• 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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Kwame Dawes Hosts Kofi Awoonor Memorial Reading

Poet Kwame Dawes will receive the 2013 Paul Engle Prize during his visit to the University of Iowa.
Poet Kwame Dawes will receive the 2013 Paul Engle Prize during his visit to the University of Iowa.

October 10th-14th, 2013 Poet, editor, playwright, professor, actor, and musician Kwame Dawes, winner of an Emmy and a Guggenheim and author of sixteen books of poetry, including an anthology of reggae poetry, will engage with the University of Iowa community as a 2013 Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor. Born in Ghana and raised in exile in Jamaica and the United Kingdom, Dawes is a 1986 alumnus of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP) Fall Residency. He is the Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska where he edits the literary magazine Prairie Schooner.

(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.

Dawes is also the cousin of celebrated Ghanaian poet and writer Kofi Awoonor, long-time friend of the IWP, who was among those killed in the attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. On Monday, October 14th at 11am CDT, Dawes will host a live-stream memorial reading of Awoonor’s poetry in front of a live audience on the University of Iowa campus (430 Clinton St). Listeners around the world are encouraged to follow along and to submit questions via Twitter @UIIWP #Awoonor.

While in Iowa City, Dawes will also receive the 2013 Paul Engle Prize from the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization. Established in 2011, the award honors an individual who, like IWP co-founder Paul Engle, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature who has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.

Some opportunities to catch Kwame in Iowa City:

 Kwame Dawes reading "The Weaver Bird" by Kofi Awoonor on the PBS NewsHour:

Dawes will also visit University of Iowa poetry and postcolonial studies classes and take part in a literary round-table and Q&A about literary journal publishing and literary festivals (Dawes co-founded the Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica) with students at the Magid Undergraduate Writing Center.

 The Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professorships Program was established in 1978-79 with the income from a bequest to the university by the late Ida Cordelia Beam of Vinton, Iowa.

Kwame Dawes Named 2013 Paul Engle Prize Winner

A guest post by John Kenyon, Executive Director, Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.

IOWA CITY - Kwame Dawes (IWP '86), Chancellor Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, has been named the second recipient of the Paul Engle Prize, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.

The prize, established in 2011, honors an individual who, like the late Paul Engle, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing, or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.

Dawes will receive the prize, which includes a special plaque and $10,000, during a special ceremony as part of the Iowa City Book Festival on Oct. 12. That day has been designated “Paul Engle Day” in Iowa The event will be at noon in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber, and is free and open to the public.

Dawes teaches post-colonial literature and theory, African-American literature, and Caribbean literature at Nebraska, and is a member of the creative writing program. He also serves as the Glenna Luschel Editor of Prairie Schooner an 85-year-old quarterly journal, and founding Series Editor of the African Poetry Book Fund and Series.

Dawes was born in Ghana, raised in exile in Jamaica and the United Kingdom, and first came to the United States as a participant in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP) in 1986.

In nominating Dawes for the Engle Prize, IWP Associate Director Hugh Ferrer wrote, “In the intervening years, (Dawes) has become arguably the leading creative force of Caribbean literature, helping in all aspects of his activities to create and promote the poetry and Poetics of the trans-Atlantic African diaspora. His generosity of spirit within the literary world was reflected in his winning of the 2012 Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers award; and his immense creative capacities were acknowledged last year by the Guggenheim Foundation.”

Dawes remembers meeting Engle and his wife, Hualing Nieh Engle, in 1986, as a participant in the International Writing Program.

“I felt welcomed, but above all, I felt challenged by the vision, ambition and generosity of Paul Engle,” he said. “It would have been impossible for me not to seal that memory in my mind for future reference. I have spent the rest of my time since then being a writer and being an advocate for writers and for writing.”

Anny D. Curtius, Associate Professor of Francophone Studies and Co-Director of the Caribbean, Diaspora and Atlantic Studies Program at the University of Iowa, served as a member of the selection panel. Of Dawes she said, “It is worth emphasizing that he indefatigably works for the betterment of communities, and being closely involved with the South Sumter Resource Center that help youth at risk, and spearheading a special Rites of Passage Program for minority youths, are significant examples of such a commitment.”

