• 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....

  • 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...

  • 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...

  • 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....

  • 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...

  • 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...

  • 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...

  • 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...

  • 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...


Turkmenistan: building creative connections in one of the world’s least-visited countries

Writers spoke with students at International Turkmen Turkish University (here in traditional Turkmen dress, the school uniform).
Writers spoke with students at International Turkmen Turkish University (here in traditional Turkmen dress, the school uniform).
After leading writing workshops, meeting with students, educators, and leaders in the literary community, taking in the tile mosaics of the Registan and sampling the plov, it was time for International Writing Program (IWP) reading tour participants Ann Hood, Stephen Kuusisto, Chinelo Okparanta, and  Christopher Merrill  to bid farewell to Uzbekistan.
The ruins of ancient Merv, a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to the 3rd millennium BC.
The ruins of ancient Merv, a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to the 3rd millennium BC.
Last week, the writers continued their tour of Central Asia, traveling south to Turkmenistan to foster creative ties with a country that hosts only 7,000 tourists a year, making it one of the world’s least visited places (behind even Afghanistan and North Korea).    

Near the Turkmen city of Mary, the writers visited the ruins of ancient Merv, a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. Merv, once an oasis-city on the historic Silk Road, is now the site of an archeological dig.

Shards of pottery found at the dig site in ancient Merv.
Shards of pottery found at the dig site in ancient Merv.

“Watching the painstaking work of sifting through dirt for shards of colorful pottery, I remembered my parents' story of watching Pompeii getting excavated when they lived in Naples in the early 1950s” Hood blogged.

The writers also visited the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, considered a pearl of Islamic architecture, and met with librarians at the Mary library. Despite its sumptuous furnishing, the library, built in 2011, seemed to house few books other than Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s selected writings and no readers, at the time IWP visited.         

The Palace of Creativity in Ashgabat.
The Palace of Creativity in Ashgabat.
The arts in Turkmenistan are closely overseen by the government, the writers soon learned. (Press freedoms are severely curtailed in both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). Portraits of the president hang everywhere, prominently in the Palace of Creativity in Ashgabat, where writers met with editors of various magazines and newspapers.
IWP writers meeting with editors of various magazines and newspapers in Ashgabat.
IWP writers meeting with editors of various magazines and newspapers in Ashgabat.


 “That portrait gets rotated every few months throughout the entire country,” says IWP program officer Kelly Bedeian, who traveled with the group. “Considering that it is hung in just about every room we entered anywhere, switching them every few months is a big job!”  Cameras from a state-run news crew filmed portions of the group’s visit.

Novelist Ann Hood engages with students at International Turkmen Turkish University.
Novelist Ann Hood engages with students at International Turkmen Turkish University.
Still, the writers managed to engage students at International Turkmen Turkish University and Turkmen State University, discussing literature and the craft of writing. Poet and memoirist Kuusisto (who is blind) also blogged about the trip, particularly his experience meeting with the disabled community.

Poet and memoirist Stephen Kuusisto speaks to the Blind and Deaf Society.
Poet and memoirist Stephen Kuusisto speaks to the Blind and Deaf Society.
 “They wanted to know many things: do people with disabilities in the US have jobs? How do they go to college? […] Someone asked me why the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities […] How do you tell people who are still suffering for freedom that there are senators in the USA who […] refuse to endorse freedom and dignity for people with disabilities to make a crude point--namely that no one tells America what to do?”  Kuusisto asked.

Chris Merrill teaching at Turkmen State University.
Chris Merrill teaching at Turkmen State University.
 “This is exactly the kind of meaningful discussion and exchange reading tours make possible,” says IWP director Chris Merrill. “By allowing American writers to share their work and discover the culture and literature of these countries, we provide space for interaction and collaboration.” IWP has hosted more than 1,400 writers from 140 countries in its annual fall residency program, but no writer from Turkmenistan has ever participated. With the new creative contacts made during the tour, the hope is that this may soon change. “IWP would love to host a Turkmen writer in the future,” Merrill says.

