• 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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"After America": On Going Home - Genevieve L. Asenjo, IWP 2012, Philippines

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a short series of essays commissioned from writers who participated in the 2012 fall residency. We began the series, “On Going Home,” last year as a way to keep in touch and get a glimpse of what the process of returning home was like for authors who'd spent nearly three months in the U.S. writing, researching, travelling, and interacting with Americans. We asked the authors to include a photograph that represented "home" in some fundamental way. This year’s first installment comes from Genevieve L. Asenjo, a fiction writer, poet, and translator who lives in Manila, in the Philippines; the photograph is the view from the terrace of the author's condo.

           America was an introduction to vastness. I returned to my one-bedroom condominium unit in Manila last November feeling suffocated. I wondered how to best fit and display those shipped boxes of books from Prairie Lights, The Haunted Bookshop, Faulkner, The Strand on my already cramped shelves.

           Space! This is one thing that awed me about America. Its big open skies and long stretch of land brought me not to seas and beaches comparable to the Philippines but to equally amazing bodies of water: Lake MacBride, The Mississippi River, Barataria Swamps and Wetlands. The 4-hour ride from Iowa City to Chicago was considered near; I relished the 9-hour road trip to Michigan State University the last week of October with two Filipino-American graduate students for a Philippine Studies Conference. And oh, how I wanted to dance either in my long skirt or peasant dress in the middle of cornfields and prairies in that autumn breeze and burst of colors!  The closest thing I got, of course, was a portrait by Tom Langdon shot inside the Iowa House Hotel on an October afternoon.

            By then, the autumn chill made me fret for home, or somewhere Southwest. I consoled myself that I still needed to see my ‘first real snow.’ A fellow writer with a good view of the Iowa River promised to summon me on the first instance of flurry. No luck, even to the moment the airport-bound limousine collected us from the Broadway-street hotel of our post-Sandy New York trip. Could the regret and relief in my sighs be assuaged by the Kronos Quartet that astonished us all at The Englert Theatre when news of a snowstorm all over the Midwest reached me last December by smartphone in the sunny comfort of my parents’ farm? The farm is on an island in the heart of the archipelago, an hour by plane from Manila and 2-hour land ride boasting an Instagram-worthy seascape. I thought of Scarlet O’Hara’s Tara and Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead. I stayed there throughout Christmas with a heightened valuation of things rural and agricultural as they have become synonymous to slow, organic, well-being. There’s nothing romantic about Philippine poverty; I deeply appreciated the farm trips to Erem Acreage and Solstead. It affirmed for me the possibility of a writing life nourished by my own share of land in a community capable of growing its own produce. And you bet, it become closer and nearer to any point I could find myself using Google maps.  

            But coming home was really about hard-boiled eggs for breakfast and all-time favorite Filipino dishes like sinigang, adobo, lechon. Never mind rice, I had it from the New Pioneer Co-op. My hunger and sadness in Iowa rested on pizza, bagels, microwave meals, paper cups and plastic utensils yet I was glad to be introduced to the Cajun and Creole cuisine of New Orleans.

             “How was Iowa? How much have you written?” Friends asked. To the young ones, I told them about meeting Hualing Nieh Engle in person and giggled with them about Paul’s line for her, “In terrible haste, in full love,” as she told us in the documentary One Tree Three Lives. To colleagues, of how witty Elaine Showalter was, and to many other fellow writers, the thought after listening to Junot Diaz: that we should be writing about our Filipino doctors and nurses and seafarers, so maybe our writing in English will also be read, primarily, by our countrymen and women in diaspora.

            More than newly-acquired books, Facebook updates on meaningful moments and photos of places traveled to, collaboration with New York Battery Dance Company, friendship with the staff and fellow international writers, some of whom I introduced in an elective course titled Contemporary World Fiction when I resumed teaching last January, the International Writing Program (IWP) gifted me with empathy for America and the Americans. The rodeo trip, barn dance with the seniors, and farm visits unveiled to me the rural side of America; “the other side,” maybe even “the real America” beyond Hollywood and foreign policy. Engagements toward the reelection of Barack Obama attuned me to America’s share of miseries and burdens. It was made believable by sights of many homeless people in parks and streets, stories of unemployment and that of veterans and families of American troops, and the tug of tax and tipping.