Dawes said he believes his task is to find ways to make the business of writing poems, novels, stories and essays and sharing them with world a right that all societies should have regardless of their history or circumstance.

"This is why this award means so much to me," he said. "It is in the name of a man who was clearly a maverick, and yet someone who understood community and who valued writers.”

The Paul Engle Prize is made possible through the generous support of the City of Coralville, which soon will be home to 11 permanent sculptures with artistic and literary ties to Iowa. The sculptures all have ties to work found in The Iowa Writers’ Library, housed in the Coralville Marriott, which features about 800 books written by former students, graduates and faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

The prize first was awarded in 2011, and James Alan McPherson – a longtime instructor at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Elbow Room – was the recipient.

Paul Engle (Oct. 12, 1908 - March 22, 1991), though best remembered as the long-time director of the Writers’ Workshop and co-founder of the UI’s International Writing Program, also was a well-regarded poet, playwright, essayist, editor and critic.

Dawes will be in Iowa City for five days as an Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor. Public events include a reading of his poetry and a live-streamed memorial reading in honor of his uncle, celebrated Ghanaian writer Kofi Awoonor, killed in the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya. More information about Dawes' visit available on IWP's website.

New Orleans versus San Francisco

(Click to Enlarge) Sampling food truck offerings in New Orleans: frog legs, alligator on a stick... (Photo: Patricia Portela)
(Click to Enlarge) Sampling food truck offerings in New Orleans: frog legs, alligator on a stick... (Photo: Patricia Portela)
Soon after arriving in Iowa City in late August, IWP fall residents were given the choice of visiting either New Orleans or San Francisco during the mid-residency travel period—then five weeks away. For many it was a tough decision.

“The Beat Generation,” said fiction writer Muhamed “Nebo” Abdelnabi of Egypt, when asked what ultimately persuaded him to choose San Francisco.

(Click to Enlarge) San Francisco Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America.
(Click to Enlarge) San Francisco Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America.
Novelist Ali Al Saeed of Bahrain also selected San Francisco: “On my way to the States, I began reading a novel that was set in San Francisco and the idea of comparing the real San Francisco to the San Francisco in fiction appeals to me.”

“The people who draw me to New Orleans: Professor Longhair, Dr. John, The Meters, Walker Percy, John Kennedy Toole. Not necessarily in that order,” said Israeli writer Erez Volk.

“A lot of the coverage [of New Orleans] internationally in recent years has been related to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. I'm interested to see with my own eyes and to talk to locals about their experiences then and now,” said Craig Cliff of New Zealand.

(Click to Enlarge) Poet, critic, and scholar Teemu Manninen at the podium in Prairie Lights Bookstore.
(Click to Enlarge) Poet, critic, and scholar Teemu Manninen at the podium in Prairie Lights Bookstore.
On Sunday afternoon, fourteen fall residents appeared at Prairie Lights Bookstore bearing backpacks and duffle bags, prepared to catch an evening flight to New Orleans, but not before hearing Teemu Manninen (Finland) and Muhamed “Nebo” Abdelnabi bring down the house at a well-attended afternoon reading, accompanied by Iowa Writers’ Workshop student Yaa Gyasi.

After the reading, another group of fall residents headed back to Iowa House to pack, squeeze in a few hours of writing, or run last minute errands before catching a red-eye flight to San Francisco.

(Click to Enlarge) Sridala Swami, Roland Rugero, and Patricia Portela speak to students at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
(Click to Enlarge) Sridala Swami, Roland Rugero, and Patricia Portela speak to students at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
So far in New Orleans, writers have been received at Faulkner House Books, explored the French Quarter, sampled the po’ boys and beignets, and spoken with students at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, a regional, pre-professional arts training center that offers intensive instruction in many disciplines, including creative writing, and whose alumni include legendary jazz musicians Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and actor and musician Harry Connick, Jr..

