet Allen Ginsberg, a leading member of the Beat Generation, lamented the fact that few people have read all of Song of Myself.
Poet Allen Ginsberg, a leading member of the Beat Generation, lamented the fact that few people have read all of Song of Myself.
“How many here have read Whitman? Everybody. How many here  have read a little Whitman, just a little. And how many have read Whitman extensively? Has anybody read all through Whitman ever? Or, let’s say, all through “Song of Myself”? – Yeah, it’s amazing how most people know him but I can’t figure out if people know him well or not, whether it’s ingrained.”  --Allen Ginsberg

Well, soon you’ll have the opportunity to read “all through” Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself in the company of University of Iowa professor and renowned Whitman scholar Ed Folsom and International Writing Program (IWP) director, poet, and professor of English Christopher Merrill, who will be co-teaching a free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Whitman’s epic poem starting February 17th, 2014. The six-week course, Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, offered through IWP Distance Learning, is now open for enrollment and available to anyone with an Internet connection.

[Click to Enlarge] Every Atom is the first Massive Open Online Course to be offered by the University of Iowa.
[Click to Enlarge] Every Atom is the first Massive Open Online Course to be offered by the University of Iowa.
“Ginsberg’s challenge—has anybody read all through “Song of Myself”?—should be motivation for us all to work together to actually read this amazing poem from beginning to end,” says Ed Folsom. “Every Atom will gather an international community of readers of Whitman’s epic of democracy.” (More on the beat poet’s views on Whitman’s “expansive poetics” can be found on The Alan Ginsberg Project blog).

During the six-week course, Folsom and Merrill will break down the 52-section Song of Myself in 12 video conversations and pose a question to participants at the end of each session, then critique answers and offer insights within the MOOC’s discussion forum. During a live breakout session held at the end of each week, course teaching assistants—both poets and scholars—will recap discussion topics and answer popular questions.

 

[Click to Enlarge] A Romanian version is the latest translation of Song of Myself to be added to the Whitman Web online gallery.
[Click to Enlarge] A Romanian version is the latest translation of Song of Myself to be added to the Whitman Web online gallery.
Every Atom will be taught in English, but will refer to the multilingual gallery Whitman Web, which presents Song of Myself in thirteen languages (and counting) alongside commentaries, discussion questions, photos from the Walt Whitman Archive, and audio recordings. “In addition to offering the first-ever translation of Song of Myself into Persian and a brand-new Russian translation, we’ve recently added a Romanian version, and are next preparing a Kurdish and a Khmer version,” says editor Nataša Ďurovičová, who coordinates Whitman Web and has worked closely with translators to build the gallery.

“With Whitman Web’s help, Every Atom will launch an international literary conversation,” says IWP distance learning coordinator Susannah Shive. “We especially hope to welcome an international community of writers and lovers of literature into this expedition.”

To learn more and to enroll, visit: http://courses.writinguniversity.org/info/every-atom

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.

REPRESENTING THE AMERICAN LITERARY SCENE AS WRITERS AND TEACHERS

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.

MEETING UP WITH IWP ALUMNAE

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.

Calling All Poetry Lovers! IWP Launches Whitman MOOC

[Click to Enlarge] Every Atom is the first Massive Open Online Course to be offered by the University of Iowa.
[Click to Enlarge] Every Atom is the first Massive Open Online Course to be offered by the University of Iowa.

The International Writing Program (IWP) is delighted to announce The University of Iowa’s first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, now open for enrollment.  The six-week course (February 17-March 29, 2014) offers participants everywhere the opportunity to read, consider, and discuss Whitman’s epic poem through video lectures, live breakout sessions, and moderated online discussions. The course is free and open to anyone with an internet connection.  

A POET AND A SCHOLAR

Every Atom will be co-taught by Whitman scholar Ed Folsom and International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill.  Folsom is the Roy J. Carver Professor of English at the University of Iowa, co-director of the Walt Whitman Archive, and editor of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review.  Merrill is the author of six collections of poetry and a member of the National Council on the Humanities.  His work has been translated into 25 languages, and he has undertaken cultural diplomacy missions to more than 40 countries for the US Department of State.

 “Everyone has a personal reason to read Song of Myself,” says Folsom, explaining Whitman’s wide appeal.  “You may have thought: Gee, I’d like to, it’s a little daunting, it’s long—52 sections—but it’s an exhilarating ride.”

“We welcome all participants, from those unfamiliar with American poetry to those looking to rediscover this modern classic,” says IWP Distance Learning Coordinator Susannah Shive.  “Through a series of intimate, accessible video conversations, the course offers a guided exploration through the workings of Song of Myself.”

The resources of The Walt Whitman Archive and the Whitman Web, a gallery of translations, recordings, and commentaries (including the first-ever translation of Song of Myself into Persian) will help participants navigate the poem.

Here are Folsom and Merrill offering a quick teaser:

STRUCTURE, SCIENCE, DEMOCRACY

Each week, two video sessions will be posted, each organized around a central theme.  After each session, Folsom and Merrill will pose a question to participants, encouraging them to form their own answers and then test out these answers in the MOOC’s discussion forum.  Folsom, Merrill, and the course’s teaching assistants will guide discussion and answer questions in the forum.  At the end of the week, the teaching assistants will hold a live breakout session to break down the week’s themes and explore popular topics of discussion.  The video sessions’ themes include “Origins,” “Structure,” “Main Characters,” “Science,” and “Democracy.”