            Every time I go out to my terrace and am confronted by a dense cityscape, my mind zooms out and settles in a vast void. A horizon. There, a lingering – the delight I knew well, for instance, when I read Clarice Lispector for the first time, in translation, from the University of Iowa Library, or when I rediscovered Robert Hass, skipping a grocery trip with Mary. Here, I hunger for more words like I desire an oyster. Clear, simple words for those intimate gestures of the mind and heart one keeps in different time zones, thousands of miles above sea level. At times I am startled, as if a squirrel passed by. Mostly, I feel light; glad to have walked Iowa’s ground and made peace with history.

“Chance of a Lifetime”: Where Are They Now? with Johnny Yaacoub

Since 2008, the International Writing Program has hosted Between the Lines (BTL), a program that brings young writers, ages 16-19, to the University of Iowa for creative writing study and cultural exchange. We’ve been checking in with BTL alumni for our blog series, Where Are They Now? This week we catch up with BTL alumnus Johnny Yaacoub of Tourza, Lebanon, who participated in BTL Arabic in the summer of  2011, when he was 17-years-old (pictured here with his 2011 BTL Arabic cohort, back row, third from right).

WP: What was your BTL experience like?

Johnny: BTL was like nothing I’d ever experienced before; it was the best thing that ever happened to me. When I was 17, my life changed forever. I had so much fun learning about American culture and meeting different people from all over the world. I always wanted to attend writing workshops in my country but there were almost none, going to the US…never crossed my mind. BTL really did change me, and I’m so thankful for that.

Memories are now rushing back while I’m writing this! I wish I could live those memories again! We had this morning writing activity, before going to the workshops at 9 am, and it was about replying to [fictional] letters from old people. My reply was to an old lady from Texas; it was kind of rude, but funny, and the room gave me a big round of applause; it was the first time I read something I’d written in front of more than 50 writers; I was thrilled.

IWP: Had you been to the US before?

Johnny: I’d never been to the US; I’d never been outside my country! When I got accepted to the program I didn’t Google Iowa City; I wanted to keep it a mystery in my mind. I started picturing giant buildings, a lot of traffic jams (reading into the word “City”). But Iowa blew me away, it was nothing like I’d expected. It was more like a town, no traffic jams nor city noises, clean air… I guess no words can describe my “OMG“ moment when I woke up in the morning; nature has a place in Iowa City. Squirrels and rabbits ran around houses when I went outside Currier Hall. I tried to catch a squirrel since It was the first time I’d see one in front of me, silly me. Frankly, I was surprised by everything, so I took a lot of pictures.

I really loved walking downtown, going to bookshops and libraries; I miss Prairie Lights and The Haunted Bookshop. After a year, I Googled places in Iowa City and I said to myself yup, I was there! I loved the museum next to campus, oh and the big malls; the mall was bigger than my whole town Lol! I loved all the activities, the morning writing exercises, readings sessions from amazing writers who participated in the IWP fall residency and the Iowa Youth Writing Studio (IYWS) program, going to watch the last Harry Potter movie, karaoke, 2 talent shows… I was totally into this program and never missed a thing (well maybe just one English workshop because I was so exhausted and sick but it happens, right?).

IWP: How would you describe your BTL cohort? (Are you still in touch with any of your BTL peers? What kinds of things did you do together?)

Johnny: I had two Arabic teachers, Yasser Abdel-Latif and Khaled Khalifa, amazing writers (I learned so much from them), and one workshop with Ibtisam Barakat, a truly phenomenal woman. She helped me to be the best me. I was trapped and by reading what I wrote for an assignment she’d given, I started crying (that’s another story to tell). The English teacher I had for creative writing was Dan Rosenberg, a truly awesome, funny guy. The way he gave workshops was unique and I had a great time. The chaperones Mohammad Al-Hemaid and Ghada Abdel-Aal [also an instructor for BTL Arabic 2013] were great companions and we are still in contact via e-mail. As for my BTL friends, we became friends the first day. We shared our stories and writings, went downtown, to bookstores, restaurants, malls, and The Java House (everyone is obsessed with this cafe). We had this writers’ connection, maybe because we were almost the same age, coming from the Arab-sphere. They were beautiful friendships, friendships you want to hold onto for the rest of your life; they are now a piece of my heart. I wish I could live the moments with them again, because in these moments I never felt so alive before, so independent. I miss them every day and I can’t wait to meet them again.