(Click to Enlarge) The line-up for the Press Street reading in New Orleans.
(Click to Enlarge) The line-up for the Press Street reading in New Orleans.
 “New Orleans feels like nowhere else I've been in the US. On many streets the mix of the colonial architecture and the climate and the constant presence of live music makes me feel like I'm back in Trinidad, Cuba,” says Tom Crosshill (Latvia).

Thursday, October 3rd at 7pm,  Dénes Krusovszky (Hungary), Dmitry Golynko (Russia), Sridala Swami (India), and Amanda Lee Koe (Singapore)) will give a reading for the public in New Orleans at Press Street  literary and visual arts collective (3718 St. Claude Ave.). The itinerary also includes a stop at Snug Harbor jazz club and a bayou tour of Barataria Swamps and Wetlands.

(Click to Enlarge) A moment of jumping joy for the writers in San Francisco.
(Click to Enlarge) A moment of jumping joy for the writers in San Francisco.
  In San Francisco, writers are exploring Chinatown, Golden Gate Park and literary landmarks such as City Lights Books.  Thursday, October 3, former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass will host Burmese poet Zeyar Lynn at the Lunch Poems poetry reading series on the University of California Berkeley campus (the event is free and open to the public).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Iowa City is gearing up to host the Iowa City Book Festival, with IWP writers set to participate in a number of panels and events upon their return.  Click here for the full Festival schedule. More information on upcoming events is available on the IWP calendar.

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.

Distance Learning Course Draws Record Number of Applicants

387 writers from 49 countries applied for the fall 2013 Advanced Fiction Seminar.
387 writers from 49 countries applied for the fall 2013 Advanced Fiction Seminar.
Fifteen writers have been selected to participate in IWP’s fall Advanced Fiction Seminar, a free seven-session online fiction-writing course offered through IWP Distance Learning. The course drew a record number of applicants; by the time the call for applications closed on September 6th, 387 writers had applied for the seminar, more than twice the number of applications Distance Learning received for previous online courses. Applicants hailed from 49 countries (the largest number in Distance Learning history) and every continent except Antarctica.

Applicants by Region (Click to Enlarge)
Applicants by Region (Click to Enlarge)
About half of the applications came from within the United States (213 applicants). After North America, Asia and Africa had the greatest number of applicants. Each writer who applied for the free seminar submitted a resume, a letter of intent, and a five-page writing sample. Applications were judged on the quality of the writing sample, but with so many applications coming from all over the world, fewer than 4% of those who applied were accepted, an acceptance rate comparable to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Applicants by Country (Click to Enlarge)
Applicants by Country (Click to Enlarge)
“In order to maintain a high quality of instruction and ensure that participants have the opportunity to engage with the instructor and with each other, we have to limit the course to fifteen students,” says Distance Learning Coordinator Susannah Shive.  “Unfortunately, that means turning away a number of talented writers. Distance Learning intends to offer more courses in the future. Later this fall, we’ll also be announcing a MOOC (a massively open online course) centered around the Whitman Web multimedia gallery and translation project.”

 

15 writers from Costa Rica, Egypt, England, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, UAE, US were selected.
15 writers from Costa Rica, Egypt, England, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, UAE, US were selected.
The fifteen writers selected to participate in this fall’s Advanced Fiction Seminar hail from Costa Rica, Egypt, England, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. Instructor Nate Brown will conduct the first session of the seminar this Saturday, using Blackboard Collaborate virtual classroom software to bring the participants face to face, across thousands of miles and more than ten time zones. This diverse, vibrant, and talented group of writers will surely learn and share much wisdom about writing, literature, and their respective corners of the world in the weeks to come.

Stay tuned to IWP’s Distance Learning webpage for more information about upcoming courses.

Vijay Nair - Rest in Peace

The IWP was deeply saddened by the recent passing of 2007 alumnus Vijay Nair. In this guest post, KR Usha (IWP '11, India) offers her remembrances.
 

