Novel Iowa City to create book using tweets


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Organizers of the Iowa City Book Festival are inviting people across the world to help write a novel — in 140 characters or less.

Beginning at noon July 15 and ending at 5 p.m. July 17, anyone with a Twitter account can contribute to the project called Novel Iowa City. Those involved are hoping the wide reach of tweeting will intrigue locals.

“I think this is a great way to engage Iowa City’s literary community and the community worldwide,” said Jon Winet, the director and innovator of the Novel Iowa City project. “The response has been good, and we’re also hoping that it will spark conversations about the nature of writing and how new forms of media can provide new ways that people can express themselves creatively through text.”

Winet said participants will add to the projected novel by tweeting and then adding the hashtag #icbfn. The various tweets will then be compiled to create a book.

“It’s safe to say nobody’s entirely sure what to expect from this, but it’s going to be a lot of fun to figure out how this works,” said Greg Prickman, a codirector of the Book Festival.

Prickman said there are going to be eight writers and editors — hailing from around the country and even as far away as Germany — who will try to shape the narrative as the day goes on.

“It’s not meant to be a random stream of tweets, it is meant to be a novel in some sense,” he said.

The Novel Iowa City webpage shows a window with a live stream of tweets containing the hashtag #icbfn. This window will be shown on screens at various businesses around the city so users can stay up to date on the story line.

The project will provide a new outlet for literary creativity and collaboration in an already rich writing community, Winet said.

Iowa City is one of four cities worldwide designated as a City of Literature by UNESCO, and it is the only one in North America.

Jeanette Pilak, the executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, said the organization focuses on creativity and innovation in literature.

“So that means, when a project like this comes that can include all Iowans, all Americans — anybody who has a Twitter account — we are doing our job of supporting literature in all its phases,” she said.

At the conclusion of the three-day time period, the tweets will be archived and put together in a PDF that will appear online as a novel.

“In the very democratic nature of Twitter, the tweets will appear as written,” Winet said. “Some of the other editors may want to look at forming and editing the format as something less Twitter.”

And the response to this project has been propelled by interest from both traditional and social media.

“One of ways it’s spreading is through Twitter. People are tweeting and retweeting about it,” Prickman said.

With so much media attention, Pilak said Iowa is not the “fly-over” state people in the United States say it is.

“This project is just one more piece of evidence of what a leadership position Iowa has in the humanities,” she said.

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