A portrait of Turkmen President Gurbanguly M. Berdimuhamedov at the entrance to the children's amusement park.
A portrait of Turkmen President Gurbanguly M. Berdimuhamedov at the entrance to the children's amusement park.
 “What an interesting country Turkmenistan is!” Hood wrote in her final blog entry about the trip. “Snapdragons and roses blooming in kaleidescopic proportions. Fountains everywhere, often changing colors Las Vegas style at night. We met poets, students, librarians, teachers, and had special sessions with people with disabilities. All fascinating encounters.”

IWP reading tours, organized each spring in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, are designed to introduce American writers to a country or region with a relatively sparse history of literary liaisons with the United States and strengthen ties between creative communities. Visit IWP on Facebook for more photos of the tour and updates on other IWP programming.

Off the beaten path: IWP reading tour sparks new literary connections with Uzbekistan

From left to right: Chris Merrill, Chinelo Okparanta, Stephen Kuusisto, and Ann Hood in Samarkand
From left to right: Chris Merrill, Chinelo Okparanta, Stephen Kuusisto, and Ann Hood in Samarkand

May 17-26, 2013, four American authors—bestselling novelist Ann Hood, acclaimed memoirist and poet Stephen Kuusisto, Nigerian-American fiction writer Chinelo Okparanta (recently short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing), and poet and non-fiction writer Christopher Merrill—are traveling in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as part of an International Writing Program (IWP) reading tour. The tour, organized by the IWP in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, is designed to foster greater understanding and stronger creative ties—including opportunities for artistic collaboration—between the U.S. and the Central Asian nations.

The group with writing workshop students on the steps of the school in Angren
The group with writing workshop students on the steps of the school in Angren

Despite air travel to some locations in the region being limited to one flight per week, the writers are venturing outside the capitals of Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Ashgabat (Turkmenistan), giving public readings, leading writing workshops, meeting with literary organizations, and visiting cultural sites. Two of the writers—Ann Hood and Stephen Kuusisto—are also chronicling the tour in real time on their personal blogs.


A tile ceiling at the Registan
A tile ceiling at the Registan

“It was quite hot, but worth every minute in the blazing sun to gaze at the domes sparkling in the sunlight and to learn about the culture here,” Hood writes, after visiting Sharh-i-Zindar, Gur Emir, the Registan (at the heart of the ancient city of Samarkand), and Bibi-Khanym Mausoleum in Uzbekistan, where the tour began.

“The aim of these reading tours is two-fold,” says writer Christopher Merrill, who also directs the IWP. “We want American writers to discover the culture and literature of these countries, and to encourage interaction and collaboration.”

Students in Angren get writing advice from novelist Ann Hood
Students in Angren get writing advice from novelist Ann Hood

 The group’s third day in Uzbekistan included an hour and half journey down bumpy roads to teach writing workshops to students in the town of Angren. Okparanta led students in an exercise on character development while Kuusisto collaborated with students to write poems. Many of those participating in the workshops were students at Angren State Pedagogical University.

Students in Angren perform a traditional Uzbek dance
Students in Angren perform a traditional Uzbek dance

“The students were enthusiastic, and eager to try their new English skills," Hood writes. "At the end of our afternoon with them, they performed traditional Uzbek dances and songs. All marvelous and touching."

IWP reading tours, which take place every year in the spring, are designed to introduce American writers to a country or region with a relatively sparse history of literary liaisons with the United States.

Meeting with members of the Uzbekistan Writers Union
Meeting with members of the Uzbekistan Writers Union

Since arriving in Uzbekistan, the group has also met with the Uzbekistan Writers Union and with faculty and students at Samarkand Foreign Language Institute. Today, Kuusisto (who is blind) spoke to a group of people with disabilities at an event sponsored by the U.S. Embassy. “I've been thinking about of the global dynamics of disability” Kuusisto writes on his blog. “In many parts of the world blindness is still imagined to be caused by spiritual forces or worse, is thought to be a product of sorcery. As time goes by and my travels accrue I see the solution—the response—has to do with lingo. You can't be put in a closet if you are singing.”

IWP alum Aazam Abidov, IWP program officer Kelly Bedeian, IWP alum Alina Dadaeva & Chris Merrill
IWP alum Aazam Abidov, IWP program officer Kelly Bedeian, IWP alum Alina Dadaeva & Chris Merrill

 Although geographically remote, Uzbekistan, one of two “doubly landlocked” countries in the world (a landlocked country surrounded entirely by other landlocked countries—the other is Liechtenstein) has sent four writers to the IWP’s fall residency program since 2004. The most recent is poet, translator, and journalist Alina Dadaeva who spent ten weeks in the United States as an IWP resident in 2012, who, along with and ’04 resident Aazam Abidov, recently caught up with the group.