Why don’t you speak to Vijay Nair, your fellow Bangalore writer, the people at the US Consulate in Chennai suggested after answering my many questions as patiently as they could. Here, they said, handing me a sheet of paper with his phone number and email. I was preparing to leave for the International Writing Program in Iowa City in August of 2011 and apart from practical tips, wanted some reassurance that I was doing the right thing in making this three-month diversion in a strange place, and among strangers. “It will be the experience of a lifetime,” I recall Vijay telling me, “it is up to you to take as much as you want from the program. You could use the time to shut yourself up in your room and write or get out and get a slice of American life … you will meet amazing writers and read their work, make fast friends and have wonderful conversations, and don’t worry, you’ll have enough money and enough warm clothes.” 

On my return from the program – after a happy three months – I met Vijay Nair for the first and only time at a dinner organised by a fellow writer to celebrate her newly published novel. In person Vijay turned out to be as warm, friendly, and candid as he had sounded on the phone. We swapped stories about the program, I met his editor wife Dipti with whom I had corresponded over email earlier. Later I learnt that we were on the same college group, Vijay having graduated a few years after me.  His classmates have left warm tributes to him on the Facebook page, mourning the loss of a friend whom they remembered from college as soft spoken and a gentleman, simultaneously serious and funny, and a budding poet whose talent was evident right then.

The literary fraternity in Bangalore was shocked and saddened to read in the papers that Vijay Nair had passed away suddenly of cardiac arrest on Friday, September 6th. A writer of many talents, Vijay was a playwright, a novelist, a writer of non-fiction, and a critic. He had his own theatre group, Still Waters, which staged plays and conducted workshops, and I recall he held several creative writing workshops at the British Library. His workshops with children and young adults particularly endeared him to his young charges. He had collaborated on the screenplay of an indie film, a telling portrait of Bangalore, the IT city.  Clearly, here was a writer just beginning to travel simultaneously  on several roads, one of the few blessed with talent and ability in many literary forms, of which we had seen the merest efflorescence.  RIP Vijay Nair.

Introducing Seeds of Culture: field notes from the IWP

A portrait of Community Engagement Fellow Portela by Afonso Cruz
A portrait of Community Engagement Fellow Portela by Afonso Cruz
  Ever wonder what the actual day-to-day existence of an International Writing Program (IWP) fall resident is like, living and writing in this Iowa City of Literature?

Well, now IWP Community Engagement Fellow Patrícia Portela  gives you a chance to find out on a new blog, Seeds of Culture: field notes from the International Writing Program. Launched last week, Seeds of Culture includes snapshots of residency life, from peaceful moments on the Shambaugh House swing to mechanical bull rides at the Tri-State rodeo to musings on words and their origins and the insights, reflections, and epiphanies (humorous and otherwise) gleaned from readings, conversations, and other Iowa encounters.

Visit Seeds of Culture at: http://seedsofculture.tumblr.com/
Visit Seeds of Culture at: http://seedsofculture.tumblr.com/
As the IWP's first Community Engagement Fellow, Portela, a playwright, multimedia artist, and fiction writer from Portugal (and the first Portuguese writer to participate in the fall residency in forty-five years), will be blogging not only about the residency but about connections with the larger Iowa community. In this role, Portela will also focus on encouraging interaction and collaboration between Iowa and IWP communities, a project that will extend an extra six weeks beyond the ten-week residency.

“A good medicine against (un)avoidable distances and (un)comfortable silences,” Portela comments in a recent post, responding to a reading given by fellow resident Whiti Hereaka of New Zealand. More good medicine at:  Seeds of Culture.

If men and women in Yemen could switch roles…

Yemeni writer and filmmaker Sawsan Al-Areeqe taking questions after the cinématheque screening.
Yemeni writer and filmmaker Sawsan Al-Areeqe taking questions after the cinématheque screening.
“Living in a closed society is problematic for men, but for women it’s a killer,” Sawsan Al-Areeqe  told the audience after Wednesday night’s screening of her two short films, Prohibited and Photo. The screening, held on the University of Iowa campus, was part of the International Writing Program’s Cinématheque film series, curated and presented by IWP fall residents. “Women in Yemen are just now beginning to get the rights to pursue education and work outside the home,” said Al-Areeqe, a poet and filmmaker, and the IWP’s first-ever resident from Yemen.