IWP:  Why did you come to BTL?

Johnny: Learning English on my own and reading a lot of books weren’t enough for me, and BTL was the chance to improve my English writing, ask writers for advice, learn from them, and know about their journey in writing. I mean, I didn’t run into writers in my small community, so I was really fortunate. I became very open minded and I accepted their criticism. Going to a place where people appreciate writing and writers is a place where you wish you could live forever. Before my trip I asked a few BTLers about their experience, I like to call them “The Elders.” Lol! So they gave me an idea of what to expect. The only thing that bugged me was the two weeks; I wished the trip lasted a little bit longer. It was really frustrating to leave everything, the friends I made, the PIESHAKES!

IWP: What are you doing now? Any writing projects?

Johnny: I’m now first year science student. Yeah I know, science and literature geek! I’m studying to get accepted in pharmacy. I’m working on some short stories, some of which I’ve been revising since Iowa, but I’ve gotten really busy with college, tutoring. Being a science student ain’t that easy in The Lebanese University (LU).

IWP: Advice to young people applying to BTL?

Johnny: To my fellow writers, this is a chance of a lifetime; this program is amazing. You will be really fortunate if you are accepted; I really wish I could apply again! I would give anything to go back; well, it wouldn’t be the same without my friends. Be yourself in your application and in your writing and I wish you all the best.

IWP: Anything else you’d like to add?

Johnny: Students can always contact me through Facebook. If you have any questions, I would love to give you advice about the BTL program. I might give you some long comments and posts that I wrote for students last year!

From BTL to Harvard: Where Are They Now? With Amr Bennis

The Between the Lines (BTL) program brings young writers ages 16-19 to the University of Iowa for creative writing study and cultural exchange. As young people from the U.S., Russia, and 17 Arabic-speaking countries prepare to apply for BTL 2013, we are profiling past BTL alumni in a blog series, Where Are They Now? 

This week, we feature Amr Bennis of Tripoli, Libya, who participated in BTL Arabic 2010, when he was 18-years-old.

IWP: What was your BTL experience like?

Amr: I had a wonderful time at BTL and in Iowa City. It was really great to be a part of the Young Writers’ Workshop and BTL at the same time. I learned different things at both workshops and I feel that they really complimented each other and helped me become a better writer. I was quite fond of attending readings and just walking around the university campus.

IWP: Had you been to Iowa before?

Amr: No. I had been to Huntsville, Alabama, in the summer of 2009 for a trip to Space Camp organized by the State Department. In Iowa City, there were a couple of cafes (Java House, Times Café (inside Prairie Lights Bookstore), Teaspoons) where I just practiced sitting and writing everything that was going on around me (that really helped me with paying more attention to detail in writing). Also, if I remember correctly, there was a mural that was very inspirational and definitely helped with creativity during my stay in Iowa City as well as a cigar shop that I loved writing at. Behind the dorm (where BTL students live in Iowa City), there are some basketball courts where I played 5-a-side street football (soccer!) which was really fun. Also, weather permitting, there's a huge grass field that would be on your right if you're walking towards the city hall. It was always nice to just sit underneath some shade and write or play full-team football. 

IWP:  How would you describe your BTL cohort?

Amr: I am still in touch with most of my friends from BTL. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to attend BTL with. They really made my experience at Iowa wonderful.

IWP:  Why did you come to BTL? What were your expectations?

Amr: I didn’t have any real expectations (I guess that’s what made it such a thrilling adventure!) I came to BTL because I loved to write. Writing was the one thing that I was serious about outside of school at the time and I saw BTL as an opportunity not only to become a better writer, but as a way to interact with other writers my age. It was difficult for me to find someone to read what I wrote at 17 or 18 years of age and provide constructive feedback. However, at BTL I found a group that was warm and welcoming and that provided me with the motivation to keep writing and with skills I still use today in my writing.