Plov, the national dish of Uzbekistan (the round meat at right is horse)
Plov, the national dish of Uzbekistan (the round meat at right is horse)

Amid a busy schedule of readings, workshops, meetings, and visits to cultural sites, the writers still found time to sample the national dish of Uzbekistan—plov. “The plov is rice, carrots, peppers, raisins, chickpeas, lamb, and...yes, folks, horse,” Hood writes. Later this week, the group travels to Turkmenistan—one of the least-visited countries in the world—for the second leg of the tour.

Check back here for updates on the group’s travels and visit IWP on Facebook for more photos of the tour.

Cultural Diplomacy, Poetry, and Love

A guest post by Bina Shah.
The author at the tomb of Yunus Emre
The author at the tomb of Yunus Emre

Come, come, whoever you are.
Worshipper, wanderer, lover of leaving, it doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.
- Rumi

One of the best parts of being a writer is that I sometimes get to travel for work. It's not the kind of travel of businesspeople and bankers, or politicians or doctors, but the kind of travel that writers do: in caravans of joy, to visit faraway places, to be inspired by that travel and the discussions, conversations, and friendships that take place in that space and time.

Poets and writers in Konya for The Same Gate
Poets and writers in Konya for The Same Gate

Last week, I traveled to Konya in Turkey, as a participant in The Same Gate - a creative exchange of 18 poets and writers celebrating the life and work of the Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi. This six-day conference was envisioned and executed by the University of Iowa's International Writing Program, the international residency I had participated in back in 2011. But Christopher Merrill, IWP's director, also takes groups of American and international writers all over the world, and so our band of writers from Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, America, and Pakistan met to undertake a poetic, spiritual, and intellectual journey. This too is the best kind of cultural diplomacy, and I feel extremely committed to this path, having seen how effective it can be in bringing diverse groups of people together under a common artistic banner.

Entering Rumi's tomb
Entering Rumi's tomb

I flew into Istanbul and met some of the group at the airport, and we flew to Konya late in the evening. From then it was five days nonstop of sightseeing, travel, discussion, and socializing. We visited the tomb of Jalaluddin Rumi and Shams Tabriz in Konya; the tomb and mosque of the Turkish Sufi poet Yunus Emre and the tomb where Rumi's mother is buried in Karaman, 70 miles away. We visited a Greek village called Silla (the Greeks settled this part of Turkey, Anatolia, in ancient times); Armenian churches, Greek orthodox churches and temples -- we even saw a popular Turkish soap opera being filmed in one of the villages -- and gathered together in the afternoons to talk about Rumi, Rumi, Rumi…

I am no expert on Rumi. I've long avoided delving into his work, perhaps wary of the extreme sentimentality and commercialism that 20th century charlatans have introduced into his legacy. But I was forced to think long and deep about who Rumi is to me: the best metaphor I could find to understand him is that Rumi is a mirror: we look into his work to see ourselves.

Sema ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes
Sema ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes

The exchange was also meant to foster closer relations between Iranian and American poets, and our Iranian colleagues from Tehran had spent their academic lives studying Rumi. They dominated the conversations with their expertise, but at times on the bus or at dinner they would break into recitations of his poetry in beautiful Persian, and the other Iranians from America and Mexico City and the Afghans would join in, reciting together in Persian and Dari while the rest of us looked on, amazed. One afternoon I gave a talk on the role of women in Rumi's life and work; and then we translated together the famous lines of Rumi that begin:

Morden bodam, zindeh shodam
Geryeh bodam, khaneh shodam

(I was dead, then I came to life/ I was sorrow, then I became joy)

There was much laughter, some wine, lots of prayers, and so much poetry. I who am no poet, but a prose writer, sat enthralled while listening to my colleagues talk about rhyme, rhythm, meter, the merit of some words over others. I learned that poetry, which has sometimes eluded me, is nothing less than a mystical code that you could spend your whole life learning to write, or learning to decipher. And I wrote these lines while I was on the road with them, listening to their talk:

