Literary legend honored with reading

BY BEN EVANS | OCTOBER 12, 2009 7:20 AM

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The achievements of Paul Engle continue to ripple through the Iowa City community. Some know him as a poet, others know him and his wife, Hualing Nieh Engle, as the founders of the International Writing Program. But there is no doubt of his tremendous effect on the very fabric of Iowa City’s writing culture.

Besides cofounding the IWP, Engle directed the Writers’ Workshop from 1941-1965. As a writer, he penned a dozen collections of poetry, a novel, a memoir, and an opera libretto for Philip Bezanson. He was also nominated in 1976 for a Nobel Prize for his work with IWP.

In 2000, then-Gov. Tom Vilsack proclaimed Oct. 12 to be Paul Engle Memorial Day, in honor of the writer’s birthday. Every year since, IWP has celebrated this day with a reading honoring Engle.

This year’s event will take place at 8 p.m. today in the Main Library’s Shambaugh Auditorium. Eavan Boland, a distinguished Irish poet and the director of the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University, will read. Admission is free.

Boland’s first book of poetry, New Territory, was published in 1967. Since then, she has received a Lannon Award for her collection of poetry In a Time of Violence and an American Ireland Fund Literary Award. An IWP alumni, she said she is anticipating her return to the UI community.

“It will be wonderful to be back,” she said. “I still remember how my husband and I instantly loved Iowa City. We could see at once that this was not just an extraordinarily distinguished community, it was also a welcoming one.”

She said she is honored to do the reading and to be one of the students who was extremely affected by Engle’s generosity and care.

“It’s extremely rare to build what Paul Engle built — a world that recognizes writing and sustains it and looks outward at the same time,” she said. “It involved huge work and endless generosity. And Paul and Hualing did that.”

She finds that this generosity and work ethic to be consistent with what is going on in the IWP.

“That work is still being continued by Christopher Merrill and the program today,” she said. “It’s wonderful to come back and see that tradition sustained.”

Merrill, the IWP current director, believes Boland is equally worthy of praise.

“She does many of the things that Paul Engle did — Eavan Boland is one of the most distinguished poets on the world stage, and a credit to the IWP,” he said. “She has the distinguished career that Engle had, she had a similar kind of teaching record, and she also has the ability to run a program that Engle exemplified.”

Merrill said Boland has a certain importance not only to Iowa City residents but people all across the world.

“By the time she got to the UI, she was on her way to becoming a star in the literary community,” he said. “Now [with her achievements], she is a superstar.”

This made her an ideal candidate to read from her works at the Memorial Reading.

“Boland comes into the culture of Iowa City offering her poems and her wisdom,” Merrill said.

“She’ll be around campus for a whole week, so she’ll be interacting with students, with faculty, and with people from the community, giving a bigger sense of what’s possible for poetry in this world.”

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