IWP:  How have your goals/your writing/your writing life changed since BTL?

Amr: My writing life changed dramatically since BTL. Immediately after attending the workshop I started attending college and I was writing more academically than I was creatively. Perhaps that is why over these past couple of years I slowly transitioned from fiction writing to journalism, creative non-fiction, and blogging. However, whenever I feel the need to take a break from all the serious writing I would write a short story and it would be the perfect writer’s pick-me-up! From BTL, I learned that I had to write some things in Arabic, or else I wouldn't be able to create them at all. Since BTL, I have kept a separate journal of my writings in Arabic. Language is a funny thing. I thought that I was very close to having native command of English, but after BTL I learned that some things can only be expressed in my mother tongue. 

IWP:  What are you up to now?

Amr: I’m currently a junior at Harvard where I’m studying Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Over the next couple of months I will be starting to conduct research on the revolution in Libya and its aftermath. My long-term project is to use my research to write and publish a book that examines the political sphere in Libya post-revolution.

IWP:  What advice would you offer young people applying to BTL?

Amr: Iowa City is a magical place, and you will be surrounded by people who share your passion for writing. Simply walking around the city will flood your head with all sorts of crazy ideas. So my advice is this: let yourself go and use that creative energy to write whatever you like. Don’t limit yourself to anything. Learn from the work your peers give you to read and offer them constructive advice. Don’t shy away from sharing your work; the feedback you’ll get will be phenomenal. BTL is an opportunity to become a better writer and help others be better writers as well.

And, more importantly, have fun!

This summer, IWP hosts BTL Arabic and BTL Russia. Click here to learn more. In other news, BTL is now on Facebook. We hope you’ll visit us there soon.

Shambaugh House Quarterly Roundup—Spring 2013

Well, it’s officially Spring, and that means time for another Shambaugh House Quarterly Roundup, in which we share good news from our associates, friends, and alumni of the International Writing Program. Have news to share? Send it our way and we'll include it in an upcoming post.

Many members of the IWP community were honored for their achievements this spring. They include U.R. Ananthamurthy (IWP '74, India) who was named a finalist for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize, Lin-Hwai-min (IWP '70, Taiwan) who received the 2013 Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for his lifetime contribution to modern dance (see the video at the end of this post), and Book Wings China playwright Dan O’ Brien who was named one of two inaugural winners of the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History. Dan’s 10-minute play, Kandahar to Canada, commissioned by Book Wings, will be produced by Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City as part of the their Marathon of One-Acts. Chandrahas Choudhury (IWP '10, India) and Anisul Hoque (IWP '10, Bangladesh) were featured in the 2013 Jaipur Literature Festival. And right here in Iowa City, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret (IWP '01, Israel) was recommended as a pleasure-read by Paul Ingram of Prairie Lights Bookstore and featured in the The Iowa City Press-Citizen.  

IWP alumni also spoke out about writing, literature, and events in their home countries. Fiction writer, physician, and activist Ma Thida (IWP ’05, Burma) was profiled in The Irrawaddy Magazine (“I Write Just to Be ‘A Good Citizen'”). “As a doctor I do scientific work, but as a writer and editor I do an artist’s work,” she says. “I feel I’m useful to the Burmese people by using two different professional skills.” Poet Jayanta Mahapatra (IWP ’76, India) was interviewed at length on reading, writing, and what keeps him going (“Something in me refuses to die”) in Live Mint & The Wall Street Journal. Ogochukwu Promise (IWP '09), novelist, cultural entrepreneur, painter, and social activist, spoke about literary affairs in Nigeria in an interview with Vanguard. Taleb Al Refai (IWP ’12) was interviewed at length on trends in creative writing in his native Kuwait (“New Generation Creating Own Path in Creative Writing”) in the Arab Times. And poet Maung Swan Li (IWP ’03, Burma) was profiled in Sampsonia Way (“Maung Swan Yi: A Burmese Encyclopedia”) about his hope of returning from exile.

