You are here

  • By Tim Shipe, Arts & Literature Bibliographer, UI Libraries

    Earlier this year I was in the Balkans, traveling on behalf of the University of Iowa Libraries; the trip was made possible by funds generously provided by International Programs for this purpose. The main goals of the trip were to establish mutually beneficial relationships with booksellers, cultural institutions, and...

  • Round IV of the IWP's introduction to our 2012 Fall Residents includes writers from Belarus, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Uzbekistan, and Egypt. More announcements will be made this Wednesday and Friday!

    Andrei KHADANOVICH (poet, translator; Belarus) is the author of eight collections of poetry, including Лісты з-пад коўдры [Letters from under the Blanket] (2004), ...

  • Round III of the IWP's introduction to our 2012 Fall Residents includes writers from Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Maruitius, the Philippines, and Slovakia. More announcements will be made on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of next week!

    Mohibullah Zegham (fiction writer, translator; Afghanistan) is a cardiologist practicing in Kabul, and the author of two short story...

  • It's Wednesday and, as promised, here's Round II of our 2012 Fall Residency Announcements!

    Today's installment features writers from Kuwait, South Korea, Germany, Taiwan, and Greece. To learn when and where you can see these writers share their work, participate in panel discussions, and screen films, be sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter (@UIIWP), and, of course, feel free...

  • In three weeks, the IWP's 46th annual Fall Residency will bring 32 writers from 29 countries to Iowa City where they will have time, space, and freedom to write. As ever, they'll also have ample opportunitiy to engage with the public, to travel to other cities and states, to give public readings of their work, and to immerse themselves in the writing life in North America's only UNESCO-...

  • IWP intern extraordinnaire Emily Seiple has spent most of July assisting Between the Lines Coordinator Kecia Lynn, and boy have the two of them been busy. From June 30th through July 14th, the IWP hosted a wonderful group of Russian and American students who together participated in creative writing workshops, attended literary salons, film screenings, and readings, and who, when all was said and done, left Iowa City knowing something more of themselves as writers and of each other's cultures.

    Last weekend, BTL Russia participants celebrated the end of their two weeks in Iowa City just as students for our BTL Arabic program hit town. We've got a wonderful wrap-up of BTL Russia to post soon, but first, here's Emily's day-to-day account of our current BTL program.

     

    July 14: Goodbye BTL Russia, Hello BTL Arabic 2012!

    By the time Kecia and I greeted the new class of Between the Lines Arabic at 9:00 a.m., we had already been awake for six hours. Exhausted from a late-night graduation celebration for the first-ever BTL Russia program and their early morning goodbye, we managed to lead the new students around Iowa City. The few minutes before the walk were the only moments the students seemed like strangers. Almost immediately, friendships formed across language lines, and the 18 representatives from Algeria, Bahrain, Canada, Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, the U.S., and Tunisia became a unified group. After a trip to Coralridge Mall, the students met Marcus Jackson and Iman Humaydan, both of whom refused the title “instructor.” The night ended with getting-to-know you games. Isobel McHattie gave a memorable and convincing 1-minute history of Canada in a game called “One Minute, Please!” As a result, some students may truly believe that the rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens began with an argument over whether the tail on a fur cap should be worn in the front or the back…

     

    July 15: Class Begins

    The group split for the first time into their separate Arabic and English writing workshops. The American (and Canadian) students have little choice about their workshop placement, but several of the others were torn over which to attend. Kecia, Marcus, and Iman devised a flexible schedule in order to offer multi-lingual students the chance to attend equal numbers of workshops in each language. They also added a once-weekly workshop for all students.

    After five hours of class, the students retreated to the Coralville Reservoir. At the beach, forgotten swimsuits and towels became a non-issue. Innocent splashing progressed into an all-out water fight which ended in swimming with shorts and T-shirts... It was a welcome break from Iowa’s relentless heat and humidity.

     

    July 16: A BTL Birthday

    With a cake, candles, and a card filled with poetic birthday messages in English, Arabic, and French, the group celebrated Ali Kadhem of Bahrain’s 17th birthday. Once the cake was gone, students pushed chairs out of the way and began to dance. Students taught and learned a wide range of moves—from salsa steps to traditional Palestinian and Tunisian dances. The party ended only when curfew arrived.

     

    July 17: A Typical Enlightening Weekday

    Each day during the week, students attend a literature seminar in the morning and a writing workshop in the afternoon. Iman’s lectures encourage sociological analysis of the world surrounding the day’s text. Opinions and viewpoints clashed in discussions about women in Islam, as students from different countries and points of view read and responded to the same reading. Despite disagreements, the students have expressed enthusiasm over this opportunity to hear from others and share their own perspective. In the evening, students explored campus facilities and summertime Iowa City attractions, like salsa dancing in the Ped Mall and cold pie shakes from Hamburg Inn.

     

    July 18: Bina Shah visits BTL

    In the morning, students listened to the first of two online guest lecturers. Today’s guest was 2011 IWP resident, Bina Shah from Pakistan, who joined us via Skype. After discussing where writers find ideas and inspiration, students shared ideas they’d like to develop into prose or poetry pieces, inspired by their experience traveling to Iowa for Between the Lines. While receiving feedback from Shah, students discussed culture shock, the symbolism of airports, and how they have experienced times of belonging or not belonging in a culture, family, or group.

     

     

     

    IWP intern extraordinnaire Emily Seiple has spent most of July assisting Between the Lines Coordinator Kecia Lynn, and boy have the two of them been busy. From June 30th through July 14th, the IWP hosted a wonderful group of Russian and American students who together participated in creative writing workshops, attended literary salons, film screenings, and readings, and who, when all was said...

  • As our current cohort of Between the Lines students continue to live, write, study, and engage one another in Iowa City, we thought it was a great time to share this guest blog post from one of last year's BTL students, Maïsa Farid, who came to Iowa last summer from Morocco. 

     

    BTL changed me; I feel I've become another person. I've gained so much confidence in myself and become brave enough to call myself a writer. Indeed, I am a writer now; I gave myself a new definition of pen, blank paper, and written lines.

    The pen is my sword, I control it, I can use it as a weapon, I can do whatever I want with it.

    It's true I was afraid of a blank page of paper, thinking it meant failure, but in Iowa City, I learned that sometimes a blank paper reflects our thoughts for the moment. That blank white colour is not shameful; maybe our brain is blank, too. A blank paper also means freedom, of speech and thoughts.

    Written lines are an achievement, a success. They show us that what we can do is limitless, that we have power over words.

    Since I’ve been home, people have asked, “What did you learn during your ‘journey’?” Lost in the American dream, my answer is, "Well, many things!" Probably because I feel lazy speaking about the many things I've actually learned about writing, writers, the U.S., friends, living on my own, being independent and responsible for myself.