The course title comes from a line in the first section of the poem:

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
 
 

A second MOOC, How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment, also organized by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, will open in Summer 2014.  These courses are funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the University of Iowa and hosted by the Virtual Writing University with the goal of encouraging global academic and creative exchange.

Empowering Readers and Writers in Sudan and South Sudan

All photos by IWP Program Officer Kelly Bedeian.

[Click to Enlarge] Ghada's 10 year old brother addresses the writers.
[Click to Enlarge] Ghada's 10 year old brother addresses the writers.
November 30-December 8, 2013 an International Writing Program (IWP) reading tour visited Sudan and its southern neighbour, South Sudan (which gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011), to give readings, lead writing workshops, and mentor and engage students of all ages.  The group’s visit came just one week before violent clashes broke out in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, underscoring the many challenges facing the young land-bound nation, which is roughly the size of Texas, but has little infrastructure and a literacy rate of only 27%. Playwright and human rights and social justice advocate Catherine Filloux traveled with poet and IWP director Christopher Merrill for events in Sudan; the two were joined by poet and cultural anthropologist  Adrie Kusserow  and photographer and photojournalist Thomas Langdon in Juba, South Sudan. The tour, organized by the IWP in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, was designed to foster greater understanding and stronger creative ties—including opportunities for artistic collaboration. 
[Click to Enlarge] Catherine Filloux with students at Ahfad University in Sudan.
[Click to Enlarge] Catherine Filloux with students at Ahfad University in Sudan.

 In Sudan, where the trip began, Filloux and Merrill led creative writing workshops for students at Omdurman Islamic University (greater Khartoum), Ahfad University for Women, the oldest and largest private university in Sudan (in Arabic, "Ahfad" means “for our grandchildren"), and Ahlia University, and gave a reading at the University of Medical Sciences and Technology where they met with faculty, students, and founding members of the Sudan Book Club. One of the highlights of the trip was an event hosted by the Ghada Young Writers Society, an organization devoted to fostering the talent of young writers through workshops, contests, and other events. IWP writers met with family members of Ghada Mujtaba Mahasi, the 16-year-old aspiring writer whose tragic death inspired the society’s founding.

[Click to Enlarge] University of Juba campus, South Sudan.
[Click to Enlarge] University of Juba campus, South Sudan.

The writers also had a chance to visit the Sudan National Museum, which overlooks the confluence of the Blue and White Niles at Al-Mugran, and houses relics dating from the First Stone Age to the era of the Al Saltana Al-Zarqa' "black sultanate”.

The writers transited through Ethiopia to reach South Sudan, since the two hour direct flight from Khartoum to Juba has been suspended due to political tensions between the two nations. Upon arrival in Juba, the IWP writers spoke with Radio Miraya, a 24-hour radio station operated by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan in partnership with a Swiss NGO and practical way to reach out to citizens of South Sudan, where communication infrastructure is limited, though there are 2 million cellphone users, about one fifth of the total population.

[Click to Enlarge] Chris Merrill, Adrie Kusserow, and Catherine Filloux with students and professors at the University of Juba.
[Click to Enlarge] Chris Merrill, Adrie Kusserow, and Catherine Filloux with students and professors at the University of Juba.

The night of their arrival, the IWP delegation met with journalists and writers and caught up with IWP alumnus Taban Lo Liyong (IWP ’88). The next day, they headed for the University of Juba where Thomas Langdon led a Photojournalism 101 workshop on combining photography and storytelling while Kusserow, Filloux, and Merrill led a Master Class for professional writers and later an introductory workshop for about thirty students interested in writing.

[Click to Enlarge] Everyone quiet and enjoying the stories at the Confident the Children out of Conflict (CCOC) Orphanage.
[Click to Enlarge] Everyone quiet and enjoying the stories at the Confident the Children out of Conflict (CCOC) Orphanage.

The next day, while Merrill gave an introductory talk on reading poetry to students at the University of Juba and Langdon presented his photography, Filloux and Kusserow, the two female writers in the group, headed to Comboni Secondary School where they led a session on empowering girls through writing for a group of fifty female students. Among the day-to-day concerns the girls raised was the difficulty of finding time to do their homework with all the household chores that awaited them at home (the average woman in South Sudan has five children; only 16% of women can read and write).

[Click to Enlarge] Questions from secondary school girls written during a session on empowering girls in South Sudan.
[Click to Enlarge] Questions from secondary school girls written during a session on empowering girls in South Sudan.
Filloux and Kusserow brainstormed solutions with the girls, then, along with Langdon and Merrill, paid a visit to the Confident Children out of Conflict (CCOC) Orphanage, where they were joined by U.S. Ambassador Susan Page. They spent the afternoon at the orphanage reading to the children and encouraging them to read.