IWP alumni continue to publish widely. Poet and musician Rodrigo Garcia Lopes (IWP ’12, Brazil) had poems in Machado de Assis magazine and also released a new CD. Mani Rao (IWP ’05, India) had poems in Omniverse, Mascara, Muse India, and elsewhere and is translating the works of Kalidasa for publication in 2014.

Also in the news, IWP director Chris Merrill emphasized the importance of supporting the arts through cultural diplomacy in a recent edition of The Huffington Post.

And that's just a small sampling of the many achievements within the IWP community over the past three months!

 Have good news to share? Send it to ashley-r-davidson[at]uiowa.edu and we’ll include it in the next Shambaugh House Roundup.

 

Book Wings: Bridging the Distance from Iowa City to Moscow

On Thursday, March 14th, audiences in the University of Iowa Theatre Building in Iowa City, IA and at the Moscow Art Theatre in Moscow, Russia were joined by viewing parties at institutions around the world, including Bennington College in Bennington, VT, California State University in Long Beach, CA, The Women's Cultural Society in Kuwait City, Kuwait and at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State in Washington DC to experience the collaborative bilingual theatre initiative known as Book Wings. These real and virtual audiences gathered in theatres, auditoriums, and meeting rooms to take in six innovative 10-minute plays from accomplished young playwrights in the United States and Russia, commissioned by Book Wings on the central theme of contact. The plays were staged collaboratively, using digital videoconferencing technology to link twin stages in Iowa City and Moscow.

Complete video of the performance is now available online, so grab some popcorn, sit back, and allow yourself to be teleported 5,000 miles from Iowa City to Moscow and back again, as you experience these emotionally complex, darkly humorous, and moving works brought to life by the phenomenal artistic and production teams of the Moscow Art Theatre and the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts.

Book Wings 2013, the second installment of the 3-year collaborative theatre initiative, is a testament to the willingness of actors, directors, writers, translators, and their audiences to go beyond the confines of traditional artistic performance space and explore the innovation made possible by digital media. A PDF containing the complete texts of the plays in English and Russian along with information about the project and bios of the playwrights is available here. Paper copies of the program are available for educational use. Educators interested in obtaining paper copes of the program should contact Ashley Davidson, Program Coordinator for Book Wings, at ashley-r-davidson[at]uiowa.edu.

Writers & Musicians Flock to Iowa City for 2013 Mission Creek Festival

From April 2nd to April 7th, writers, musicians, entertainers, and foodies from around the United States will descend on Iowa City for the 8th annual Mission Creek Festival.  The Festival, whose literary line-up alone includes more than 18 events, will feature a poetry rock show,  a spoken word performance, a lit crawl, two writers-in-residence, and a small press and literary magazine book fair that includes top shelf publications such as Granta and N+1 as well as prominent literary presses Sarabande Books, Dzanc Books, and  others.

As the countdown to the Festival begins, here’s a peek at singer and song-writer Joe Pug, who will perform on April 5th:

“The Festival is truly a time to be more on-on-one with leading American musicians, writers, and publishers, in Iowa City than any other,” says IWP's fall residency coordinator, Joe Tiefenthaler, the festival's literary director.  “Besides performing, these visiting musicians, comedians, and authors will give lectures, visit classrooms, teach youth, and collaborate with the community on a variety of stages—from traditional concert venues, to restaurants, bars and locally-owned stores, and many of these events are free.”

Authors including Aleksandar Hemon, Roxane Gay, Mary Jo Bang, Amelia Gray, Matt Bell, Aase Berg, Johannes Göransson, Janaka Stucky, Feng Sun Chen, Rauan Klassnik, Susanne Scanlon, Jac Jemc, Jensen Beach, Eleni Sikelianos, and Eileen Pollack will be joined by  writers and festival-goers from Iowa City, the Midwest, and across the country for a series of free public readings. A complete list of literary events is available here. For those who can’t make it to Iowa City for the Festival, many of the literary events will be streamed live by The Writing University, available for listening wherever there’s an internet connection.

The Festival will also feature performances by Iris Dement, Janeane Garofalo, Grizzly Bear, Divine Fits, Tig Notaro, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, White Lung, Mister Lies, Ital, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside, Julianna Barwick, and many others. A full line-up and ticket information is found here.