Poets to me are holy people

Their faces glow, their heads are expansive and enlarged
They have auras and halos around them
Like the angels in the paintings of Michelangelo

Cappadocia landscape
Cappadocia landscape

Then we traveled by bus three hours east, to Nevesehir Province, to visit Cappadocia, the Land of Beautiful Horses. This land was shaped by volcanos that spewed lava and ash which then formed the most unusual geographical formations I've ever seen: giant conical caves, mushroom-shaped spires called "fairy chimneys", and miles and miles of valleys with more conical dunes. The people of the area found that the structures could be easily shaped, because they were soft, and so they etched out dwellings, churches, temples, and monasteries - and people were living in caves up until the 1950s in this region.

I stayed in a cave hotel, Serinn House, which had been carved out of cave rock. We visited Derinkuyu City, an eight-story underground city where early Christians hid from Roman armies in 35 meters of labyrinthian rooms and tunnels set with booby traps. We went to the Gorime Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which was a huge religious complex with a monastery, nunnery, and churches with colorful and mystical religious frescoes etched into the walls. And we took a walk in a "Fairy Chimney Forest", where I sat and had Turkish tea and a friendly Turkish man told me he recognized the Pakistani clothing my Afghan colleague was wearing.

On our last day, as we drove to the airport in the early morning, we saw hundreds of hot air balloons up in the sky, exploring the lunar landscape, like alien life forms. Nothing could better encapsulate the experience of being in Cappadocia, or indeed on that entire trip, than the joy of uplift and elevation and being able to defy gravity underneath the bright hues of a globe-shaped multiverse. As a Muslim, worshipping at the shrines of the enlightened beings, I received affirmation and confirmation of my beliefs, and understood the connection across borders, generations, and centuries of those of us on the Path. As a writer, I made friendships with fantastic poets and scholars, learned at their feet, danced and sang with them in bliss and celebration. As a human, I saw places I never thought I'd be able to go.

May we all be blessed in such ways of seeking!

"On Going Home"—Pandora, IWP ’12, Burma/Myanmar

On Going Home is the name we've given to a short series of essays by our fall residents. We commissioned the pieces because we wanted to keep in touch and were curious about what the process of returning home was like for authors who'd spent nearly 3 months in the U.S. writing, researching, traveling, and interacting with Americans. We also asked the authors to send us a photograph that represented "home" in some fundamental way. Our second installment comes from poet and blogger Pandora, whose transition home coincided with a larger transition currently budding in Burma/Myanmar.

It is no longer the delightful rays of light through the window that start my day. It is the vibration of the water pump that serves as my wake-up alarm. When I open my eyes, the walls, the ceiling, the curtains, the wardrobe, the washing machine at the corner of the room and most evidently, a mosquito net covering me and my hubby sleeping next to me…. all these confirm that I am home. 

I spent almost three months in Iowa City and other cities in America. What is specific about Iowa City, to me, is “tranquility” though the same might not necessarily be true in all parts of America. Most days I encountered in the fall season were cool enough to create a fresh atmosphere and warm enough to keep an Asian visitor like me comfortable. Most Iowans use their own legs to get around town yet they don’t look tired. They seem relaxed yet active. They don’t have to be in a hurry yet still are on time.  I lost a few kilos walking around town during my residency. The changing colors of beautiful leaves enchanted me, being a person who has never experienced a four-season country. New Orleans’ crazy nights raised my spirits. Art museums were my favorite places to visit in Chicago, Washington DC, and New York.

Back in Yangon, I miss the opportunity to walk naturally from place to place.  I find myself in a vehicle most of the time but I usually have to be in a rush. The increasing import of cars is making driving inconvenient, even for those who own cars, not to mention those who take public transport.  Going downtown during the daytime is a sweaty journey in heavy traffic.  I miss the breeze blowing across the bridge over the Iowa River. Nevertheless, what is a relief to me is the momentum of the “transition” in my country.  Finally we’re starting to see a faint light at the other end of the tunnel.

I arrived back home from the States in mid-November last year, which is considered the cold season in my country. Hence, after witnessing the prettiest fall in the States, excepting Sandy hurricane, I was back home to enjoy the best season in my country. For most IWP writers, the day after they landed might have been hectic, with piles of tasks on their desks. I am fortunate enough to still be on a long leave from my job in Singapore (since late 2011) in order to enjoy the sense of home and plan for my family. Fortunately again, the timing also coincides with significant changes in my country, the so-called transition period.

