Eight UI International Writing Program residents to share stories and perspectives


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One week after arriving in Iowa City from Afghanistan, International Writing Program writer Mohib Zegham went to see President Obama speak on Sept. 7. What he observed as he surveyed the crowd, he said, was like a work of fiction.

“I saw there were people from each ethnic group, from each color. It was no matter here, but in Afghanistan, the current political parties are ethnic-based,” he said, noting that similar differences are present in each country’s writing style. “Most of the subject matter for our stories is about violence, human rights, women’s rights, etc., but here, the subjects are different, because people live in a peaceful condition. It’s a good opportunity to know each other and exchange experiences.”

The University of Iowa’s fall 2012 IWP residencies have brought together 30 writers from 28 countries, each bringing to Iowa City a unique portfolio and perspective.

“The International Writing Program is able to offer some of the widest array of literary voices and writers who mean a lot to their communities,” said fall residency coordinator Joseph Tiefenthaler.

“It’s a little bit of cultural diplomacy. You get to interact with so many other literary cultures that you don’t normally have in front of you.”

Eight professional writers from the IWP will speak and read samples of their work at three events this weekend.

The first will be a panel at noon Friday in 304 EPB, featuring Yaghoub Yadali of Iran, Bilal Tanweer of Pakistan, Alisa Ganieva of Russia, and Zegham, all of whom will speak on the subject of Writing in a Country At War.

Along with the panel, there will be two readings: one at 5 p.m. Friday at at Shambaugh House, with writers Hae Yisoo and Choi Myoung Sook of South Korea and one on at 4 p.m. Sept. 16 at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., featuring Barlen Pyamootoo of Mauritius, Chan Chi Tak of Hong Kong, and a graduate student from one of the UI writing programs.

“There have been, on average, two wars a year since the end of World War II,” said Christopher Merrill, the IWP director, who will introduce the speakers this weekend. “I imagine that the IWP writers will offer us unique insights into the literature of war, the responsibilities of writers in wartime, and much more.”

Zegham, a physician who has published several novels, articles, and children’s books, said he plans to discuss the social role of literature in Afghanistan and the “responsibilities and privileges” of writers living in a state of war.

“Writers in war-torn countries — they can provoke the emotions of people, and they can give them a story of love, and tolerance, and a message of humanity in their writings, so the people may avoid revenge and bloodshed,” he said.

Ganieva, a multi-award winning writer and critic who has written about the “heterogeneous” mix of ethnicities and language in Russia, said she cherishes the opportunity to meet fellow writers and find inspiration through the IWP.

“It’s a really rare experience for writers living in isolated areas,” she said. “Iowa City is very culturally rich, and every day, something’s going on. The atmosphere is very productive and very stimulating and instigating to create something, and I hope my next novel will go on here.”

Pyamootoo — who will read Sept. 16 at Prairie Lights — said he derives inspiration from new experiences and encounters, and he is excited to be introduced to the unique and “profound” perspectives of his fellow international writers.

“[Through the program] I can discover other worlds, inner ones, and that will make me far more open-minded to so many things I have never imagined,” he said. “Literature is beyond frontiers. The landscapes may change from one country to another, the way of life, too, but literature is literature. No passport is needed for that.”

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