    Returning to my motherland, I still feel so empty. I miss the friends I had, they were true friends, and I’m thankful I can find them by my side when I need them. Even though we’re miles apart, they can comfort me with words, and words have a magic effect that only writers can find. Although some of them are older than me, we’ve found a way to have a beautiful friendship. Writers have a beautiful liaison between themselves.

    To be truthful, I was scared at first. It was my first time being away from my parents for such a long time. I also thought I'd not be taken seriously, but I was truly surprised: The staff was amazing, my teacher was awesome, and my fellow writers were young but experienced, pushing me to think I was experienced too. Eventually, words became a game for me, a serious game with no rules except the ones I make.


    No matter what I write, I will never be able to describe my feelings, then and now. I'll always remember BTL as a program that helped me meet life outside. I'll also remember that BTL came at a time when I thought I was the least fortunate girl on the planet, drowning in my own problems.

    If I could go back to Iowa City and Between the Lines, I would definitely book the first flight I could find. That’s going to be after graduation, God willing!

     

    Maïsa Farid (BTL 2011) is from Morocco, where she is a student at the Faculty of Science and Technology in Tangier. She intends to study chemical engineering and is working on a novel she plans to title A Million Pictures of Love.

    As our current cohort of Between the Lines students continue to live, write, study, and engage one another in Iowa City, we thought it was a great time to share this guest blog post from one of last year's BTL students, Maïsa Farid, who came to Iowa last summer from Morocco. 

     

    BTL changed me; I feel I've become another person. I've gained so much confidence in myself...

  • Currently in its fourth year, the Life of Discovery exchange program beween the International Writing Program (IWP) and the China Writers' Association (CWA) brings together young American and Chinese poets, fiction writers, and playwrights to discuss literature, translation, and culture, and to engage in mutual creative writing projects. Through exchange and dialogue, IWP and CWA writers learn something of the each country's literature, form friendships, and mutually create new work. Sponsored through grant funds provided by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, the first half of this year's Life of Discovery exchange program is currently being held in China (through July 7th) and will continue in the United States from Oct. 27th - Nov. 3rd, when the Chinese delegation visits Chicago and Iowa City. 

    The delegations have already visited a number of significant historical, literary, and artisitc sites in Beijing and Shanghai, including the 798 Art Zone and the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai's Pudon district, and the hisotric town of Zhouzhuang in Jiangsu Province. This week, the writers will engage in creative meeting sessions during which they will address a number of topics relevant to writers, including issues of genre, translation, pedagogy, and publishing. 

    Here's a look at the two delegations of writers: 

    Life of Discovery 2012: The American Writers 

    Amelia Gray is the author of AM/PM (Featherproof Books) and Museum of the Weird (FC2), for which she won the 2008 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize. Her first novel, THREATS, was published this spring by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her writing has appeared in Tin House, American Short Fiction, McSweeney's, and DIAGRAM, among others.

    Dora Malech was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1981 and grew up in Bethesda, Maryland. She earned a BA in Fine Arts from Yale College in 2003 and an MFA in Poetry from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2005. She has been the recipient of a Frederick M. Clapp Poetry Writing Fellowship from Yale, a Truman Capote Fellowship and a Teaching-Writing Fellowship from the Writers’ Workshop, a Glenn Schaeffer Poetry Award, a Writer’s Fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy, and a 2010 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship. The Waywiser Press published her first full-length collection of poems, Shore Ordered Ocean, in 2009 and the Cleveland State University Poetry Center published her second collection, Say So, in 2011. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, Poetry, Best New Poets, American Letters & Commentary, Poetry London, and The Yale Review. She was recently commissioned by the International Writing Program, in partnership with the Moscow Art Theatre, to create new work for the collaborative, bilingual “Book Wings” project. She has taught writing at institutions that include the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop; Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington, New Zealand; and Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, California, where she served as Distinguished Poet-in-Residence in 2010. She lives in Iowa City, where she writes, creates visual art, teaches, and directs the Iowa Youth Writing Project, an arts outreach program for children and teens.

    Kaui Hart Hemmings was born and raised in Hawaii. She has degrees from Colorado College and Sarah Lawrence and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She is the author of the story collection House of Thieves and of the novel The Descendants, which has been published in fifteen countries and adapted for the screen by director by Alexander Payne in 2011.

    Dan O’Brien’s current projects include The Body of an American, winner of the 2011 L. Arnold Weissberger Award, set to premiere at Portland Center Stage in 2012, and Theotokia / The War Reporter, an opera premiering at Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University in 2013. Previous productions include The Cherry Sisters Revisited (Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival), The House in Hydesville (Geva Theatre Center), The Voyage of the Carcass (SoHo Playhouse; Page 73 Productions), The Dear Boy (Second Stage Theatre), and Moving Picture (Williamstown Theatre Festival). He has served as a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, the inaugural Djerassi Fellow in Playwriting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and twice the Tennessee Williams Fellow at The University of the South (Sewanee). Residencies include the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, Yaddo, and the Thomas J. Watson Foundation. O’Brien’s poetry has appeared recently in Missouri Review, Malahat Review, Poetry Review, North American Review, and elsewhere. This summer he will teach playwriting at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Originally from New York, O’Brien lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actor and writer Jessica St. Clair. 

    Program Coordinator - Nate Brown 

     

    Life of Discovery 2012: The Chinese Writers 

    Liu Yewei(刘业伟), a Chinese author whose pen name is yewei, was born in Zaozhuang, Shandong province in 1977. He has studied in Qufu Normal University, Nanjing Normal University and Lu Xun Academy of Literature. He is currently a member of China Writers Association, is the director of Jiangsu provincial painting and Calligraphy Association, the vice chairman of Writers Association of Xuzhou City, as well as the head of editing department of Jiangsu Normal University News. Liu started writing literary works in 1990 and has published over three million characters in the form of medium-length and short stories in various literary periodicals such as Fiction Monthly. He has published a novel Rich Mine and a university.com series. Also, he has written several academic monographs such as “Analyzing Four Generations of Ye Shengtao Family in the View of Editing” and “Observing the Literary Circle from the Sidelines: between Universities and Media” etc. Liu has awarded Jiangsu Purple Mountain Literary Award, the top ten young poets Award of “Times Literature” among many other literary awards. Moreover, he has also awarded the best five achievements in the works of Drama, TV Soap Opera, Books, Songs and Critics of Xu Zhou city, and his calligraphy has been invited to the Chinese Writer calligraphy and painting exhibition and won the prize of honor named “Wen Xin Mo Yu”(which connotes the expression of one’s literal thought with Chinese calligraphy). Liu’s masterpiece, Rich Mine is widely acclaimed upon being published and has promoted the finalist in the 8th Mao Dun Literature Prize. Currently, Liu Yewei works for Jiangsu Normal University.

