International writers arrive in Iowa City

BY RISHABH R. JAIN | AUGUST 30, 2011 7:20 AM

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A new visitor to Iowa City says the town reminds her of Bangalore “100 years ago.”

Usha K.R. is one of 37 new writers from more than 32 countries who have arrived in Iowa City as part of the International Writing Program, and she said she’s happy to be here.

“Iowa City is beautiful,” the Indian writer said, noting that today, her home town has “grown tremendously and has lost its small-town essence.”

The 50-year-old writer said she plans to soak in that essence.

“I plan to do a lot of work at the library,” she said. “While reading on the side, I am hoping to get some firsthand insights instinctively rather than looking out for things, because that is how I work. I believe Iowa City can facilitate that.”

The diverse group of writers arrived this week for a three-month-long fall residency — the main event of the program. The writers had an orientation at Shambaugh House on Monday.

Program Director Christopher Merrill said the program broadly revolves around the idea of exposing the writers to an international writing community and exposing Iowans to the writers as well.

“This program is unique in the world of letters,” he said, noting the program provides for a one-of-a-kind opportunity to engage in conversations that cross literary, political, geographical, and cultural borders.

Beginning in 1967, writers from all over the world have attended the International Writing Program.

Funded mostly by the U.S. Department of State, most visiting writers were invited to participate in the program either by the U.S. Embassy in their respective countries or by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

The program provides housing and covers travel expenses for visiting writers.

“Our writers are encouraged to attend translation workshops, to participate in panel discussions and film screenings, to give lectures, and to interact with one another,” said Nathan Brown, the program’s publicity coordinator. “The IWP is not a degree-granting program, and to that end, we encourage residents to use their time as they see fit. Some will become deeply engaged in the literary community in Iowa City, while others might choose to use the residency as an opportunity to buckle down and finish writing their [work].”

One writer, Promise Ogochukwu from Nigeria, said she plans to spend her time working on a book that revolves around the realization of death and explores ways of adding meaning to life. She said she hopes to be inspired by the scenic Iowa River.

“I think [the program] is a huge opportunity, and I already see that,” the 37-year-old writer said. “I interacted with some other writers yesterday, and they spoke about their cultures and some things that they are working on. I am working on a book that is a bit difficult, and this is the best place to work on it.”

Ogochukwu was nominated by the Department of State for the program.

“I didn’t know about [the program] before,” she said. “They called me up and said they want me to be a part of this beautiful thing.”

Merrill noted the duality of benefits the International Writing Program provides for both writers and Iowans.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for Iowans to get to know about writers and literary traditions from around the world,” he said. “And it’s a wonderful opportunity for visiting writers to get a sense of life in America and writing traditions from across the globe.”

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