Before leaving South Sudan, IWP writers met with aspiring writers who had signed up to receive one-on-one feedback on their work during thirty minute individual sessions. The writers selected for these sessions will have their work posted on a workshop blog

[Click to Enlarge] Adrie Kusserow looks over writing during a one-on-one workshop session in South Sudan.
[Click to Enlarge] Adrie Kusserow looks over writing during a one-on-one workshop session in South Sudan.
The writers made a number of creative contacts during the tour. Filloux, a cofounder of Theatre Without Borders, added to her roster of Sudanese and South Sudanese playwrights with an eye toward future collaborations. With tensions still running high in South Sudan, the staff at CCOC Orphanage are keeping the children indoors. They have enough food for a week, though they are concerned about oil and water supplies. As the IWP writers learned from the photojournalism and creative writing workshops they facilitated, South Sudan has many talented writers and photographers prepared to observe and document their young country’s growing pains.

Book Wings Seeks Party Hosts

(Click to Enlarge) UI Prof Alan MacVey and fellow Book Wings director Carol MacVey at a recent Book Wings production meeting.
(Click to Enlarge) UI Prof Alan MacVey and fellow Book Wings director Carol MacVey at a recent Book Wings production meeting.
Theatre fans, you’re in for a treat. In March 2014 Book Wings, the bilingual collaborative theatre program IWP launched in 2012 in partnership with the Moscow Art Theatre, will debut 12 new short plays commissioned from playwrights in Iraq, Russia, and the United States!  Actors, directors, production teams, and new media specialists on three continents will work together to link twin stages thousands of miles apart to present the plays, which will be live internet streamed. A live talk-back session at the end of the performance will give audience members and internet viewers a chance to ask questions of the playwrights, directors, and performers.

(Click to Enlarge): Book Wings Russia 2014 features plays by IWP alumna Ksenia Dragunskaya and American novelist Anthony Marra.
(Click to Enlarge): Book Wings Russia 2014 features plays by IWP alumna Ksenia Dragunskaya and American novelist Anthony Marra.
There will be two performances of Book Wings this year:

Book Wings Iraq (in English and Arabic) on Tuesday, March 11th, 2014, and:

Book Wings Russia (in English and Russian, in collaboration with the Moscow Art Theatre) on Thursday, March 13th, 2014.

IWP is actively forming partnerships with literary, arts, and educational institutions to host live stream viewing parties of the performance. Past hosts include Northwestern University, the University of Hawaii, the Women's Cultural Society (Kuwait), and many others. Are you interested in hosting a party? Let us know: we’ll help you produce a poster for your event and promote it on our website!

(Click to Enlarge) Book Wings production designer Bryon Winn (UI) discussing design needs with Iowa production staff.
(Click to Enlarge) Book Wings production designer Bryon Winn (UI) discussing design needs with Iowa production staff.
Book Wings is designed to bring together writers, actors, directors, and new media professionals in a virtual environment to foster cross-cultural conversation, spark new literary and dramatic ideas, and create an enduring body of work.  It’s made possible by grant funds from the U.S. Department of State and with the cooperation of the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, the Virtual Writing University, Information Technology Services, and UITV.  Stay tuned for more on Book Wings and its featured authors in coming weeks.

Questions? Contact Book Wings Program Coordinator Ashley Davidson at ashley-r-davidson[at]uiowa.edu.

Visits with IWP Writers in Moscow, Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius: A UI Libraries’ Collection Development Trip

A guest post from Ericka Raber, Research & Instruction Librarian, University of Iowa

(Click to Enlarge) Russian IWP alumnus Andrei Bychkov with UI librarian Ericka Raber.
(Click to Enlarge) Russian IWP alumnus Andrei Bychkov with UI librarian Ericka Raber.
In May 2013, I traveled to Russia and the Baltics on behalf of The University of Iowa Libraries. The trip—similar to those my colleagues Tim Shipe and Lisa Gardinier took to their specialty areas in the past few years—was funded by UI International Programs and the UI Libraries’ administration. Its primary purpose was to acquire materials written by past participants in the International Writing Program. My itinerary took me to Moscow, then to the Baltic capital cities Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius.

UI Libraries began to actively collect works of IWP writers in 2008, 40+ years after the program’s founding; the Libraries’ collection project is thus both retrospective and ongoing, which makes it both extensive and challenging.

Moscow

 

(Click to Enlarge) Stalin and Lenin impersonators posing for photos on the street in Moscow. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
(Click to Enlarge) Stalin and Lenin impersonators posing for photos on the street in Moscow. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

I arrived at the Sheremetevo airport on May 3, my first time back in Moscow since 1996. The taxi ride to my hotel gave me a great above-ground view of how the city has changed, with its shiny, tall business centers in almost every direction. I also had a chance to practice my Russian, and was reassured that it would be more than serviceable for the trip.

More than thirty writers from Russia have participated in the IWP, and of those who live in Moscow, I was able to connect with eight before my departure.

(Click to Enlarge) Shrinking St. Basil's Cathedral down in size in Moscow. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
(Click to Enlarge) Shrinking St. Basil's Cathedral down in size in Moscow. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

I started the week slowly, with just one meeting with Mark Shatunovskii (IWP ’93) at a nearby café.  This was my first official meeting with an IWP writer in Moscow, and Mark was the first to ask about the intentions and value of the retrospective collection project. He seemed unsure that his works would retain their meaning and significance over the years. I’ve seen a similar look when writers shrug as they hand over their books for our collections, saying something to the effect that the books no longer represent who they are as writers. Mark, like many of the authors on this trip, nonetheless kindly donated a couple of books to the UI Libraries. You can catch up with him on LiveJournal, a popular blog platform for Russian writers.