     

    Zhang Yuntao(张运涛)was born in Zhengyang County, Henan province in February, 1968 and is one of the most popular young writers currently in China. After graduating from Huanghuai University, Zhang went to study further in Henan University. Last year, he attended the English class of Lu Xun Academy of Literature. In 1988, he made his debut in Poetry News. He had written almost one hundred essays for Youth Digest, Lover, Life and Companion, Shenzhen Youth, Marriage And Family, and other fashion journals from 2004 to 2007. In 2008, he started writing fiction, and since then his stories have appeared in numerous belles-lettres periodicals, including Mountain FlowersLotus, Clear-and-Bright, Apsaras, Literatures, Sichuan Literature Monthly, The Yalu River, Guangxi Literature Monthly, Tianjin Literature Monthly, The Yellow River Literature, Special Zone Literature, Novel Monthly, Contemporary Fiction, River, Anhui Literature Monthly, and others. Several stories have also been anthologized by Selected Stories Monthly, Works and Comment and elsewhere. His short story collection Warm Cotton was published by Modern Publishing House in 2011. His awards include the 20th Liang Bin Award for fiction by Tianjin, the First and Second Renaissance Literary Award, his city government award for literature and more. Zhang Yuntao had taught till 2009 at No. 2 Senior High School of Zhengyang County. And thanks to his achievements, he has worked in the County Federation of literary and art circles since 2009.


    Sun Wei is a Chinese novelist, short-story writer and essayist. She was born in 1973 in Shanghai and grew up in a family of intellectuals. She received her B.A. in journalism from Fudan University in 1996 and her master in International Business Administration from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in 2001. She started writing fairy tales and novels in her teenage years. The theme of her examination is the ‘malaise’ in an increasingly materialistic world, with a fickle and fast-developing economy in China as the social background. She has published 13 books and over 20 novels and novelettes.

     

    Mao Juzhen (毛菊珍), whose pen name is A Mao, is a poet, author, born in Xiantao, Hubei Province, China. A Mao lives in Wuhan now. She is the member of China Writers Association, Hubei Provincial Writers Association, and writer of Wuhan Academy of Literature. She is considered as one of the most influential poet in China. She graduated from the philosophy Department of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in 1989, and began writing poetry in the late 1980s. She has published more than ten literary works, including five collections of poems, such as Injured by Water (1992), Supreme Stars (1999), The song of my Time (1999), Rotating Mirror (2006), Variation (2010); three collections of prose: The Train of Images (1998), Stone's passion (2009),  Apple's rule (2011); and the short story collections Apple on the Cup (1996), Desire (1999),  Who Takes Me Home(2005), and The Eternal life in Love(2011). She has won several poetry awards including the Annual Poet Prize by Poetry Monthly in 2007, The 7th Chinese National Youth Poet Award by Poetry Periodical, The Best Love Poems for the Year 2009 in China, and from Aug 2009-Aug 2010,she was the poet-in-residence in Capital Normal University in Beijing. 

    Program Coordinator - Wu Xinwei(吴欣蔚)

     

     

    Currently in its fourth year, the Life of Discovery exchange program beween the International Writing Program (IWP) and the China Writers' Association (CWA) brings together young American and Chinese poets, fiction writers, and playwrights to discuss literature, translation, and culture, and to engage in mutual creative writing projects. Through exchange and dialogue, IWP and CWA writers learn...

  • Our Syrian friend, colleague, and alum Khaled KHALIFA (IWP 2007) has a record of writing eloquently about contemporary Syria’s complex political landscape. While much of his work has been in TV drama, a massive novel about an Aleppo family caught in the Alaouite-Islamist conflict appeared a few years ago; it was next translated in France as Éloge de la haine, and is now about to appear in English  under the title In Praise of Hatred.   

    As the insurgency against the Assad regime has grown in scope and strength, Khaled's voice has been among those heard more and more prominently in international media;  in February of this year, with violence reaching new heights, especially in Homs, Khaled circulated first a protest note to writer colleagues worldwide, then a piece highlighting the bloodshed’s historical parallels.  Last Friday, in the wake of a funeral of a musician friend found dead under unclear circumstances,  Khaled was amongst those beaten by plainclothes militia on a Damascus street.  The book he is now working on, a diary-style account of the Syrian revolution, will have to be written with his right, unbroken, hand…..

    Our Syrian friend, colleague, and alum Khaled KHALIFA (IWP 2007) has a record of writing eloquently about contemporary Syria’s complex political landscape. While much of his work has been in TV drama, a massive novel about an Aleppo family caught in the Alaouite-Islamist conflict appeared a few years ago; it was next translated in France as Éloge de la haine, and is now about to...

  • We're so very pleased!   The 2012 Best Translated Book Award for poetry, given annually by the indispensable  journal and site Three Percent  has just been announced at the PEN New Voices festival, and it goes to a title featuring not one but two IWP alumni: Spectacle and Pigsty is a selection from two decades of  work of  the Japanese avant-gardist  Kiwao Nomura (IWP '05) selected, edited and co-translated by Kyoko Yoshida (IWP '05), with Forrest Gander.

    In fact, Nomura and Yoshida first met and began collaborating while in residency at the IWP, in the fall of 2005, so it was a triple pleasure to be able to welcome them back to Iowa City on their reading tour last fall.  In addition to a fantastic, and packed, bilingual reading at Prairie Lights Books Kiwao and Kyoko also visited their old stomping grounds, the second-floor library of the Shambaugh House, to teach an hour-long seminar on their translation process.  With Kiwao at her side Kyoko, herself virtually bilingual, a writer, and a professor of English and American literature at Keyo U in Tokyo  walked the seminar through a close reading, and older stranslation (by Angus Turvill)  and then the several drafts of the opening poem as shuffled between her and  her colleague Forrest Gander, unpacking some of its literary antecedents (say, the tanka) , the philosophical landscape of abjection (by way, especially, of Pasolini’s  Accattone ) and the performative/acoustic/phonic work the original  poem was doing, and needed to do again, in English.  To say that the publisher of the collection, Omnidawn, took a risk on work this far from the going poetic parameters (especially in print—when read out loud the poems' incantatory quality has an energy all its own) would be an easy understatement.  Good for Omnidawn,  thank you Three Percent, and congratulations Nomura-san, Yoshida-san and Forrest-san.