An audience of about fifty IWP writers, UI students, and Iowa City community members, including several Yemenis, assembled to watch the short films, which use humor to expose serious social and political issues such as censorship and gender discrimination in Yemeni society.

“It’s very theatrical. With no dialogue, the glimpse of flesh, of a hand, becomes at once suggestive and subversive—and also funny. The desire to control and suppress is very potent,” commented Irish poet and playwright Martin Dyar after viewing Photo, which portrays a Yemeni family in the process of posing for a family portrait. 

Lili Mendoza (Panama) reads to a packed audience of nearly 100 people at Prairie Lights Bookstore.
Lili Mendoza (Panama) reads to a packed audience of nearly 100 people at Prairie Lights Bookstore.
“The long nose of politics is always sniffing me out,” Al-Areeqe commented privately, after the screening. “But I’m not interested in being political. I’m interested in making people question.”

“I’m from Yemen and I’m happy for my eight-year-old daughter who has never been to Yemen, to learn,” said community member Hakeem Almabrazi, who attended the screening with his wife and daughter.

IWP writers take a moment to pose for a group photo during a mixer organized with Univ. of Iowa MFA students (croquet, anyone?)
IWP writers take a moment to pose for a group photo during a mixer organized with Univ. of Iowa MFA students (croquet, anyone?)
 “I agree with a lot of what you’ve said, but the women in my family were sent abroad to be educated; my sister is a lawyer. Why don’t you also show the other side of Yemen?” asked another Yemeni in the audience.

 “What you’re speaking about is the minority,” Al-Areeqe responded. “I want to show the majority. I want to show the negative cultural effects on men as well as women. I’d like it if men and women in Yemen could switch roles, so men could see what it is like to be a woman in Yemen,” she said, sparking a supportive round of applause from the audience.

Sridala Swami (India) shows off her harvest during a visit to Wilson's Apple Orchard.
Sridala Swami (India) shows off her harvest during a visit to Wilson's Apple Orchard.
The lively conversation served as a perfect transition to the feature film of the evening, the 2006 soccer/gender comedy Offside, from Iranian director Jaafar Panahi, selected by the Canadian/Egyptian novelist and playwright Karim Alrawi.  Alrawi rounded out the evening  by putting the film in the context of the surge and international success of Iranian cinema, taking up among other topics the paradoxical role of censorship in that success.   

The film screening was just one event in an action-packed week, which  included the first Sunday Prairie Lights reading, a visit to the beach at Lake MacBride, and a tractor tour of Wilson’s Apple Orchard, where the residents picked (and sampled) local apples.

Writers watched bronco-riding, barrel racing and other events from the stands at the Tri-State Rodeo.
Writers watched bronco-riding, barrel racing and other events from the stands at the Tri-State Rodeo.
Thursday night, twenty residents traveled to nearby Fort Madison, Iowa to attend the 66th Annual Tri-State Rodeo, complete with bull riding, barrel racing, and deep-friend Oreos.  “A bizarre, surreal, but ultimately entertaining, experience,” tweeted Bahraini writer Ali Al-Saeed from the stands.

As for the fried Oreos, an Iowa specialty: “First bite: heaven. Last bite: ugh!” joked Craig Cliff of New Zealand.

Deep fried Oreo cookies, an Iowa favorite.
Deep fried Oreo cookies, an Iowa favorite.
Public IWP events for the coming week include Wednesday, 7pm  IWP Cinematheque with a screening of the films Post Love and 12 Storeys (Singapore) presented by Amanda Lee Koe, who also co-directed the first film.  Then on Friday, September 13th at 5pm Kim Kyung Uk and Kim Seoryung (both of South Korea) give a reading at Shambaugh House (430 N. Clinton Street).  We’ll round out the week with a reading by Rodrigo Blanco Calderón (Venezuela) and Patrícia Portela (Portugal) at Prairie Lights Bookstore, this Sunday, September 15th at 4pm. Visit IWP’s website calendar for complete listings of upcoming residency events.