Transition brings us a more open outlook of the world toward a closed country. We are receiving global attention to literature and culture along with political changes. After the gradual easing of censorship to some extent, literary and artistic events can be held without needing to pass through a strict process, unlike in previous times. Among them are the Blue Wind Multimedia International Art Festival, the Irrawaddy International Literary Festival, and several other art exhibitions and literary events.  

The voice of the people is also heard louder in the transition although whether that voice can carry the expected changes is another story. Such a voice is also reflected in literary and artistic work. Messages are clearer and styles are more direct as compared to the past, when we had to be very cautious about each and every word we expressed.  Applause for such writings is also heard from the audience. Some poets express their excitement at the shifting trends in poetics and at witnessing the new challenges of writing in the process of openness.   

I remember the students I met in Iowa City, Des Moines, Spirit Lake and News Orleans. I was so envious that regardless of their ages, from primary school to seniors in college, they had opportunities to learn about contemporary international literature and hear updates from international writers. Such opportunities might not come quickly to Myanmar, but I was so glad when an IWP team visited universities in Yangon and gave lectures this year [poets Christopher Merrill, Robert Hass, and Brenda Hillman, and fiction writer Zuwena Packer visited Burma/Myanmar on an IWP reading tour January 11 - 17, 2013]. I hope that this will pave the way for future long term collaborations in creative writing between universities in the States and Myanmar.

Transition is not a perfect process. Despite some improvements, we are still hearing the ugly roar of civil war in the north and the noise of ethnic conflicts in the western part of the country. Farmers are still struggling for their land rights against big industrial projects. Factory workers are fighting for a better quality of work-life. We hope that democracy, still in its infancy, is not overwhelmed by the feeble educational system and the fundamental inequalities that have existed since the time of the tough ruling regime. Don’t these poor, long-suffering people deserve a pleasant future ahead?

Now, many streets all over the country are decorated with yellowish Ngu and reddish Sein Pan: the local seasonal flowers. People are waiting for Padauk, the national flower, which is supposed to blossom only once in a year right at the time of the Water Festival. The Water Festival is also called “Thingyan”, which comes from a Pali word meaning “transition”. During the “transition”, people wish for bad deeds to be cleansed by cool water and replaced with a genuinely clean body and mind in order to welcome a better New Year. Despite some still unclean dirt, I believe that the brighter and cleaner days are on their way, seen or unseen.

Maybe it’s also the time when the IWP is preparing for the upcoming fall residency. Perhaps the sweet memories of IWP’s fall 2012 residents will be replaced with those of the new batch soon. But I believe that my little footprints will remain indelible in Iowa City, whether visible or invisible.

For more from Pandora, watch her On the Map interview.

THE SAME GATE: Poets gather in Turkey for creative exchange celebrating Rumi

“Inside the Great Mystery that is, 
we don’t really own anything.
What is this competition we feel then,
before we go, one at a time, through the same gate?”
─Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

Last Friday, 17 poets and writers from the U.S., Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran arrived in Konya, in central Turkey, to participate in The Same Gate, a six-day conference centered around the life and work of celebrated poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi. Beirut-based documentary filmmaker Nigol Bezjian is recording the encounter, organized by the International Writing Program (IWP), which includes discussions, collaborative writing sessions, and visits to museums, shrines, and cultural sites. The conference culminates in a collaborative book of ghazals (a poetic form employed by Rumi), prose reflections, and translations composed by participants as a homage to the value and importance of international creative exchange.  


The Same Gate is organized around 13th century poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a central poet in Afghan, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish literature and also the bestselling poet in America. “All countries claim Rumi,” says IWP director Christopher Merrill, who is travelling with the group; “his life and poetry provide fertile ground for collaboration and exchange.” While in Turkey, participants are meeting with Esin Celebi Bayru, Rumi's great granddaughter (21 generations removed), visiting the Rumi Shrine and the shrine of his mentor, Shams e Tabris in Konya, traveling to the southern town of Karaman, exploring a village where Rumi once lived with his family, and visiting the tomb of Rumi’s mother, among other activities.