     

     

     

     

    We're so very pleased!   The 2012 Best Translated Book Award for poetry, given annually by the indispensable  journal and site Three Percent  has just been announced at the PEN New Voices festival, and it goes to a title featuring not one but two IWP alumni: Spectacle and Pigsty is a selection from two decades of  work of  the Japanese avant-gardist  Kiwao Nomura (IWP '05) selected,...

  • On Going Home is the name we've given to a short series of essays by our 2011 fall residents. We commissioned the pieces because we wanted to keep in touch and because we were curious to know 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 also asked the authors to send us a photograph that somehow represented "home" in some fundamental way. This latest installment comes from Jeremy Tiang, who has been travelling so extensively and over such a number of years that the term "home" doesn't hold quite the same meaning as it might for others. 


    My father is a Jaffna Tamil from Sri Lanka – although he was born in Singapore, and prefers not to acknowledge the existence of Sri Lanka (he refers to himself as “Ceylonese”). On my mother’s side, we were wealthy landowners in China until my great-great-uncle gambled away the family money (nice going, Unc!). Then my great-great-grandmother got religion and came to Malaysia as a bible-woman to spread the word of God, bringing my grandfather with her. She died out here, and he ended up in an orphanage. My mother was born in Malaysia after the war, and moved to Singapore in the fifties.

    Given all this, it’s not surprising I’ve turned out pretty nomadic too. I left Singapore at nineteen to go to university in England, and since then have been wandering. A little while back in Singapore as a high school teacher, and then a few years in London as a moderately unsuccessful actor (my IMDB page is a graveyard of straight-to-video films). When I started writing, I realized I could do my job anywhere in the world, like the littlest hobo. So I gave away my cello, my bicycle and ninety per cent of my books, and packed my bags.

    Since then, I have written a lot about the spaces between cultures, and the sense of dislocation we experience when we move into an unfamiliar space with new rules to be discovered. The things we think of as “normal” are often conditional, an idea that is difficult to grasp until you travel to a place where the norms are different. At the moment, I am working on a short story collection to be titled – if my agent will allow it – “Schwellenangst,” the German word for the fear of crossing boundaries.

    When I was invited to Iowa in 2011, it seemed par for the course – I’d just finished travelling round Malaysia and Thailand speaking to survivors of the Malayan Emergency, in preparation for writing a novel about the region’s communist past. I’d been to North America several times before, but only the big cities. Here was my chance to experience the mid-west! The real America! I’d read Richard Ford, I thought I knew the score.

    It turned out that America was far more complex than I’d ever imagined, an impression subsequently reinforced by the Republican primaries. I’m still reeling from, on one hand, the tremendous energy, intelligence and generosity I experienced and, on the other, seeing grade schools with anti-abortion displays in their front yards. (Even as I type these words, they sound so incredible I can’t help wondering if I’ve made this up – but no, the image is pretty well seared into my memory). All in all, an unforgettable experience, and one that I will always be grateful for.

    The problem came when I was contacted, asking if I’d be interested in writing a piece for the IWP blog. Of course I would! It’s the least I could do after all that camaraderie over Pabst Blue Ribbon. Yet the topic gave me pause – “On Going Home.” All well and good for people with homes. But where did I fit in? My family is still in Singapore, and I put my parents’ address on forms because it’s the only permanent one I have, even though I haven’t lived there for sixteen years. So where is home?

    After Iowa, I spent a month in a flophouse in the Bronx. Literally, a flophouse. It was like being in an O. Henry story. I spent Christmas in Singapore, then headed to Beijing, where I worked with the novelist Zhang Yueran to translate her novel The Promise Bird into English. (We met in Iowa – thanks again, IWP!) Next, a couple of months on the Baltic Coast of Germany, attending another residency in the seaside town of Kühlungsborn. After a flying visit to the London Book Fair, I'm preparing to head back home to Singapore - though it's anyone's guess how long I'll stay there. To quote Roxie Hart in Chicago: "I'm on my toes/ 'cause heaven knows/ a movin' target's hard to hit."

    So, yes, home? My home at the moment is a series of hotel rooms, which quickly become personalized because I use hundreds of post-it notes to remind myself where I am in the story I’m currently writing. The cleaners probably think I’m a serial killer. It’s very liberating to be this mobile. Literally everything I own in the world fits into my suitcase. I’ve become very good at not acquiring stuff, and giving books away as soon as I’ve finished them. Drunken eBay shopping is a thing of the past – the question I ask myself now is not “Do I need X?” or “Can I afford X?” but “Do I really want to carry X across three continents?” It’s also shaped my reading habits. Most of Jonathan Franzen is out, for instance, because his books weigh so damn much.

    Before you start: yes, thank you, I am aware that kindles exist. But (i) most Chinese books aren’t available in e-book format, and (ii) thanks to the murky world of copyright restrictions, amazon can’t really deal with you unless you’re permanently based in one country. And I prefer physical books, although that love is challenged when I find myself in a hotel with no elevator. Just me, three flights of stairs, and a suitcase full of paperbacks.

    Don’t get me wrong. I would, one day, like to live in a proper house again. Somewhere with furniture and cats and neighbors who’ll stay long enough for me to learn their names. I’d like to be normal and have backyard barbecues and go to IKEA on weekends. Not to mention the lure of owning actual bookshelves! Maybe one day soon. At the moment, though, there’s such a lot of world to see, and I’m lucky enough to be in an eminently portable profession, one that allows me to see it.

    On Going Home is the name we've given to a short series of essays by our 2011 fall residents. We commissioned the pieces because we wanted to keep in touch and because we were curious to know 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 also asked the authors to send...

  • Our friends at Sampsonia Way recently published this wonderful interactive feature on their blog in celebration of National Poetry Month.

    Included are recordings of some of our alumni and friends: Khet Mar (IWP '07), Meena Kandasamy (IWP '09), Soheil Najm (IWP '09), Hind Shoufani (IWP '11), Terrance Hayes (one of four poets commissioned for the IWP's Book Wings performance), and Cornelius Eady, who will be travelling with the IWP to Brazil next month.

     

     

     

    Our friends at Sampsonia Way recently published this wonderful interactive feature on their blog in celebration of National Poetry Month.

    Included are recordings of some of our alumni and friends: Khet Mar (IWP '07), Meena Kandasamy (IWP '09), Soheil Najm (IWP '09), Hind Shoufani (IWP '11), Terrance Hayes (one of four poets commissioned for the IWP's Book Wings performance), and...

  • On Going Home is the name we've given to a short series of essays by our 2011 fall residents. We commissioned the pieces because we wanted to keep in touch and because we were curious to know 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 also asked the authors to send us a photograph that somehow represented "home" in some fundamental way. This installment of the series comes from Zoë Strachan, a fiction writer who lives in Glasgow, Scotland, and the photograph is the view from the front window of the author's flat.