A Literary Oasis

Ugandan writer Oscar Ranzo (at right) with fellow IWP residents at the University of Iowa President's block party.
Ugandan writer Oscar Ranzo (at right) with fellow IWP residents at the University of Iowa President's block party.
Ugandan fiction writer Oscar Ranzo’s journey to Iowa lasted more than 36 hours, but he could still be found Sunday taking part in a walking tour of downtown Iowa City with other International Writing Program fall residents, visiting the farmer's market, calculating the dent IWP residents could put in the University library by each taking out the the maximum number of books allowed at one time (with a 100-book-per-writer borrowing limit, together the 34 residents could withdraw 3,400 books, or about .00006% of the more than 5.3 million total volumes held by the library, for all you math nerds), and attending the University of Iowa President Sally Mason’s block party.

Up bright and early Monday morning for a communal breakfast, IWP residents headed over to the Shambaugh House, headquarters of the International Writing Program on the University of Iowa campus, for orientation. After a greeting and welcome address by IWP director Christopher Merrill, the residents had a chance to formally introduce themselves to their peers.

Wang Jiaxin (China) at the podium in Shambaugh House with a portrait of IWP co-founder Paul Engle in the background.
Wang Jiaxin (China) at the podium in Shambaugh House with a portrait of IWP co-founder Paul Engle in the background.
“I was a dancer. I chase after words—I think in terms of movement and sound,” explained Panamanian poet, fiction writer, and translator Lili Mendoza. “Because of my choices in life, I live in the ghetto—I’m in the trenches—that experience is why I write.”

“When I met Paul Engle in China 30 years ago, I never would have dreamed one day I would be here,” said Chinese poet Wang Jiaxin, standing beneath a portrait of the IWP co-founder.

Some of the residents took a few moments to outline the landscapes of their creative preoccupations, offering  brief sketches of the literary scene in their countries and glimpses of the projects they hope to complete during the residency.

Playwright and fiction writer Karim Alrawi (Canada/UK/Egypt) introduces himself to Iowa City community members.
Playwright and fiction writer Karim Alrawi (Canada/UK/Egypt) introduces himself to Iowa City community members.
“I’m interested in that zone that exists in between two languages when translating,” said Japanese fiction writer and translator Yui Tanizaki.

“If you want to talk shipwrecks, I’m your mate” joked fiction writer and poet Craig Cliff of New Zealand, who plans to work on a collection of short stories during the residency.

“I feel like I got here by mistake,” confessed Erez Volk, who translates from English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish into Hebrew and English in addition to being a software engineer, linguist and chef. It’s easy to understand how one might feel a little awestruck in the company of so many talented writers, which is perhaps why the line got such a big laugh from the group.

Many of the residents also took a moment to reflect on what being in Iowa for the residency means for them and their writing.

 “Uganda is often called a ‘literary desert” Oscar Ranzo explained. “I’ve been writing for fifteen years, and I’ve never actually met another writer, until now.”

“In Hong Kong, a writer is a strange creature,” explained fiction writer and essayist Lee Chi-leung. It will be great to bring something back from here to Hong Kong  to make me feel stronger and exist as a writer.”

Irish poet and playwright Martin Dyar seemed to sum up the general feeling of the group: “I have this blank canvas sense of being in Iowa, of luxuriating in the space of Iowa, and the time, and the company.”

Later that evening, at the IWP fall residency opening party (see video), University of Iowa President Sally Mason welcomed the 2013 residents to the University community. After stepping up to the microphone to introduce themselves to the crowd of more than 250, the residents had a chance to mingle with members of the local community which will be their home for the next ten weeks.

IWP events for the next week include a reading by Dmitry Golynko (Russia) and Lili Mendoza (Panama) at Prairie Lights Bookstore, this Sunday, September 1st a 4pm. Then on Friday, September 6th at 5pm Whiti Hereaka (New Zealand) and Tom Crosshill (Latvia) kick off the 2013 Shambaugh House Reading Series (430 N. Clinton Street). Visit IWP’s website calendar for listings of more upcoming events.

