How Iowa City Became a City of Writers

From the Press Citizen: The following interview is with Loren Glass, an associate professor of English at the University of Iowa and one of the literary historians interviewed for the new documentary, “City of Literature,” which was screened at 2 p.m. on Oct. 14 at The Englert Theatre.

Lin Larson: This may come as news to people who aren’t familiar with English departments, but creative writers and literary scholars don’t always mesh, right?

Loren Glass: Creative writing and English programs are sort of two different cultures, even when they’re housed together. Writers and scholars generally have different perspectives on literature, different ways of teaching, and different views of theory, for example.

In the 1980s and ’90s, these differences became especially definitive, with outright animosity in some quarters. But now I think there’s opportunity to build new bridges.

LL: You’ve written in particular about Paul Engle, director of the Writers’ Workshop from 1941-1965. Why focus on him?

LG: There’s been very little written about Engle, and today he’s much better known for his work with Iowa’s International Writing Program than for his role with the workshop.

He seemed like a natural place to focus when I was starting this work. First, his papers are all housed here. Second, I’d been reading about Max Weber’s theory of charisma, which seemed to fit Engle’s story.

I ended up writing a piece about Engle for the Minnesota Review. Most of the points I cite in the “City of Literature” film come from there, as well as from Stephen Wilbers’ history of the Writers’ Workshop and a history of the UI English department by John Gerber.

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