    Outside the train window, England sweeps by. I am returning from a speaking engagement at a university in the West Midlands. One landscape looks as flat as Iowa, but when I narrow my eyes I can just make out hills in the distance. The fields are green and there is a haze of buds on the trees. A whippet figure-eights through a field of ponies and chickens. The train rounds a corner and lurking in a valley is a derelict textile mill, enormous and uncanny. Calves give way to lambs as the hills grow more emphatic. Soon the fields are smaller and bound by dry stane dykes, as we call them in Scotland. This does not feel like another country. Will it still be home if we gain independence?

    Washing flaps outside houses that would match a child’s drawing; solid, stone built like the dykes, windows twinkling, door smiling. Houses built for resilience, now bought for roses round the door, Sunday lunches and chaotic siblings. I imagine a writing room with plain plaster walls, a jug of wild flowers on the wooden desk. Bees making lazy circuits through the open window. When a sentence doesn’t come I’ll go outside and squeeze the cotton of the sheets on the line.

    In Iowa City I wrote by an open window with a view of a church spire. Flannery O’Connor went there, someone told me, but I am not a churchgoer, nor do I idolise Flannery O’Connor. Still, it was pretty in the autumn sun, the clock a pleasing intimation of mortality. I don’t really get homesick when I’m away, if I’m writing, though one afternoon I sat on a bench in the Ped Mall and listened to a man shouting and swearing into his cellphone. It broke the gentility of the Midwest, reminded me of Glasgow. When I’m writing, I forget things. Not people but possessions, places. It is easy to feel landlocked so far from the sea, or so I’ve found, but the rippling corn fields of Iowa seemed ocean enough.

    In Glasgow I live in the attic flat of a house conversion on a rundown square near the motorway that rips through the centre of the city. There are bees in the Victorian central garden but no cicadas. A gap site where a home for wayward girls burned down – fifty years ago, more - has been turned into a community garden. Nearby someone once carved a huge penis in the still-wet concrete of the pavement. My local bar does not have the Zombies on its jukebox and I have never seen a Filipino poet writing in one of the booths, or a Pakistani author dancing round the pool table. There is no pool table; dominoes is the game. At home I write in a narrow room at the back of the house that I think might once have been the toilet. (My partner disagrees.)

    When I left Iowa City I knew I was going back to a period of not writing. I was teaching, travelling to Toronto and Berlin, catching up. While I wasn’t writing, memories of Iowa tided me over. I thought of friends and fellow writers, of sitting in a rocking chair on Barbara’s porch and reading, of walking under the shade of the trees that line those wide, sleepy streets. The editorial meetings I had with Louise over rough wine and hot nuts in George’s. But then I took another job, got ill, and the not-writing kept on. The memories retreated, although I could still picture myself sitting by the open window in that attic conversion on Jefferson, looking out at the church spire and then down at the pages in front of me.

    My stay in Iowa City was too short. I would have liked to see the seasons change, and my novel gain a couple more chapters. With a few extra weeks maybe I’d have grown sick enough of people to ease the farewells. Residencies like this are an idyll, and then you go back to the everyday. Perhaps in time you stop pretending that you will see your friends from Korea or India again.

    It is five and a half months since I packed up my notebooks and manuscripts and had one last late night drink in the Foxhead. The journey has taken longer than I imagined but now, on this train hurtling towards Glasgow and my little room at the back of the house, I am picking up my pen and coming home.

    On Going Home is the name we've given to a short series of essays by our 2011 fall residents. We commissioned the pieces because we wanted to keep in touch and because we were curious to know 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 also asked the authors to send...

  • It is high time for a Shambaugh House Roundup, in which we share news our associates, friends, and alumni, as well as a few choice bits from within the wall of Shambaugh House, home of the International Writing Program. As always, if you have news to share, send it our way and we'll include it in an upcoming post.

    First up: huge congratulations are in order for Leopoldo Brizuela (IWP '03, Argentina) who has been awarded the Alfaguara Novel Prize for his work Una misma noche. Here's a link to a great article from El Dia that includes an interview with the author.  

    Kevin Bloom (IWP '11, South Africa) remembers David Foster Wallace, who would've turned 50 this year, in a piece published in the Daily Maverick. 

    Bina Shah (IWP '11, Pakistan) has been busy: She's featured in a short documentary about writers in Karachi; has written about her experience at the IWP for Dawn; and, most recently, has penned an op-ed for the International Herald Tribune decrying domestic violence.

    Jordan Stempleman is a poet and a former RA and employee of the IWP. His newest collection is No, Not Today, and filmmaker Ryan MacDonald has created a series of great book trailers for the publication. This one features a volcano and a silulacrum of a volcano. 

    Two Alumni have recently published pieces in The Hindu.  Vijay Nair (IWP '07, India) chimes in on the state and fate of brick-and-mortar bookstores while Sukrita Paul Kumar (IWP '02, India) reports on the Asia Pacific Poetry Festival in Vietnam. 

    A great piece in Haaretz examining Dory Manor's (IWP '11, Israel) translations of Mallarme.

    Kaled Khalifa (IWP '07, Syria) is featured in this CNN piece examining freedom of expression amid the crisis in Syria.

    Desmond Hogan (IWP '81, Ireland) is featured in the new editino of Best European Short Stories, edited by Aleksandar Hemon, who recently championed European literature and works in translation at a reading in Brooklyn

    Here's a fascinating discussion of the viability and merit of flash fiction that centers on the work of alumnus Etgar Keret (IWP '01, Israel). 

    Ghada Abdel Aal (IWP '10, Egypt) writing for NZZ (German-language) about Egypt's Arab Spring, one year later. 

    We've got some great news from inside the Shambaugh House: IWP Director Christopher Merrill has been appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Humanities

    The latest issue of Words Without Borders features a story by Xu Zechen (IWP '10, China) and another by Eduardo Halfon, who participated in the IWP's 2011 initiative Writers in Motion.


    As ever, if you have news or information you'd like to share, please send it along to: nathanael-brown[at]uiowa.edu.

     


    It is high time for a Shambaugh House Roundup, in which we share news our associates, friends, and alumni, as well as a few choice bits from within the wall of Shambaugh House, home of the International Writing Program. As always, if you have news to share, send it our way and we'll include it in an upcoming post.

    First up: huge congratulations are in order for Leopoldo...

  • On Going Home is the name we've given to a short series of essays by our 2011 fall residents. We commissioned the pieces because we wanted to keep in touch and because we were curious to know 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 also asked the authors to send us a photograph that somehow represented "home" in some fundamental way. The third installment of the series comes from Josephine Rowe, a fiction writer from Melbourne, Australia, seen here in her study drinking her “millionth cup of tea” alongside her cat, Molly.