Book Wings Round 2: IWP & Moscow Art Theatre link up for 2nd installment

"We blunder into wars we can’t get out of...is it so inconceivable that the government might not be telling us everything?"--excerpt of Victoria Stewart's new play, PLANET X, to premiere at Book Wings Russia 2013.

Building on the successful partnership that led to the inaugural production of Book Wings in 2012, the International Writing Program (IWP) and the Moscow Art Theatre are linking up again (on March 14th 2013, 10:30am Iowa time, 7:30pm Moscow time) to present the second year of the three-year collaborative theatre initiative. The 2012 edition featured poetry; now, in 2013, Book Wings Russia presents six new 10-minute plays by young and distinguished playwrights in the U.S. and Russia. In collaboration with the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, the Virtual Writing University, Information Technology Services, and UITV, Book Wings will use the latest high definition videoconferencing technology to link twin stages—one in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building and another at the revered Moscow Art Theatre—to produce one unified dramatic performance.

Playwrights, translators, actors, directors, and new media specialists have come together across more than 5,000 miles to produce Book Wings Russia, a free evening of collaborative bilingual theatre, in English and Russian. The six never-before-seen plays were commissioned for Book Wings, with grant support from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Dept of State. The playwrights, who include National Endowment for the Arts Fellow Sherry Kramer, Ofner Prize winner Carlos Murillo (who heads the Playwriting Program at DePaul University in Chicago), and Francesca Primus Award winner Victoria Stewart, created 10-minute plays on the central theme of “contact.” Their counterparts in Russia—Marina Krapivina, Maksym Kurochkin, and Natalya Moshina—did the same. The plays then went to the Book Wings translators and playwrights in both countries worked to refine the translations of their counterpart’s work for the stage.

Today’s performance will teleport the live audiences in Iowa City and Moscow back and forth between the two stages as artistic and production teams use videoconferencing technology to produce (in real time, across 10 time zones) a collaborative performance that strengthens creative and cultural ties between the two nations.

The complete scripts of the plays—complex, moving, and darkly funny—are printed in the program in both English and Russian, available on the Book Wings website. English supertitling will allow the Iowa City audience and live stream viewers to follow the Russian sections of the performance. The live audiences will be joined by viewing parties at the Women’s Cultural Center in Kuwait City, Bennington College, California State University—Long Beach and others around the world, all tuning in to watch the performance via the free live internet stream hosted by the Virtual Writing University. Audience members and viewers can tweet their questions for the live talk-back session to follow the performance using the hashtag #bookw.

The live stream will be archived online for later viewing and paper copies of the program containing the full texts of the plays are available to educators free of charge. Contact Book Wings Program Coordinator Ashley Davidson at ashley-r-davidson[at]uiowa.edu for more information.

Book Wings Collaborative Theatre: Iowa and China stages unite for joint performance

“Tell them you claimed his body off the mosque floor. Tell them you hear voices hissing in your cell phone accusing you of defiling young women by teaching them the Internet." –Excerpt from American playwright Dan O’Brien’s new 10-minute play, KANDAHAR TO CANADA, commissioned by Book Wings China.

Six new plays, two stages, and playwrights, translators, actors, directors, and new media specialists 7,000 miles apart come together Tuesday, March 12th at 9pm (10am Wednesday, March 13th in Shanghai) to present Book Wings China, a free evening of collaborative bilingual theatre.

The International Writing Program (IWP) and the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre(SDAC), working in partnership with the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, the Virtual Writing University, Information Technology Services, and UITV will use the latest high definition videoconferencing technology to link the twin stages—one in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building and another at SDAC in Shanghai. Together, they’ll present—in English and in Chinese—six never-before-seen plays by distinguished young playwrights in the U.S. and China. The plays were all specially commissioned by Book Wings, a 3-year collaborative theatre initiative funded by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Dept of State.

