The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated Iowa City the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
"This is at once a celebration of the literary riches and resources of Iowa City and a spur to action," said University of Iowa International Writing Program (IWP) director Christopher Merrill, who led the UI Writing University committee that submitted the city's proposal. "We look forward to working with our new partners in the Creative Cities Network—to forging dynamic relationships with writers, artists, and others committed to the life of discovery.
"This is a great day for Iowa City."
Iowa City joins Edinburgh, Scotland, and Melbourne, Australia, as UNESCO Cities of Literature. Other cities in the Creative Cities Network—honoring and connecting cultural centers for cinema, music, crafts and folk arts, design, media arts, and gastronomy, as well as literature—include Aswan, Egypt; Santa Fe, N.M.; Berlin, Germany; Montreal, Canada; Popayan, Colombia; Bologna, Italy; Shenzhen, China; and Seville, Spain.
The Creative Cities Network was designed to promote the social, economic, and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world. The cities that apply to join to the network seek to promote their local creative scene; they share interest in UNESCO's mission toward cultural diversity. Once the city is appointed to the network, it can share experiences and create new opportunities for itself and others on a global platform, notably for activities based on the notion of "creative tourism."
The Writing University task force was launched by former UI provost Michael Hogan to embrace and celebrate The University of Iowa's stature as a literary center, and to provide enhanced opportunities for coordination and cooperation among UI literary programs.
The Writing University includes the Writers' Workshop, the IWP, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Nonfiction Writing Program, the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, the intermedia area of the School of Art and Art History, the Irish Writing Program, the Iowa Young Writers' Studio, the Translation Workshop, the Spanish Creative Writing Workshop, the UI Center for the Book, UI Press, and the Iowa Review.
The catalyst for the University's literary activity was the Writers' Workshop, the first creative writing degree program anywhere and the blueprint for many of the creative writing programs that now thrive on campuses worldwide. The stature of the program was recently enhanced when two poets connected to the workshop shared the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and IWP veteran Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize.
by Winston Barclay
10 things to know about Iowa City, UNESCO City of Literature
Cultural capital: Iowa City is the cultural capital of Iowa with a population of 63,000. The city has a network of university, grassroots, and civic institutions that teach, celebrate, nurture, and study great writing.
Iowa Writers' Workshop: As the home of the highly acclaimed Iowa Writers' Workshop—the world's first Master of Fine Arts degree program in creative writing—Iowa City and The University of Iowa have played a substantial role in how literature, first in America and then around the world, has come to be written. The MFA degree workshop concept has spread to more than 300 American universities and to universities in numerous other countries.
Writing programs: Important programs at the University include the Translation Workshop; the Playwrights Workshop; the Nonfiction Writing Program; the Summer Writing Festival (composed of dozens of workshops for the general public); and the Young Writers' Studio, a summer program for high-school students.
Famous authors: Since 1955, graduates and faculty of The University of Iowa have won more than 25 Pulitzer Prizes in literature. Authors who have lived, taught, and studied in the city include Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Robert Penn Warren, Robert Lowell, Flannery O'Connor, Rita Dove, Jane Smiley, Robert Hass, Raymond Carver, and John Irving.
International authors: More than 1,200 emerging and established writers from more than 120 countries have been in residence at The University of Iowa's International Writing Program, including such luminaries as Bessie Head, Bei Dao, Luisa Valenzuela, John Banville, and Nobel Prize–winner Orhan Pamuk. Each fall these writers participate in dozens of public events, including readings and panel discussions.
Readings through the media: Among the valuable local institutions is Prairie Lights Books, the independent bookstore that hosts three or more live readings every week. Live From Prairie Lights has been the only ongoing series of live-broadcast literary readings on American radio, and the tradition is now entering a new era through different media.
Publishing: Iowa City is home to 11 literary presses, including one devoted to translation; two publishers devoted to language and literacy materials; and a range of print and online journals, as well as several literary blogs. The highly respected Center for the Book preserves and extends the art of bookmaking.
City libraries: In 2006, for a population of 63,027, there were 63,713 public library patrons; borrowers as a percentage of population reached 101 percent. (The figure includes residents of neighboring areas arrogating borrowing privileges for their work in Iowa City.) The University's research library is the 18th largest of its kind in the country; its holdings include special literary collections and hundreds of thousands of rare books; and it is the location of many literature-related exhibitions.
Literary events: The various literary institutions sponsor more than 180 literary events a year, and the UI Nonfiction Writing Program hosts a biennial NonfictioNow Conference, which draws participants from around the world.
Literary Walk: A series of commissioned bronze artworks embedded in the sidewalks downtown, each highlighting the words of an Iowa City writer.