The product of more than two years of planning, The Same Gate is also designed to foster greater understanding between Iranian and American poets (MacArthur and Guggenheim fellow Richard Kenney and National Book Award winner Marilyn Hacker are among the U.S. participants), building upon the memorandum of understanding signed by the presidents of the University of Iowa and the University of Tehran to increase collaboration between the two institutions. With Rumi’s poetry as common ground, the project bring poets together to think and talk about poetry and to produce innovative new collaborative work, nearly 800 years after Rumi composed the ghazal that gave The Same Gate its name.

Web Gallery Adds 3 New Languages to Global Conversation on Whitman

This week, the International Writing Program (IWP) adds Arabic, Polish, and the first-ever Malay translation of Walt Whitman’s famous poem “Song of Myself” to the 9-language WhitmanWeb multimedia gallery. The gallery, which presents one section of the 52-section poem each week, along with an audio recording, foreword, afterword, and discussion question, already includes Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian, as well as the first-ever translation into Persian.

“I am large, I contain multitudes,” Whitman wrote; by adding Arabic, Polish, and Malay (bringing the total language count to 12), WhitmanWeb encourages a multitude of new readers to discover the poem and join the conversation. The gallery, currently in its 26th week, will publish the three new translations beginning from section 1 of the poem, with the 52 weekly installments to run from now through May 2014.


WhitmanWeb combines the scholarly resources and expertise of the Walt Whitman Archive with IWP’s international network of poets and translators. University of Iowa professor Ed Folsom, one of the world’s premier Whitman scholars and co-director of the Archive, collaborates with WhitmanWeb translators working to produce first-ever translations (like the Persian). Folsom also writes the weekly forewords to each new section of the poem, replete with analysis, commentary, and even trivia. There’s a cliff in Canada called “Old Walt” where the final three lines of section 20 of “Song of Myself” are carved in stone in three-foot-high letters—who knew?


The Arabic page of WhitmanWeb actually includes two translations: a 1976 version by Iraqi poet Saadi Yusef tracked down by IWP alumnus Soheil Najm (who offers his opinion on it, including some of Yusef’s questionable changes and omissions in a short essay in the “Resources” section of WhitmanWeb) and a 2005 translation by Abed Ismael, a professor of Modern American Poetry at the University of Damascus, in Syria. The IWP is digitizing the Yusef translation for the first time—no easy task, since the Arabic text has to be transcribed before it can be uploaded to the gallery. Presenting the two Arabic versions side-by-side allows Arabic-speaking readers and scholars to compare and contrast the decisions made by the translators, as Nadia Fayidh, a professor of English and American poetry at the University of Mustaserya in Baghdad (Iraq) does in her short essay in the WhitmanWeb “Resources” section.  Prof. Fayidh also translates the weekly comments into Arabic (made possible by funding from the Cultural Affairs Office at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad), and is the voice of the audio recordings of the Yussef translation.


IWP alumnus Eddin Khoo is translating a new section of the poem into Malay each week, the first time anyone has attempted to make “Song on Myself” available to Malay readers. (Malay is spoken by more than 200 million people in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, and Borneo).


While visiting the University of Iowa from Poland, Dr. Marta Skwara, an Americanist at the University of Sczecin, mentioned a Polish translation of “Song of Myself” to WhitmanWeb collaborator Ed Folsom. When she returned home, she tracked it down and has worked to digitize it, retyping all 52 sections so that they can be uploaded to the gallery, proving that, for scholars and admirers of Whitman, WhitmanWeb is a labor of love.

“Translators have been approaching us since we launched WhitmanWeb last October,” says IWP editor Nataša Ďurovičová, who oversees the design and coordination of the gallery. “They let us know about other existing translations of the poem and propose new projects.”

IWP hopes to also translate the forewords, afterwards, and discussion questions for each section, but, with limited funding, only the Persian, Russian, and Arabic tabs include translations of these rich  materials. “We would love to have these commentaries in the other languages as well,” says Ďurovičová. “Especially Chinese. That’s the language in which the conceptual distance is the greatest, so having these resources translated could really help the conversation.”

Individuals interested in contributing to the project should contact Nataša Ďurovičová, natasa-durovicova[at]uiowa.edu.