     

    On Going Home

    (or Sacroiliitis, The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker, and Other Things I Came Home To)

     

    Whatever made my fingernails hard

    (the water, we suspected) is wearing

    off. Now they’re always ragged, always

    snagging on something.

     

    I’m travelling light, I joked once

    (though I was) and there were

    things I didn’t carry home, things

    I can’t find names for, even now.

     

    When people ask me how Iowa was, I become the girl from Carver’s “Why Don’t You Dance?”—She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying.

    I’ve tried several times to adequately summarise those three months in the Midwest: my Israeli friends’ wedding, dinner with a Nobel Laureate, the incredible authors that were breezing through town almost nightly, three dollar Tanqueray martinis at happy hour, the jukebox at the Foxhead, recurring commiserations about the death of narrative in American poetry, late night Youtube marathons, the Gatorade and other provisions left at my hotel door when I was too sick to stand up, the colour of the sky the night Bruegger’s Bagels burnt down. There, that should do. But it doesn’t do, and no matter how much of it I tell, some of it gets lost. Most of it gets lost, and beneath all the talk, there is the sedimentary layer of guilt that forms every time I leave a foreign country—I should have done more, seen more, experienced more. Gotten to know people better. Simultaneously written more and spent less time at my desk. Been some better, more eloquent, more capable version of myself.

    I came home to spring, pollen on the air, an overgrown garden, plastic bank notes that seemed too colourful, too bright, like play money. I came home to a wedding (my own), a manuscript deadline and a diagnosis of Sacroiliitis, which until then had the less specific and thus more friendly name of lumbago. After the wedding, where my determination to dance had left my back in a worse state than before, I doubled my Celebrex intake and wrote around the edges of things: travel, Christmas, settling back in. Or more likely the other way around—Christmas and travel and settling back in happened around the edges of writing, and I finished my manuscript in cafes and airports, on country trains, from the dining room table and at the makeshift desk of a borrowed studio in Perth. The studio was on the second floor of a cavernous federation building with eighteen foot ceilings—a huge room cluttered with photography paraphernalia and packages of new pyjamas. I was alone there most of the time, and it was difficult to procrastinate, though I spent part of Christmas eve lifting up the conspicuously loose floorboards, trying to see what was underneath, and avoiding the temptation to tear open a set of pyjamas and make myself at home.

    In Melbourne the dining-room table was still crowded with wedding gifts; Wedgwood limestone, bottles of single malt whisky and fine glassware, the pristine Royal DeLuxe typewriter a friend’s grandfather had learnt to type on, The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker. But I favoured the dining table over my own desk, as my own desk (not so much a desk as an antique sewing table) measured seventeen by twenty-nine inches and there was not enough room to spread out all the notebooks, loose sheets of paper, scrawled-over envelopes and other book-related chaos that had accumulated over the past year.

    Amidst this chaos were the notebooks I’d filled in Iowa—first drafts, editing notes and descriptive fragments about road trips to rural New South Wales, the smell of bluegum, the HMAS Otway surfacing in Sydney Harbour, a dilapidated apartment block in a post-bohemian inner-Melbourne suburb, a shirtless man leaning back against a Malley’s esky.

    Away from Melbourne, in my IH hotel room, I’d stared out at the Iowa River and wrote almost exclusively about home. Where previously I’d taken great care to construct settings that were familiar yet placeless, the foundations of these stories were unequivocally Australian.

     Do you think the Australian landscape influences your writing? A student asked following a talk I gave to the U of I International Literature Today class.

    Do you feel isolated in Australia? Do you feel far away?

    These were simple questions, but they were also something of a revelation. When I visit the U.S. I’m often met with an idea of Australia that does not in any way resemble my idea of Australia, at least as far as left-leaning literary Melbourne is concerned. We’re all reading The Atlantic over here, dissecting Caitlin Flanagan’s alternately vicious and possessive article about Joan Didion. We’re listening to podcasts of This American Life and lining up at the Athenaeum to see Ira Glass in person. We’re cringing when Mitt Romney’s face appears in the papers. Three years ago we were throwing Obama inauguration parties. We’re all watching Boardwalk Empire, and The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker is sitting in the middle of my table. I don’t even get New Yorker cartoons—does anybody?—but there they are.

    Geographically speaking, yes, America is far away. But the distance seems to differ depending on which continent you’re standing on. Culturally, commercially, politically, the U.S. is embedded in Australian lifestyle. By comparison, I did feel removed from Australia while living in Iowa City, and perhaps this is why most of what I wrote during the fall was so determinedly Australian. I missed home. I felt far away.

    It is January, post-wedding, post-deadline, post-travel, etc., and without those various sources of momentum I’ve hit something of a lull. Fortunately, Melbourne itself is in something of a lull, something a friend of mine used to call empty January, where nothing much gets done. Maybe there’s a Midwestern equivalent around July. January in Melbourne is all cider and bare limbs and tennis and music festivals. Weekends are a drowsy haze of barbeques and lawn games. This year, both bocce and lawn bowls have been forsaken for Kubb, a Swedish game that no-one really understands the rules of, and which mainly involves throwing bits of wood at other bits of wood, thus culminating in the bruising of many a shin.

    After one such incident I sit out of the final few rounds of a game, my left leg wrapped in a sarong full of ice. A friend digs around in the esky and passes me a consolatory beer, then sits beside me on the grass.

    So, I haven’t asked yet, he says. Iowa. Was Iowa amazing?

    It was, yes, thank you. 

    On Going Home is the name we've given to a short series of essays by our 2011 fall residents. We commissioned the pieces because we wanted to keep in touch and because we were curious to know 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 also asked the authors to send...

  • We’re proud to announce that the International Writing Program’s own director Christopher Merrill has been appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the National Council for the Humanities, the 26-member advisory body of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Created in 1965, the NEH supports learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities. Merrill replaces archaeologist Iris Love, whose term has expired, and he will serve until January 26, 2016.

     Merrill has published four collections of poetry, including Brilliant Water and Watch Fire (which received the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets). He’s also authored translations of Aleš Debeljak’s Anxious Moments and The City of the Child, edited several volumes, and published five books of nonfiction, most recently The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War.

    More than all of this, though, Chris has been a mentor and friend to authors from around the globe, and we here at the IWP couldn’t be prouder. Congratulations, Chris!

    We’re proud to announce that the International Writing Program’s own director Christopher Merrill has been appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the National Council for the Humanities, the 26-member advisory body of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Created in 1965, the NEH supports learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities....