On my way back to the hotel, I stopped in a neighborhood church to mark Orthodox Easter. That evening, playwright Sergei Task (IWP ’94) arranged tickets to an amazing production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass at the new Fomenko Theater.

(Click to Enlarge) IWP alumnus Mikhail Butov (Russia). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
(Click to Enlarge) IWP alumnus Mikhail Butov (Russia). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

My next meeting was with Mikhail Butov (IWP ’06), deputy editor at the venerable literary journal Novyj Mir, at his office near Pushkin Square. Mikhail was anxiously awaiting the publication of his book Po tu storonu kozhi [On the Other Side of the Skin], a collection of novellas and short stories. He too writes about literature, life, and music on LiveJournal. This meeting yielded contacts with additional authors, and during that week, I met with ten more writers in coffee shops, the hotel lobby, and occasionally, following Russian traditions of hospitality, in their kitchens.

One of my most memorable visits was at the home of Maiia Kucherskaya (IWP ‘08), where we had a gourmet meal prepared by Maiia’s husband Sasha, and talked at length about religion and politics. Although modest about her success, Maiia is receiving accolades, including the long list for the Russian Booker Prize for her recent novel Tetia Motia [Auntie Motya or Auntie Mina].

Thursday (Victory Day, May 9) was another day for cultural programming. One of the few things you can do on this major national holiday is to watch the massive demonstration of military might. After the parade, I went out to Kolomenskoe estate, an historical and architectural museum and reserve southeast from downtown.

IWP alumnus Dmitrii Kuzmin (Russia). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
IWP alumnus Dmitrii Kuzmin (Russia). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

I met with Dmitrii Kuzmin (IWP ’04) at his apartment, which also serves as a warehouse for his publishing house ARGO-RISK. Over tea and sweets in the kitchen, we discussed the humanities crisis within the universities, the monopoly of big publishers, and Putin’s decency laws. The floors were covered with stacks of publishing stock, and I purchased over 100 titles for the UI Libraries, selecting works of other IWP authors and complete series when possible. Dmitrii too can be found on LiveJournal.

Other IWP alumni I visited with were Kseniia Dragunskaia (’04), Ol’ga Mukhina (’98), Gleb Shul’piakov (’99), Sergei Task (’94), Aleksei Varlamov (’97), Andrei Bychkov (’01), Kseniia Golubovich (’06), and Alisa Ganieva (’13). Each visit was delightful in its own way. The writers were so generous with their time, and I was grateful to learn about their current projects:   

In addition to republishing some of her children’s books, writing short stories for adults, and scripts for plays, Kseniia Dragunskaia is busy with activities to commemorate the 100-year celebration of the birthday of her father, the well-known and much-loved children’s author Victor Dragunskii.

IWP alumna Ol'ga Mukhina (Russia). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
IWP alumna Ol'ga Mukhina (Russia). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

Oľga Mukhina was furiously working against a deadline for a commissioned play about sports for the Fomenko Theater. Ikona sezona [Icon Season], a film based on her play “Flying,” was released early in 2013. Olga’s plans include studying to become a choir regent in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Gleb Shul’piakov enjoys working from his Moscow Zamoskvorech'e studio apartment, but for writing, he prefers his country home. His recent novel Muzei imeni Dante [The Dante Museum] was reviewed by Maiia Kucherskaia for Vedomosti.ru. In addition to writing poetry and prose, Gleb is a translator and media personality, regularly presenting book talks on Radio Kultura.

IWP alumna Kseniia Golubovich (Russia). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
IWP alumna Kseniia Golubovich (Russia). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

Sergei Task continues to write plays and translations. One recently commissioned  work was Richard Yates’ Cold Spring Harbor; this spring, his translation of Neil Simon’s Fools was playing at the Chekhov Moscow Art Theater.

Aleksei Varlamov teaches Silver Age literature at Moscow State University and the Gorky Literature Institute. He donated his new volume Rozhdenie [Birth], which includes an essay on his IWP experience in 1997.

Andrei Bychkov works as a psychotherapist. His recent writing projects have included feature films and screenplays. He’s also working with the Open World organization, teaching classes on psychotherapeutic  writing.

Kseniia Golubovich is working more on prose than poetry at the moment. She has been a recent partner in conversation with poet and prose writer Olga Sedakova.

(Click to Enlarge) Alisa Ganieva. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
(Click to Enlarge) Alisa Ganieva. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

Alisa Ganieva has received much praise, including the 2013 long list for the Russian Booker Prize, for her 2012 novel Prazdnichnaia gora [Holiday Mountain]. In addition to writing, and being interviewed about life and culture in Dagestan, Alisa continues to work as an editor with Nezavisimaya gazeta.

I managed to visit just a few bookstores during my Moscow stay: Biblioglobus, Falanster, and a couple of big chain stores on or near Tverskaia Street. Unfortunately, time did not allow a visit to the highly recommended bookstores Bilingua Café or Tsiolkovsky.