The World Comes to Iowa

The 2013 cohort includes the 1st-ever fall residents from Bahrain, Burundi, and Yemen.
The 2013 cohort includes the 1st-ever fall residents from Bahrain, Burundi, and Yemen.
Later this week, 34 writers arrive in Iowa City to participate in the 47th annual International Writing Program (IWP) Fall Residency. The 2013 fall residents hail from 31 countries and territories and every continent except Antarctica. They include the program’s first-ever participants from three nations: poet and filmmaker Sawsan Al-Areeqe of Yemen, fiction writer Roland Rugero of Burundi, and poet, fiction writer, and performer Ali Al Saeed of Bahrain.

“It’s always eye-opening to host writers from countries that have been historically underrepresented,” says IWP fall residency coordinator Joe Tiefenthaler. “This is a chance to hear from regions we don’t read much about, which really adds to the around-the-the-world-in-10-weeks effect of the residency.” 

Portela will serve as the 1st-ever IWP Community Engagement Fellow.
Portela will serve as the 1st-ever IWP Community Engagement Fellow.
Also for the first time in 2013, the fall residency welcomes a Community Engagement Fellow, playwright and multimedia artist Patrícia Portela of Portugal, who will be blogging about the residency experience and reaching out to the Iowa community. Portela is also first Portuguese writer to participate in the fall residency since 1968.

The weekly schedule of free public events includes 4pm CST Sunday readings at landmark independent bookseller Prairie Lights, 5 PM CST Friday readings at the Shambaugh House, plus the Wednesday night Cinématheque, an international film screening and discussion series. Besides participating in the UNESCO Iowa City Book Festival (Oct 11-13th) and Global Express, a black-box theatre showcase of IWP playwrights’ work (Oct. 13th), writers will get a chance to explore Iowa with a trip to the rodeo, hayrides, and Hawkeye football, participate extensively in classes (including a University of Iowa translation workshop), and engage with community groups. Many of the public readings and events are live streamed for internet viewing. A calendar of upcoming events will be posted on the IWP website.

At 25, Singaporian fiction writer Amanda Lee Koe is the youngest participant.
At 25, Singaporian fiction writer Amanda Lee Koe is the youngest participant.
The average age of a 2013 fall resident is thirty-seven, about two and a half years younger than in 2012. At twenty-five, Singaporian fiction writer Amanda Lee Koe is the youngest participant this year.

Collectively, the works of 2013 residents have been translated into more than 22 languages; two books by participants have been published in the U.S.: Irish poet and playwright Martin Dyar’s Maiden Names  (Syracuse University Press) and Russian poet and critic Dmitry Golynko’s As It Turned Out  (Ugly Duckling Press). In addition to writing, the 2013 residents have worn a wide variety of other hats, from editor and journalist to human rights worker, teacher, actor, dancer, comic, pianist, physicist, blogger, film subtitler, software engineer, and pastry chef.

During their time in the United States, writers will also travel to New Orleans, San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York City and other cities around the U.S. to give readings, participate in festivals, and engage with readers and students of all ages.

Poet, fiction writer, and performer Ali Al Saeed is IWP's first fall resident from Bahrain.
Poet, fiction writer, and performer Ali Al Saeed is IWP's first fall resident from Bahrain.
  “The seeds of many lifelong literary friendships are planted during these ten weeks. Even when their countries don’t see eye to eye, writers always find ways to share stories and ideas,” says IWP director Christopher Merrill. “The creative and cultural exchange that takes place here in Iowa is a reminder that as writers they are also citizens of the world.”

The fall residency is organized by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. Department of State, with support from the Arts Council of Ireland, Arts Council Korea, Canada Council for the Arts, Creative New Zealand, Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, Hong Kong National Arts Council Singapore, the Japan Foundation, Korea Literature Translation Institute, Kuwait Ministry of Youth, the Max Kade Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation, Taiwan Ministry of Culture, UNESCO Dublin, United States-Israel Educational Foundation, and American embassies in Iraq, the Philippines, Cote D’Ivoire, and Uganda.

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