WhitmanWeb will also serve as the virtual “textbook” for the IWP’s inaugural free online lecture series, which will invite anyone with an internet connection to engage in discussion led by Whitman scholar Ed Folsom and IWP Director Christopher Merrill.  “Like” WhitmanWeb on Facebook to stay up to date on this and other news.

Poetry Masterclass with Nick Twemlow

Once you’ve written the first draft of a poem, what happens next? Find out by applying for the International Writing Program (IWP)’s upcoming Poetry Masterclass, one of two free 7-week virtual poetry seminars to be taught online through IWP Distance Learning this summer.

Poet and filmmaker Nick Twemlow will lead the class, which will explore radical revision from Walt Whitman’s obsessive reconsiderations of Leaves of Grass to Elizabeth Bishop’s drafts of “One Art” as well as alternative editing strategies culled from the likes of Frank O’Hara, Robert Hass, Lyn Hejinian, and Srikanth Reddy.

“Each drafting of a piece is an opportunity to rethink its destination,” says Twemlow, an Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate whose poetry collection Palm Trees received the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. Poets participating in the masterclass will forego mere tinkering and push their poems into new territory. “We will embrace all kinds of revision exercises,” says Twemlow, who in addition to his work as an editor for The Iowa Review and Canarium Books, is also an accomplished filmmaker. The revision techniques explored will include everything from the investigation of outtakes and omissions to formal challenges, sonic dares, and other uppings of the poetic ante.

The masterclass is designed for poets with a significant publication history from nationally recognized small presses or magazines, and/or who have published at least one collection of poems. The course is taught entirely online, so anyone with a reliable internet connection is encouraged to apply. Fifteen writers will be selected to participate from the U.S. and abroad. So far, the IWP has received applications from these countries:


More information about the course and instructions for submitting your application are available here. Application materials, including a resume, statement of purpose, and a writing sample (5 pages of poems maximum) should be submitted via email to iwpapplications@gmail.com by May 8, 2012

Please follow IWP on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date on other Distance Learning opportunities.

On the Map: Interviews with 2012 Fall Residents

“Writers in Burma have to find a way to penetrate censorship; we have to be more innovative in terms of techniques, style, technology…more creative” –Pandora (Burma/Myanmar)

This month, the International Writing Program (IWP) released the 2012 edition of "On the Map," a series of video interviews recorded with international writers in Iowa City last fall to participate in the IWP's 2012 fall residency. The series, made possible by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, includes interviews with 14 writers discussing everything from their favorite books to the state of current affairs in their home countries. The interviews, ranging from 5 to 30 minutes in length, offer a frank and intimate glimpse into the creative lives of these authors as well as a valuable portal into the countries they hail from and what it means to be a writer there.

                Certain universalities emerge from the interviews, among them, the personal satisfaction the writers derive from their writing. “Being a writer, it gives many gifts,” says Genevieve Asenjo (Philippines).

                “I’m a civil engineer, but writing gives me things that engineering couldn’t,” observes Taleb Alrefai (Kuwait). “It lets me be very close to people, lets me enter their houses, enter their hearts.”

                 “[Writing is] a passport,” echoes Rodrigo Garcia Lopes (Brazil), “[offering access to] new experiences and new insights into human life.”

                But in talking about writing, stark differences in political realities also surface. When asked about the happiest moment in the writing process: Alina Dadaeva (Uzbekistan) muses: “the beginning, when you try to go through the fog using only your senses.”

                “When I write the last sentence of my novel” quips Yaghoub Yadali (Iran), in answer to the same question, “and the pain of writing ends.” He pauses for a moment: “Another happy moment is when I hear that my novel has been approved for publication by the government,” he adds.

                Yadali is not the only writer to have faced more than a bad review.  Nay Phone Latt (Burma/Myanmar) spent 4 years in jail for his activities as a blogger; he read 20-30 books a month and wrote a collection of short stories while in prison. “No matter where you are, what you are doing there is more important,” Latt says.

                Many of the authors broach the question of censorship in their interviews. Government intrusion “restrains the creative spirit of writers” sums up Alisa Ganieva (Russia), whose native Dagestan has been mired by political and religious tensions.

