The University of Iowa

A United Nations of Writers

As the United States reopens embassies all over the Middle East and Africa, 34 writers from 31 countries and territories—including Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Bahrain, and Iran—prepare to travel to Iowa City (the only UNESCO City of Literature in the United States) to prove that the arts—literature, in particular—know no borders.

The writers, representing every continent except Antarctica, have all won coveted spots in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP) annual Fall Residency, a 10-week all-inclusive creative residency that includes travel and literary and cultural events as well as time and space to write.

A “United Nations of Writers,” the residency dates back to 1967 when Paul Engle, longtime director of the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and his wife, Chinese novelist Hualing Nieh, created the IWP as a way to support writers and strengthen their creative networks, regardless of national origin.

A year of firsts

The 2013 IWP residency includes the first-ever participants from three nations: Yemen, Bahrain, and Burundi, as well as the first writer from Portugal since 1968, playwright and multimedia artist Patrícia Portela. Portela will also serve as the first-ever IWP Community Engagement Fellow, reaching out to the Iowa community and blogging about the residency experience.

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

The weekly schedule of free public events in Iowa includes 4 p.m. Sunday readings at landmark independent bookseller Prairie Lights, and the Wednesday night Cinématheque, an international film screening and discussion series.