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IC hosts first book fest

BY ADAM SALAZAR | JULY 20, 2009 7:15 AM

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Iowa City received an esteemed title in November 2008: the third U.N. City of Literature.

On July 18, the city hosted its first physical literary event to show for it — beyond producing esteemed writers and cultivating a vibrant literature community.

“One big thing that Iowa City doesn’t have — that would seem integral to a city of literature — is a book festival,” said Christopher Merrill, the director of the UI International Writing Program.

According to Merrill, standard criteria for the city to maintain its new title doesn’t yet exist because UNESCO Cities of Literature is a fairly new title for the United Nations.

While the city has yet to fully integrate the festival as a cultural event, the celebration — a multi-pronged partnership between the UI Libraries, Humanities Iowa, the UI Press, and Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization — included poetry readings, food vendors, a movie screening, and children’s story time.

And there were books, attracting the who’s who of local book retailers from the University Bookstore to Murphy-Brookfield Books, 219 N. Gilbert St.



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The festival was partly funded with a $5,000 grant from Humanities Iowa, the nonprofit organization affiliated with the National Endowment, and other financial sources came from MidwestOne bank and the UI Community Credit Union.

Along with the City of Literature theme, the UI Libraries reached a milestone by acquiring its 5 millionth volume, a feat accomplished by only a few educational institutions in the country.

Officials had planned on expanding the City of Literature to include a development on the Iowa River Landing; the plan includes a physical structure or entertainment complex dedicated to the literary arts.

The plan has been shelved because of the economic situation, Merrill said.

In the meantime, the municipality of Iowa City has allotted office space in the Iowa City Public Library for the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization, the nonprofit group spearheading the promotion of the city. It is looking for a board director.

No word has been said yet if the city will also contribute financially to the nonprofit literary effort.
Kristi Bontrager, a UI Library coordinator and the public-relations chairwoman, said that while the city has received international recognition, the literary title should also serve the community in some way.

“A lot of people don’t think of coming to the [UI] Library if they’re not affiliated with the university — but we really encourage people to use our resources as well,” she said.

She also lauded locals for helping the UI Main Library during flood evacuation last summer, when people from professors and students to parents with their children pitched in.

“That really proves that libraries and books are still really important to people,” she said.


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