                Still, the need to write subsists. "When I read something beautiful in Russian, English, Arabic, or Kurdish, I want people to know," says Gulala Nouri (Iraq), who, like many if the writers profiled in On the Map, is also a translator.  “Being a writer or a poet is a destiny,” says Luis Bravo (Uruguay) fondly. “I don't think it's a job."

Watch the full interview with Iranian writer and filmmaker Yaghoub Yadali below.

 For more videos in the On the Map series, including interviews with Khaled Alberry (Egypt), TJ Dema (Botswana), Bilal Tanweer (Pakistan), and Mohib Zegham (Afghanistan) visit IWP’s Shambaugh House YouTube channel.

Coming This Summer: Advanced Poetry Seminar

“The purpose of poetry is to remind us / how difficult it is to remain just one person, / for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors, / and invisible guests come in and out at will.” – Czeslaw Milosz, “Ars Poetica”

From now until May 8, the International Writing Program (University of Iowa) is accepting applications for an Advanced Poetry Seminar, one of two virtual poetry seminars to be taught online through IWP Distance Learning this summer. Fifteen poets will be selected to participate in the Advanced Poetry Seminar, which will “meet” once a week for 7 weeks, from May 20 to July 1, 2013. The course, taught online, is free.

“The seminar is a wonderful opportunity for poets,” says Distance Learning Coordinator Rebecca Boyle. “Not only will participants receive feedback from an accomplished young poet [instructor Micah Bateman]…they’ll also have a chance to interact with other participants from rich and diverse literary traditions from around the world.”

The seminar will focus on modern and contemporary poetry, including works by Inger Christensen, Jorie Graham, Tomas Tranströmer, Simon Armitage, Wisława Szymborska, James Dickey, and Lucille Clifton, but will also feature more classical works by authors such as Sappho, Rumi, Bashō, Dickinson, and others. Participants will complete weekly writing prompts and receive written feedback to mark their progress.

Instructor Micah Bateman is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Poetry Society of America’s Lyric Poetry Award. His work appears in the Boston Review, Cutbank, Denver Quarterly, New York Quarterly, and Verse, among other publications. He has taught poetry and literature at the University of Iowa, where he was the Postgraduate Provost’s Fellow in Poetry. He is also the editor of PetriPress.org, an online poetry journal.

More information about the course and instructions for submitting your application are available here. The deadline is May 8, 2013.

Follow IWP on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date on other Distance Learning opportunities. 

By Popular Demand: 2 New Virtual Poetry Seminars (free)

When Distance Learning at the International Writing Program (University of Iowa) announced its first Virtual Poetry Seminar this winter, the interest from poets around the world was overwhelming. We received over 150 applications from 28 countries:

Ultimately, 15 poets representing 8 countries were selected to take part. With so many talented poets interested in participating, IWP has designed 2 new Virtual Poetry Seminars. *Poets from Africa and South America are particularly encouraged to apply.

What kind of seminars are they?

The free 7-week Virtual Poetry Seminars include an Advanced Poetry Seminar taught by poet Micah Bateman, and a Poetry Masterclass taught by poet Nick Twemlow. The instructors will lead weekly online sessions and offer students regular feedback on their writing. 15 poets will be selected to participate in each course. [Work will not be graded, and is not eligible for University of Iowa credit.]

Which seminar should I apply for?

The Advanced Poetry Seminar is designed for advanced writers with an active commitment to reading poetry and refining their craft, although no previous experience is required. Unpublished poets and applicants with a limited publication history are welcome to apply. The Poetry Masterclass is for writers with a publication history in nationally recognized small presses or magazines. The Masterclass is ideal for poets with at least one published collection.

What kind of technology do I need?

Since both courses are offered entirely online, anyone with a reliable internet connection is encouraged to apply, regardless of where you live. A headset may be helpful when participating in online discussions, but is not required.

When can I start?

The courses will meet once a week from May 20th through July 1st, 2013 at a time to be mutually agreed upon by participants, who will span many time zones.

How do I apply?

Submit a resume, a statement of purpose, and a writing sample (in English, no more than 5 pages of poems) to iwpapplications@gmail.com. The deadline for submitting an application is May 8, 2013. Questions? Email them to iwpapplications@gmail.com. For more information about IWP Distance Learning, see our December 2012 blog interview with distance learning coordinator Rebecca Boyle.


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