Estonia

 

(Click to Enlarge) Indrek Tart. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
(Click to Enlarge) Indrek Tart. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

I took a Soviet-style overnight train to Tallinn, and stayed at a hostel on a cobblestone street within the Old Town walls.

I was able to meet with all three IWP alumni from Estonia, Indrek Tart (’92), Karl Martin Sinijärv (‘95), and Doris Kareva (’06). Indrek has left literary pursuits to continue his work in the social sciences, but donated his Basic Human Values in Estonia and Baltic Sea Countries to the Libraries.

IWP alumna Doris Kareva (Estonia). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
IWP alumna Doris Kareva (Estonia). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

Doris Kareva has received many awards and honors for her writing, including the distinguished State Cultural Prize.  Her recent works include translations of Rumi, Emily Dickinson and Anna Akhmatova, and a collection of fairy tales for adults called Sa pole üski [You are not alone].

 

(Click to Enlarge) Kiek in de Kök (Peep into the Kitchen) tower in Tallinn. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
(Click to Enlarge) Kiek in de Kök (Peep into the Kitchen) tower in Tallinn. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

Karl Martin is Chair of the Estonian Writers’ Union, and we met in his office in the middle of Old Town.  He had unique items to offer to the collection, including some books in the form of playing cards and the volume Eesti haiku [Estonian Haiku], written in 4-6-4 syllabic pattern. Later, I was also able to locate his Poissmehe kokaraamat [The Bachelor’s Cookbook].

A fun activity in Tallinn was touring the Kiek in de Kök (Peep into the Kitchen) tower and the bastion tunnels below, which were used as bomb shelters during World War II. I also biked out to the Baltic Sea, which proved to be more challenging than my directions indicated.

Latvia

 

(Click to Enlarge) A view of Riga. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
(Click to Enlarge) A view of Riga. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

Sickness caused me to miss meeting with Gundega Repše (IWP ’96) in Riga, forcing me to settle for what I could find in local stores, and fortunately found several volumes we did not have.

Anna Auziņa (IWP ’96)  offered an update on her life, with plans to finish her MA in literary theory and  work on her fourth book of poems, then guided me to a couple of bookstores and the Latvijas Nacionālajā bibliotēkā, where I was able to take a look at her second poetry volume, now out of print.

Lithuania

 

IWP alumnus Liutauras Degesys (Lithuania). Photo credit Ericka Raber
IWP alumnus Liutauras Degesys (Lithuania). Photo credit Ericka Raber

A bus ride took me to my final destination, Vilnius, the home of most of the seven Lithuanian IWP alumni. Liutauras Degėsys (IWP ’96), Head of the Department of Philosophy at the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences, was an attentive guide and considerate host. Liutauras arranged a meeting with Marius Burokas (IWP ’01) and Donatas Petrošius, Coordinator of International Programs for the Lithuanian Writers’ Union. We met in the Union’s stately building, and I was able to find a couple of books in its bookstore, tucked away in a corner.

IWP alumnus Marius Burokas (Lithuania). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
IWP alumnus Marius Burokas (Lithuania). Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

My visit to Vilnius coincided with the international ‘Spring of Poetry’ festival. This annual event features literary activities throughout the city, and I attended a reading that included a beautiful violin performance requiring no translation.

Marius Ivaškevičius (IWP ’09) was out of the country promoting his upcoming film Santa, but his wife Gražina Michnevičiūtė kindly donated a few titles to the library.

(Click to Enlarge) Bumba Dumba by IWP alumnus Tomas Butkas (Lithuania) acquired for UI Libraries. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
(Click to Enlarge) Bumba Dumba by IWP alumnus Tomas Butkas (Lithuania) acquired for UI Libraries. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

The most productive meeting in Vilnius in terms of adding works to the collection was with Tomas Butkus (IWP ’02). We met at the bell tower in Cathedral Square and walked to the Knygynas eureka! bookstore. Tomas had traveled from Klaipeda, bringing a couple of boxes of items, mostly books, for me to consider for purchase. An architect by training, Tomas is on faculty for a new program in urban design and architecture at Klaipeda University, as well as a book designer,  publisher and editor-in-chief for the press Vario Burnos, and a musician with the group Concrete Bunnies, known for creating soundscapes for poetry. I bought a dozen books and CDs, including some artist books, and a Tomas-designed volume of the poems of Tomaž Šalamun (IWP ’71) from Slovenia.

(Click to Enlarge) Lithuanian titles by IWP alumni acquired to be added to UI Libraries collection. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.
(Click to Enlarge) Lithuanian titles by IWP alumni acquired to be added to UI Libraries collection. Photo credit: Ericka Raber.

Several IWP writers expressed an interest in submitting works to Iowa Research Online (IRO), The University of Iowa’s institutional repository, an open-access archive. Resulting from trip contacts and follow-up research, our staff have already posted more than a dozen titles of IWP writers and their English translators in IRO.  Although I was not able to connect with Russian writer Maksim Kurochkin (IWP ’04) during my trip, I later located his U.S. translator John J. Hanlon, who submitted some of his translations to IRO, including Kurochkin’s play Vodka, Fucking, and Television.