  • One may quibble with the shading and proportions (and there is certainly a gross generalization or two); nevertheless, Tim Parks’ recent posting at the New York Review of Books, “the Writer’s Job,” offers a decent portrait of the pressures shaping modern American literary careers. The piece’s mix of acuity and personal bias is best displayed in the way he re-centers the commonly-accepted roots of what in the U.S. is often derisively called “the workshop story”:

    Creative writing schools are frequently blamed for a growing standardization and flattening in contemporary narrative. This is unfair. It is the anxiety of the writers about being excluded from their chosen career, together with a shared belief that we know what literature is and can learn how to produce it that encourages people to write similar books. Nobody is actually expecting anything very new. Just new versions of the old. Again and again when reading for review, or doing jury service perhaps for a prize, I come across carefully written novels that “do literature” as it is known. Literary fiction has become a genre like any other, with a certain trajectory, a predictable pay off, and a fairly limited and well-charted body of liberal Western wisdom to purvey. Much rarer is the sort of book (one thinks of Gerbrand Bakker’s The Twin, or Peter Stamm’s On a Day Like This, or going back a way, the maverick English writer Henry Green) where the writer appears, amazingly, to be working directly from experience and imagination, drawing on his knowledge of past literature only in so far as it offers tools for having life happen on the page.

    One final note: in citing Bakker, Stamm, and Green, Parks means quietly to laud a kind of anti-establishment primitivism, an eccentricity, rarely recognized by the market, whose spiritual pedigree goes back (at least for purposes of his article) to Lord Byron; and yet, one can’t help but notice the choice of international writers—and two works in recent translation—as emblems of literary fiction free of the taint of literature-as-genre.  Parks has elsewhere tried to sound a clarion against the potential damage done by the globalizing of literary markets, but here, whether he means to or not, he seems to be suggesting that the crossing of literary borders remains one of the truest ways to measure the calcification of our conventions.

    — Hugh Ferrer

    One may quibble with the shading and proportions (and there is certainly a gross generalization or two); nevertheless, Tim Parks’ recent posting at the New York Review of Books, “the Writer’s Job,” offers a decent portrait of the pressures shaping modern American literary careers. The piece’s mix of acuity and personal bias is best displayed in the way he re-centers the commonly-accepted roots...

  • On Going Home is the name we've given to a short series of essays by our 2011 fall residents. We commissioned the pieces because we wanted to keep in touch and because we were curious to know 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 also asked the authors to send us a photograph that somehow represented "home" in some fundamental way. The second installment of the series comes from Usha K.R., a fiction writer from Bangalore, India, who is seen here taking an autorickshaw. 

    --

    In the three months I lived in Iowa City I woke up every morning to see the first rays of the sun falling on the tower and the turrets of a castle on the horizon. The blue-green turrets were burnished in the sun light and stood out against the clear blue of the sky. From the wide north-facing windows of my sixth-floor room I had a perfect view. The blue was duller when the sky was overcast, but the tower was a constant on the horizon. What, I wondered, was a medieval fortress, pennants aloft, doing in a modern sea of buildings, its anachronistic curves standing out oddly amidst the squares, rectangles and right angles?

    I often stood at the window during the day, looking out, my room stretching behind me, snug in my solitary cosiness. I watched the cars in the parking mall opposite come to life and purr away – at night they sat quietly in their places, their fenders gleaming in the lamp light.  On the pavement below, students in hoodies stumbled to class, office goers with bags hitched on their shoulders and smoke curling from their coffee cups disappeared under the awning of my building. Garbage trucks stopped by the curb and businesslike men in overalls hauled black sacks into the back. On week-end nights I could hear the ambulances hooting and the students whooping on the ped mall, in celebration of another football win. (On the morning after a match I saw an entire student band  packing their instruments – a large brass trumpet was tucked without fuss into a black case – and riding off.) I watched the tree next door change colour from green to red and yellow and then turn bare. On fine days I walked by the river, sat on the greens beside it or wandered where I wished. Here I was, suddenly, happily, becalmed; my days were mine to do exactly as I pleased. The turrets I glimpsed every morning brought me back to earth, reminding me that I was not the only one displaced.

    News from family and friends back home came regularly – like the constant thrum of a musical instrument designed to keep the vocalist’s pitch from slipping. Meanwhile I marveled at the group of which I was a part – ‘thirty seven writers from thirty two countries’ as we had heard ourselves pronounced  – and looked at us, myself included, from the outside – at the different colours of our skin and hair, our accents and clothes. I was entranced; we were all living characters in a romance. 

    Week after week we read from our work in bookshops, discussed it in class and drank it in our glasses in restaurants and pubs. At night, after a session of the Cinematheque, we of the ‘sticky rice’ predilection, gathered in my room and discussed the films the writers had made or endorsed. In alien tongues we spoke about the experience of being human – in different parts of the world, under siege and in self-indulgent freedom, in pain and in pleasure, in tears and in laughter, in prose and in poetry.  In the background was the city and the people who had made the unobtrusive theatricality of our lives possible.

    One morning we pierced the walls of the turreted castle. There was nothing to it – no moat, no armoured soldiers on horseback – we, the public, were free to walk in. It was, I learnt, the Courthouse, the local seat of justice. We climbed up wooden stairs and in a wood paneled room, under a canopy of coloured, figured glass, we enquired at a counter where a blue uniformed official sat next to Tinker Bell (it was Halloween and officials were allowed to come in mufti). For three days we listened to arguments and counter arguments as a young father was charged with being instrumental in the death of his adopted infant son. Lives were laid bare – candid photos of transient happiness, the shining faces of children,  the warp and weft of a marriage, the web of a sustaining but all-seeing community. There was scientific evidence too, complete with scans of the fatal injury.

    As September led to October and then November, the sun rose later and later, daylight saving ended, the blue sky and turrets remained.  I returned home to the coldest winter in years (65 degrees Farenheit to Iowa City’s autumn of 50 degrees).  I was seized immediately by a respiratory allergy – a finger wagging to remind me that coming home was no easy matter. The day after I landed I was back at work, standing on the pavement in the morning, overcome by such a sense of déjà vu that I was disappointed when the autorickshaw agreed to go in the direction I wanted. It had snowed in Iowa City I heard and saw photographs of the ground blanketed with snow, the sky mirroring the ground, the trees bare. Outside my window, my flowering creeper flourished and the dulcet tones of the bulbul and the song of the sunbird rang out at dawn. The newspapers here are full of the story of a battered and abandoned child, fighting for her life in a hospital – the police are on the case. (The father in the other battered baby case, I learnt, was acquitted – found not guilty. I imagined him receiving the verdict in the wood paneled room, under a high ceiling with the sun light streaming in in rainbow bands.) And to round off my story, during a recent visit to the nearby city of Mysore, a small city of many gentle attractions, as we completed our ritual tour of the royal palace, I was stopped short by the pillars in the gorgeous Royal Marriage Pavilion. It wasn’t just that the pillars were graceful and magnificent and stretched to hold up the highest of ceilings, but they were painted an exact colour that sent a nervous buzz of recognition through me. It took me a moment to recall the metallic blue of the turrets of the Courthouse. But even as I tried, incoherently to explain my excitement, my family urged me to hurry. So I stood for a while by myself, a crowd of tourists swirling around me, and savoured the happy moment alone.