In September 2012, the playwrights, who include recent Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History winner Dan O’Brien, Whiting Award winner Naomi Iizuka (who also a heads the MFA in Playwriting at the University of California, San Diego), and Chay Yew, Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, were asked to write 10-minute plays on the central theme of “migration.” Their counterparts in China—Qian Jue, Wang Haoran, and Xu Yaqun—did the same and, in December, the newly written plays went to the Book Wings translators. Once translated, playwrights in both countries worked to refine the translations of their counterpart’s work for the stage.

In the meantime, new media specialists in both countries began conducting test calls and experimenting with software to ensure a high quality connection, with two-way talk back ability between the two stages, allowing Iowa City and Shanghai to switch back and forth between their respective live streams and converse with each other seamlessly in real time, producing one unified performance.

Actors and directors in Shanghai and Iowa City then began rehearsing the plays and working with production teams to develop lighting and set designs that will translate to the live stream.

When the house lights go down Tuesday night, from the comfort of their theatre seats, audiences in Iowa City and Shanghai will experience a kind of teleportation, bouncing back and forth across 8 time zones, experiencing plays that explore what IWP Director Christopher Merrill refers to as “the many dimensions of migration—discovery, flux, hope, nostalgia, and reinvention.”  The scripts, in Chinese and English, are printed in the program, now available on the Book Wings website, and English supertitling will allow the Iowa City audience and live stream viewers to follow the Chinese sections of the performance.

The live audiences will be joined by viewing parties around the world who will tune in to watch the performance live via the free live internet stream hosted by the Virtual Writing University. In the U.S., viewing parties are scheduled at Bennington College, Pacific Lutheran University, The University of Hawaii—Honolulu and elsewhere.

During the live talk-back session to follow the performance, audience members and viewers can tweet their questions for the actors, directors, and new media specialists who make Book Wings a reality by using the hashtag #bookw.

The live stream will be archived online for later viewing (available beginning March 19th, 2013) and paper copies of the program containing the full texts of the plays are available to educators by emailing a request to ashley-r-davidson[at]uiowa.edu.

Where Are They Now? With Irene Ghattas

The Between the Lines (BTL) program brings young writers, ages 16-19, to the University of Iowa for creative writing study and cultural exchange. As young people from the U.S., Russia, and 17 Arabic-speaking countries prepare to apply for BTL 2013, we are profiling past BTL alumni in a blog series, Where Are They Now? 

This week, we feature Irene Ghattas of Bethlehem, Palestine. A university graduate and mother, Irene participated in BTL Arabic 2009, when she was 19-years-old and in her second year of university.

IWP: What was your BTL experience like?

Irene: The BTL experience was a unique one. I loved the way the instructors taught their students; it’s completely different from our ways of teaching. For example, my style of writing wasn’t accepted by many teachers in my country because I write what my heart tells me to write, I hold the pen in my hand and start writing without thinking about whether it’s true or not true.  For me writing is about feelings, emotions, passion; it’s not about rules or strike-through lines in red marker. In BTL, I was accepted as I am without rules or restrictions. The best memory I have of the experience is getting to know my friend Laura; she was my roommate. I will never forget meeting my best friend outside my country.

IWP: Had you visited the United States before?

Irene: The BTL experience was my first trip to the United States. I was shocked (in a good way) by the people I met. They were all good readers and they read everywhere. For me it’s different. In our society most people don’t read books, only newspapers. My favorite activity was walking in the street, observing the culture, people, and even nature: trees and squirrels.

IWP: How would you describe your BTL cohort?

I met some of my best friends at BTL.  I still stay in touch with Laura and with Hussein; we all share the same mentality and ideas about the meaning of life. Hussein is from Lebanon, but he is studying in Italy and his continuing his life in a great way. Unfortunately, Laura, who is from Syria, because of the war is now in Jordan searching for a job. I call her from time to time and I tell her to come to my house but she can’t because she is a Syrian and can’t enter Israel. We share the same grief and  the same difficulties in life.

IWP: How have your goals/your writing/your writing life changed since BTL?

My goal when I joined the BTL program was to find a fulfilling way to express my feelings, because every time I write I feel the emptiness of words, no word can voice my own sense of life, which I feel in my heart. After BTL I began to read more than before and now I have my own library in the house where I collect my favorite books. I used to write more, but I don’t have much time now with the baby and housework. I finished university two years ago and am searching for a job, but the economic situation in Bethlehem is poor. I want to work for many reasons: to help my husband and to develop my personality. Sometimes I feel that my dream of life is no more than a lie, all my life I dreamt of being a successful woman in every way, and I was raised to be one. But because of the economic and political situation, and all the pressure on us from the Israeli occupation, our dreams melt a little more every day.