Overall, this trip was very productive for the UI Libraries, adding well over 100 books and other items to our IWP collection. Many of the items would have been difficult, if not impossible, to identify and locate without direct contact with the authors and publishers themselves. This was also an ambassador trip of sorts, outreach to the writers on behalf of The University of Iowa and the UI Libraries to remind them that we care about their works, and that we want to preserve their writing for future generations.

Photos of IWP writers and selected materials

Fall Residency 2013: over, already?

(Click to Enlarge) Corinne N’Guessan (far left) on stage in Ali Al Saeed's “A Sheep Called Marlon.”
(Click to Enlarge) Corinne N’Guessan (far left) on stage in Ali Al Saeed's “A Sheep Called Marlon.”
We admit, there’s a little bit of empty nest syndrome going around Shambaugh House now that the 2013 Fall Residency is over. The last weeks were packed with activity, including the annual Harvest Dinner hosted by the Dane family at their farm in honor of IWP writers, bringing together 150 local farmers and Iowa City area community members.  Writers also saw their works brought to life on stage by University of Iowa and community actors as part of the Global Express marathon of dramatic readings. A few of the writers even took to the stage themselves, including Lili Mendoza (Panama), who appeared in the performance of her dramatic piece, “All of Us Your Voices,” and Corinne N’Guessan (Cote d'Ivoire), who took on a small role in Ali Al Saeed’s fanciful and humorous play, “A Sheep Called Marlon.”

(Click to Enlarge) Oscar Ranzo (Uganda), at left, takes part in the UI Dance Collaboration. Photo credit Greg Bal.
(Click to Enlarge) Oscar Ranzo (Uganda), at left, takes part in the UI Dance Collaboration. Photo credit Greg Bal.
One major highlight of the last weekend in Iowa City was the November 2nd collaboration with the University of Iowa Department of Dance, during which dance students worked with writers to choreograph new dances inspired by the writers’ works. “Ten” by Muhamed Abdelnabi (Egypt), "My Voice, I Do Not Hear," by Sawsan Al-Areeqe (Yemen), "Ejagham," by Corinne N'Guessan, and "Tangerines," by Wang Jiaxin (China) were among the works featured.

(Click to Enlarge) 2013 IWP Fall Residents on the steps of the Old Capital Building in Iowa City.
(Click to Enlarge) 2013 IWP Fall Residents on the steps of the Old Capital Building in Iowa City.
On Sunday, November 3rd, colleagues and community members who had befriended the writers during the residency gathered at the Clinton Street Social Club for a send-off, including a short ceremony during which each writer was presented with a certificate, a copy of the group photo taken on the steps of the University of Iowa Old Capitol Building, and a small leather IWP notebook. “We look forward to reading your words for years to come,” IWP director Chris Merrill said.

(Click to Enlage) IWP Fall Residents in front of the White House in Washington D.C. Photo credit: Asma Nadia.
(Click to Enlage) IWP Fall Residents in front of the White House in Washington D.C. Photo credit: Asma Nadia.
The next morning, fall residents boarded the Megabus to Chicago to begin the end of residency travel period. After touring Chicago’s Poetry Foundation, exploring the Miracle Mile, the Field Museum, the Bean and many other sights, the writers headed east to Washington D.C. where they worked with students in the D.C. Youth Slam, and met with representatives from homeless advocacy newspaper StreetSense. Despite a full schedule, Kuwaiti performance poet Nada Faris still found time to rock the house as a featured poet at a Busboys and Poets open mic.

(Click to Enlarge) Zeyar Lynn (Burma/Myanmar) takes advantage of a quiet moment at Poets House.
(Click to Enlarge) Zeyar Lynn (Burma/Myanmar) takes advantage of a quiet moment at Poets House.
The writers then boarded the train to New York City, their final stop in the U.S.. In New York, they explored Poets House literary center and poetry archive, where Dmitry Golynko, Wang Jiaxin, Dénes Krusovszky, Zeyar Lynn, Teemu Manninen and Sridala Swami gave a reading and took questions from the audience and each other. Several of the IWP poets also donated copies of their books to the Poets House library, whose collection includes more than 50,000 volumes of poetry and criticism. While in New York, writers also explored some of the city’s lesser known destinations, including the High Line, a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side.

“I walked around until 4 a.m,” said Sawsan Al-Areeqe, in sandals despite the wintery weather. “In this city there are always people, no matter the time.”

(Click to Enlarge) Key components of Erez Volk’s Iowa City diet. Photo credit: Rachel Jessen.
(Click to Enlarge) Key components of Erez Volk’s Iowa City diet. Photo credit: Rachel Jessen.
As the writers said their goodbyes and went their separate ways, there were promises to stay in touch, and to continue reading and translating each other's works, many leaving with tall stacks of their colleagues' books. Community Engagement Fellow Patrícia Portela (Portugal), whose fellowship will keep her in Iowa City until December (lucky us!), will be using her blog, Seeds of Culture: field notes from the IWP and other tools to help the writers stay connected to each other and to Iowa. Just a few days ago, local magazine Little Village featured a piece about cooking in the Iowa House Hotel with 2013 IWP residents Mark Angeles (Philippines) and Erez Volk (Israel), full of useful tips for incoming residents—the writers of IWP Fall Residency 2014 will certainly be very grateful!