     

    On Going Home is the name we've given to a short series of essays by our 2011 fall residents. We commissioned the pieces because we wanted to keep in touch and because we were curious to know 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 also asked the authors to send...

  •  

    Currently in its sixth year, the Mission Creek Festival annually brings writers, musicians, and comedians to town for a busy week of programming, including concerts, readings, question & answer sessions, and—new this year—events featuring food from local restaurants.

    The festival's literary director is the IWP's own fall residency coordinator, Joe Tiefenthaler, who has lined up some 70+ authors for this year's readings. Featured authors include Luis Alberto Urrea, Johannes Göransson, Amber Tamblyn, Beau Sia, Robert Haas, D.A. Powell, Amelia Gray and many, many more. See the full literary lineup here:  http://missionfreak.com/literature/



     

     

    Currently in its sixth year, the Mission Creek Festival annually brings writers, musicians, and comedians to town for a busy week of programming, including concerts, readings, question & answer sessions, and—new this year—events featuring food from local restaurants.

    The festival's literary director is the IWP's own fall residency coordinator, Joe Tiefenthaler, who has...

  • On Going Home

    Forty-three years ago, four years married, expecting our first child, looking for somewhere to put down our roots. This house on the hill looked good then. With the patina of age and memories it looks even better now. 

    Here, as the world turns and the generations roll over, our children bring their own giggling children to tumble down the same grassy slopes. Here in memory I hold Jim's hand as he slips into unconsciousness. "I know you want to hang on," I say. "But if it's too hard—it's okay to let go." And he does. This is home.

    From Iowa I bring memories, photographs, gifts, poems, stories, an Acme Precision Planner (an artwork which, when I spin the arrow, directs me to "go back to bed", "eat donuts", "go shopping", "kill somebody", "just say yes to everything", "get drunk", "put it off for another week", or "run away"), and an abscessed tooth. There's an upside to the abscessed tooth. In the weeks following my homecoming I meet a succession of dentists. Each exclaims in turn: "Lynley Hood—you're Jim's wife! I was taught by Jim. He was so perceptive, so clear thinking." Yes, I miss him too. We all miss him.

    The family comes. Children, grandchildren, in-laws, siblings. These are the people who love me and make me feel safe. All is well with the world. 

    At the end of my first week home I return to my spiritual base among the writers, activists and armchair philosophers who gather on Friday evenings at our city's oldest pub. Here in the gloriously shabby Empire I'm nobody's widow or mother or grandmother. I'm myself. 

    According to Dave, one of the funniest and most abrasive of our Friday night gang: "Pubs are essential places; as essential as the courts, or Parliament. They are open to rich and poor alike. They provide escape—social, chemical, actual—and only in the dizzy mellow fog of a friendly pub is each man his master's equal."

    From time to time, when our pub of choice goes up or down market, we scour the city for another watering hole that meets our unpretentious but exacting requirements: a friendly bartender; a modest range of good-quality, reasonably-priced drinks; no live bands; no karaoke; no juke box; no poker machines; no blaring television screens. All we ask is for a few tables to pull together in a quiet corner. A place to debate with heat and good humour the issues of the day.

    I show John (a jazzman when he's not behind the bar) photos of Guy and Howard playing Irish music for Nell's reading at Prairie Lights. He makes a note for the Iowa City stop on his long-planned pilgrimage along the blues trail from Chicago to New Orleans. Next I'm deep in conversation with Vincent and Brian about Peter Nazareth's comments on the work of Michael Henderson. I don't need to explain. They know who Peter is. They've read his work.  

    The following week I'm telling Glenn about the international writers I had the privilege of sharing eleven weeks with in Iowa City.

    "A woman writer?! From Pakistan!" he says astonished. International tours take top cricketers to foreign lands for extended periods. Glenn has seen first hand how women are treated in Pakistan. 

    "What does Bina think of Imran Khan?" he asks intrigued. "What does she think of his chances in the election?" 

    I'm embarrassed that I did not think to ask, even as I marvel at how well-informed my compatriots are about the world beyond our shores. It's an aspect of life in this small, far-flung corner of the globe I used to take for granted.

    Next comes the reunion with my Poetry and Pot Luck group. I show them photographic proof that our event has gone global: writers and friends crowded into my Iowa apartment cooking, eating, drinking, singing, reading, talking. Sadly, Wally's rousing rendition of "Casey at the Bat" is recorded only in memory. 

    Old connections weave me back into the fabric of my world; new connections bring new ideas, new projects, new ways of giving and receiving the gift of belonging. I even discover a potential co-author, an expert on a topic I want to write about but can no longer do so unaided. This is my greatest frustration. I have a hard-earned reputation for meticulous research, but I can no longer read the reams of documents I used to absorb by what now seems like osmosis. I am losing my sight.

    A year ago in my darkest hour I unpinned from my noticeboard the poem that has been my touchstone from  the day I became a serious writer—Fleur Adcock's "Future Work" with it's triumphal closing line "it is all magnificently about to begin." 

    But I am a writer. I can no more stop writing than I can stop breathing. So I begin to adapt in Iowa City, and I continue to adapt back home in Dunedin.

    This day brings a challenge, a novel inspired by my biography of the only woman hanged for murder in New Zealand. "Would you be interested in reviewing it?" Would I ever! But reading books is too hard. I have not read a print book in two years.

    I spin the arrow on my Acme Precision Planner. "Run away" it suggests. I spin again. "Just say yes to everything." I consider my options: phone the friends who've offered to read to me; ask for a copy of the book in e-format; buy a powerful headlamp to better illuminate the printed page. I do all three, and square my shoulders.

    "It is all magnificently about to begin." declaims the poem on my noticeboard.

    On Going Home

    Forty-three years ago, four years married, expecting our first child, looking for somewhere to put down our roots. This house on the hill looked good then. With the patina of age and memories it looks even better now. 

    Here, as the world turns and the generations roll over, our children bring their own giggling children to tumble down the same grassy...

Pages

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com D7 ver.1.1