IWP: What advice would you offer to other young people applying to BTL?

I advise the BTL students, once admitted, to invest every minute they have in the program to improving their writing by listening to the instructors’ advice. And I encourage every young student to apply to BTL. It is a great experience that can change your views of life.

This summer, IWP hosts BTL Arabic and BTL Russia. Click here to learn more. BTL is now on Facebook. Visit us!

 

Where Are They Now? Ghenim Houda, BTL Arabic 2010

The Between the Lines (BTL) program brings young writers, ages 16-19, to the University of Iowa for creative writing study and cultural exchange. As young people from the U.S., Russia, and 17 Arabic-speaking countries prepare to apply for BTL 2013,  we are profiling past BTL alumni in a blog series, Where Are They Now? 

This week, we feature 21-year-old Ghenim Houda, who lives in Oran, Algeria, where she is her 5th year of studying medicine. Ghenim participated in BTL Arabic 2010, when she was 18-years-old.

IWP: What was your BTL experience like?

Ghenim:  My BTL experience was awesome. Two years have passed and I’m still talking about Iowa as if I have just come back from the trip. I met a lot of admirable people, writers and poets.  I made new friends who share my passion. I still talk to them sometimes, even now.  I learned a lot in only two weeks. My favorite BTL memory is of when we went with Tarek El Tayeb to see a mural in Iowa and everyone had to write a story about it. I found all the stories beautiful and original, each one its own indelible print of this wall, each of us hoping that the mural itself would never forget us.

IWP: Had you visited the United States before?

Ghenim:  I’ve been to the U.S. before, but it was my first time visiting Iowa and I was really surprised by the people of Iowa. I think of all the chairs and all the green grass shaded by trees blessed to provide seats to such a huge number of writers.  I don’t remember a day that went by in Iowa without seeing people sitting and writing or sitting and reading.  I was really impressed.

My favorite activity in Iowa was a translation workshop. We (BTLers) translated English poems into Arabic or French while Iowa Young Writers’ Studio students translated ours into English.  Then we went to a park in Iowa and read the poems to park-goers. It was so great to hear a mosaic of different languages and cultures.

IWP: Why did you come to BTL?

Ghenim:   My objective was to improve my writing as well as my style. I also wanted to perfect my English. I was lucky; I surpassed my own expectations for myself. Algeria is francophone country, so French is my daily language, as well as Arabic. Throughout the BTL experience, I had the pleasure of writing long stories in English. Those two weeks were extraordinary. I learned a lot through our daily reading and also through all the [workshop] critiques that followed our lessons. Listening to the critiques is very useful and constructive. We had the great luck and the great opportunity to meet wonderful writers who were our professors. Weren’t we lucky? Yes, I think BTL is a great chance that comes only once in a person’s lifetime.

IWP: How have your goals/your writing/your writing life changed since BTL?

Ghenim:  My goals didn’t change. I still want to be a brilliant doctor a fabulous writer and a great painter. I’m trying my best to divide my time between these pursuits even if it’s not easy with my medical studies. Since the BTL experience, I am reading more. I read a lot of plays to improve my own work. I completely revised and changed the beginning of the novel I worked on at BTL and I used some of the advice and things I learned from BTL to improve it; I think the novel is better now.  I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve written a few of poems in the past two years and I also want to write stories. This is a new goal that I’ve had in mind since my BTL trip.

IWP: What advice would you offer to young people applying to BTL?

Ghenim:  I have only two pieces of advice for future BTLers: don’t hesitate to participate and prepare yourself for the best experience ever!!!

Ghenim Houda is a 5th year medical student at the Faculté de Médecine d'Oran in Oran, Algeria.

This summer, IWP hosts BTL Arabic and BTL Russia. Click here to learn more. In other news, BTL is now on Facebook. We hope you’ll visit us there soon.

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