Iowa City feels a little empty with the writers gone, but IWP looks forward to seeing the many literary friendships forged during these ten weeks continue to blossom and grow, and to reading the many fine literary works the writers of IWP 2013 will author in years to come.

Nigeria Killed Iyayi

As the IWP mourns the loss of alumnus Festus Iyayi (IWP '90), deceased 12 November 2013, fellow writer Niyi Osundare (IWP '88) offers this tribute:

And so Nigeria killed Festus Iyayi. . . .

He was one of our very best: creative, energetic, dependable, and forthright. We were there in 1980 (with the then young and irrepressible Tunde Fatunde) when what we call ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) today was in its infancy. Iyayi served the Union tirelessly and loyally, becoming its President in 1986, by popular acclamation. I worked with Iyayi, and saw him at close quarters. Fearless but fair, courageous but compassionate, demanding but decent, Iyayi was a great leader and an even greater follower, the kind who pressed on when others were seized by trepidation and despair. There is a painful logic in the fact he met his death while on a vital errand for our beloved ASUU.

Iyayi was a Balogun of the Barricades in our struggle against military dictatorship and our battle for Human Rights. He gave so generously, so valuably of himself and his inexhaustible physical and mental resources. Like the great Nelson Mandela, he could have said, without any fear of contradiction, that the struggle was his life.

All these virtues informed every line he wrote, from creative works to occasional interventions in the media. Art for Human Sake; clear illumination of the past; sensitive appreciation of the present; intelligent apprehension and anticipation of the future: Iyayi is a writer with the answerable vision. He chose his heroes very carefully, very judiciously. He ridiculed tyrants out of their despotic inclinations, challenged the unaccountably wealthy to show the source of their loot; urged the pauperized and the marginalized to interrogate the grounds for their plight instead of merely collapsing under its weight. Iyayi's blood boiled at the sight of injustice. Whenever he raised his voice it was to denounce the monsters that make progress impossible by laying us low. Iyayi challenged, then redefined our concept of heroism, for he knew that many of those propped up as heroes are nothing short of heinous villains; that many of our so-called giants are smaller than ants. His novel on the Nigerian civil war is never ambiguous as to who the real heroes of that war are, and where to look for the villains.

For many of his readers, Violence remains his all-time classic. In this unforgettable novel, Iyayi invites us to a Fanonian aetiology of violence, its actuation, and awful ramifications. In this heart-rendering story, we meet a millionaire who never labours for his money but uses it to take advantage of the moneyless; we meet young people so desperate, so poor – no, impoverished – that they are forced to sell their very blood for money for the very basic essentials of life. We encounter the uncommon courage and stoicism of the poor and lowly and the callous bestiality of the rich and powerful. In the annals of African fiction, only Ousmane Sembene’s God’s Bit of Wood and Ngugi wa Thion’go’s Petals of Blood have dissected Africa’s social reality in such gripping detail and with such committed panache. I love all Iyayi’s works with a passion, but for me, Violence remains for him what Things Fall Apart is for Chinua Achebe: a magnificent story ennobled by unforced lyricism and spontaneous narrativity. Violence marked a new accent in Nigerian fiction when it appeared in the late 1970’s. In many ways, it is the harbinger for the likes of E.E.Sule’s Sterile Sky published about three decades later.

Personally, to encounter Festus was to get ready to fall in love with him. Natural. Unabashedly, unapologetically natural. Humorous and always loaded with funny anecdotes, Festus took the sting out of the scorpion of the Nigerian jungle by laughing and helping others to laugh at its countless foibles. Victim of incarceration, unwarranted sack, vilification, and other abuses, he was always ready to forge ahead. Utterly disenchanted with Nigeria’s present, he never lost hope in her future. Festus was a comrade who was also a friend, a fellow-traveller and a brother.

And so Nigeria killed Iyayi. Nigeria, that dragon which feeds so insatiably upon the most precious of its own eggs. We lost a gallant fighter and great patriot. Terrible. Unspeakably terrible. Behold the terrifying irony: the patriot who labored so tirelessly to rid his country of violence has become a victim of her egregious violence.

Yet another chapter in our running saga of waste. . . .

Adieu, brave comrade. Nigeria’s wasters are still here, Awaiting Court-Marshall.

Niyi Osundare
New Orleans, Nov. 15, 2013

What We Saw: Writers Share Impressions of Iowa, the U.S.

This Friday, November 1, 2013, 12pm-1:30pm, join in the tradition as 34 writers from 31 countries in residence at the International Writing Program (IWP) for the past ten weeks come together in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library (123 S. Linn St) to share highlights, memories, and impressions of Iowa and the United States. Pizza will be served.

The event, one of the last public Iowa City events of the 2013 IWP Fall Residency, is held annually as a way for the international writers to reflect on their time in Iowa, their mid-residency travel to New Orleans and San Francisco, as well as individual trips to speak and share their work at universities, theatre companies, and literary organizations across the nation, including University of California Berkeley, Yale University, the Portland Stage Company (Maine), and The Pittsburgh City of Asylum.

