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Author calls Iowa best place for Writers’ Workshop

BY JONATHAN BENDICKSON | JUNE 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa Writers’ Workshop kicked off its weekend-long 75th-anniversary celebration Thursday night with a keynote address from one of its long-time writers and faculty members.

Marilynne Robinson highlighted the elite status of the university’s historic program in her address, “The Workshop as Phenomenon” at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St.

“Have there ever been so many poets in one place?” Robinson asked the packed house. “This is an astonishing thing to consider. If it were happening anywhere else, I’m sure we’d be impressed.”

Lan Samantha Chang, the director of the Writers’ Workshop said she’s still amazed that the Workshop has succeeded on so many levels.

“How is that what began as an experiment, an upstart idea of a few writers and academics at a public university in a rural state, could flourish for 75 years?” Chang said.

She said Robinson was a great choice as the opening speaker because of her literary talent.

“We’re thrilled to have Marilynne as our keynote speaker,” Chang said. “She is a celebrated writer and thinker and a longtime member of the Workshop and Iowa City community.”

Even though the event celebrated the 75th anniversary, Robinson said, the Workshop’s origination was early proof of Iowa City’s long-standing literary tradition.

“By the time the Workshop was officially part of the university, the ground was well-prepared, and Iowa City was already a city of literature,” Robinson said.

Don Wallace, a former Workshop student, said the university’s celebration is unlike any other literary event he’s attended.

“You go to other events like this, and it’s an entirely different dynamic,” he said. “But here, we’re all writers.”

Though this weekend will look back on 75 years of growth, Chang said she hopes the Workshop will help write the next chapter for Iowa City’s rich literary heritage.

“I’d like the Workshop to become actively engaged in bringing writers and writing to the youth communities of Iowa City,” Chang said. “This public engagement seems, to me, to be a natural sharing and outgrowth of the program’s creative wealth.”

Robinson said the future of the Workshop depends on the outreach.

“There’s no better way to find those who will be capable of the highest achievement than to cast the widest net,” she said.

And the author said she thinks the program’s reputation reflects the community it’s based in.

“I’m often asked why Iowa, the Workshop, is in Iowa, the state,” Robinson said. “What can I say, except that like the other arts programs that came to early and vigorous life here, it expresses the place.”


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