Many of the writers have been blogging about their U.S. experience, and have contributed pieces to newspaper opinion pages in the U.S. and abroad, including the Iowa City Press Citizen (Is America edging closer toward Orwellian 'Newspeak'? by Amanda Lee Koe); The Lens (New Orleans: We know what we think of tourists; what do they think of us? by Craig Cliff and Roland Rugero); and the Economic and Political Weekly (Mumbai, India: The World in a Grain of Sand by Sridala Swami) and will add to these reflections in this public discussion.

On Monday, the IWP writers, who arrived in Iowa City in August for the ten-week Fall Residency, will travel to Chicago, Washington D.C., and New York City before many return to their home countries on November 12, 2013.

The IWP Fall Residency is organized in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and supported by grants from many international private and governmental agencies. Alumni of the program include two Nobel Prize in Literature laureates: Mo Yan (China, IWP 2004) and Orhan Pamuk (Turkey, IWP 1985).

Kofi Awoonor, Guardian of the Sacred Word

A special guest post by Niyi Osundare.

Eni re dara ile                 A splendid man has joined the earth

Gbee gbee, ofere gbee   Carry him, carry him, good wind, carry him

Kofi loo, o digba              Kofi has gone, adieu

Gbee gbee gbeee             Carry him, carry him, good wind, carry him

Ofere gbeeeeeeee            Carry him, carry him, good wind, carry him

    

(Click to Enlarge) Ghanaian poet and writer Kofi Awoonor, whose poetry will be featured in a memorial reading on Monday.
(Click to Enlarge) Ghanaian poet and writer Kofi Awoonor, whose poetry will be featured in a memorial reading on Monday.

Kofi Awoonor was not just a prominent African poet; he was one of those pioneers of the art that showed succeeding generations how to do it. At a time when his contemporaries were trying to out-Eliot TS Eliot and match Ezra pound for pound in a hot imitation of Euro-Modernism, he took a decision to look inwards, to his African roots, and he reclaimed our voices with the beauty and power of the traditional oral verse of the Ewe: its deeply elegiac tonality, its rich allusive idioms, its essentially humanistic preoccupation. In a classic case of what anthropologist call participant observation, he was a Western-educated Ewe man who lived among Ewe poets, broke bread with them, asked them for some of their creative secrets, studied them, then gave their predominantly oral verses the wing and wonder of the written medium. And he did all this without stealing the fire from the forge of the traditional poets; without striving to override his indigenous benefactors. As the Yoruba would say, Kofi m’o woo we, o ba’gba je (Kofi knew how to wash his hands; so he ate with the elders). He served faithfully at the temple of indigenous wisdom; the gods rewarded him with laakaye (wisdom, insight, profundity).

     This loric wisdom, this tellurian capability illuminated all his thinking, all his writing: his prose fiction (This Earth, My Brother); his literary/cultural criticism (The Breast of the Earth); and, of course, his numerous poems. No high school student of my generation would forget ‘Song of Sorrow’ in a hurry (‘Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus. . . .’ ). That is an Ewe-poem-in-English whose delicate simplicity and affective magnetism bring happy intimations of the lines of JP Clark and the wistful lamentations of Okot p’Bitek. Bless Ulli Beier and Gerald Moore who made these poems available to us in a compact Penguin edition. Yes, they did, and transformed the landscape of written modern African poetry for ever.

     The debt African poetry owes Kofi Awoonor is huge and many-sided. Kofi Anyidoho (who was lucky to have been a hunter in the same cultural/linguistic forest as Kofi Awoonor) would bear me out. So would Atukwei Okai, Kwadzo Opoku-Agyemang, Femi Osofisan, Tanure Ojaide, Odia Ofeimun (of the ‘New Broom’ sensibility), Obiora Udechukwu, Jack Mapanje, Akeem Lasisi, Ademola Dasylva, Remi Raji, and yes, Niyi Osundare. Awoonor opened our eyes to the infinite but long ignored (and often long denied) possibilities of oral literature, and its positive, liberating indigeneity. He showed the world that African Guardians of the Word sang and danced before Homer was born; they sang and performed their lyric before the advent of the earthy tales of Chaucer. Awoonor taught us to honour our tongue the way we do our pen.

     A poet who enlightened creative sensibility with a healthy dose of socio-political sensitivity, Awoonor combined the liberation of Africa’s literary idiom with the liberation of Africa’s politics. A proud and committed pan-Africanist, he spent most of his time and energy as Ghana’s Ambassador to the United Nations as Chairman of the Organization’s Anti-Apartheid Committee where he rallied world opinion against that racist scourge and contributed significantly to the bolstering of world opinion which eventually sent the Apartheid monster back to hell where it truly belonged.

     We will never forget the violence that took this gem away from us, the authors of that violence, and the urgent need for a juster, safer, saner world free of the current bestialities and the monstrous mayhems that are their tragic offspring.   

     We will miss Kofi Awoonor’s large heart, the melody of his mind, the sizzle of his songs, his boldly interrogative impulse,  the thunder of his laughter, his sheer joie de vivre, that ‘blue-black’ beauty of his proudly Ghanaian face. . . . .

A mighty tree has fallen

The birds have scattered with the wind

Behold their songs like flying seeds

In the wondering sky

Niyi Osundare, New Orleans, Sept. 28, 2013.

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