Phil's Day 2013: Philanthropy aids Presidential Scholars and UI writing program

BY GUEST COLUMN | APRIL 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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We are lucky to live in the heart of American literature, surrounded by some of the most gifted writers in the world. But these literary riches are not simply a matter of luck. The gifted writers are greatly helped by the donors who have given support to the University of Iowa, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and other university writing programs.

As the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I am aware that creativity would not be possible without the generosity of philanthropy. Every day, I am impressed by the courage and idealism of the young writers who come to this town in order to attend this university and take part in its community of writers. I feel gratitude to donors who make it possible for so many of these writers to do the creative work they have always dreamed of doing.

During this week leading up to Phil’s Day, I ask you to consider becoming a donor to the Writers’ Workshop and to other UI writing programs. You will be providing financial aid to emerging writers who are taking brave strides into an uncertain life of poetry and story-writing. You will make it possible for hundreds, even thousands, of stories, essays, plays, and poems to be written. You may be supporting student-run productions and literary magazines. The exciting work that takes place at all of the UI’s historically renowned and visionary writing programs is sustained and nurtured by the visionary generosity of those who give to support them.  

Making a gift in support of writers is an act of creativity. Writers know this, and they give back in kind. Hundreds of novels and poems have been set in the streets, bars, houses, and classrooms of Iowa City. These are works of love, written to a generous community that has given so much.

“I want to write a story that is set in Iowa City,” a young Workshop student recently told me. This writer, who has no resources of his own, would not have been able to attend the university if it had not been for private support.

“I want the readers and writers who are here after me to read my story and recognize the names of things. This is the first time I have ever felt this way about any place.”

We have the opportunity to nourish and enrich this community. By giving to our writers, we are being creative ourselves. Philanthropy is a creative act. When we give in support of writing at the UI, we make our own artistic commitment to the world.

Lan Samantha Chang (1993 M.F.A.), director, Iowa Writers’ Workshop

On many Sunday nights, I can be found in a local coffee joint studying with one of my best friends on campus and conversing about everything from modern feminism to Hawkeye football. We sit together because, as fellow Presidential Scholars, we share a passion for learning and for the University of Iowa. I credit our important friendship to the Presidential Scholars program — which is made possible by generous philanthropy.

Not only did philanthropy help me establish a very close friendship, it also gave me the chance to broaden my worldview. In January, I was uploading pictures to Facebook that showed me standing in front of Christ the Redeemer and learning to samba in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Studying abroad in Brazil was one of the most humbling experiences of my life, and it was philanthropy that allowed me to do it. I received a Winter Study Abroad Scholarship that helped subsidize my course fees and allowed me to travel to a new country.

These days, I spend much of my time in a practice room, working on my vocal technique. As a vocal performance major, I was disheartened by the devastation of the Arts Campus in the flood of 2008. However, philanthropy will help the UI rebuild these music facilities and make them even better than they were before the flood. Though these buildings will open after I graduate, I know I will be a proud alumna who will return to campus to visit the new facilities and to meet current students.

The aforementioned scenarios are just three examples of how philanthropy has shaped my time at Iowa in ways both subtle and obvious — but always significant. As a member of the Student Philanthropy Group, I have been able to give back to the University of Iowa in appreciation for all of the incredible experiences that I have been afforded through the generous donations of alumni and friends.

Philanthropy is about encouraging alumni, students, faculty, and staff to provide crucial financial support. It doesn’t matter how much you contribute; it just matters that you show your confidence in the UI’s ability to accomplish amazing things and to continue to improve. I urge all of us to seek out the many opportunities that philanthropy supports on campus and to create our own pictures of philanthropy.

Thanks, Phil, for all that you have contributed to my time at Iowa. I also thank you on behalf of every student, faculty member, and fan who has been — and will be — touched by your support.

UI student Alysa Olson, , class of 2015, majoring in vocal performance and performing-arts entrepreneurship; member of the UI Foundation’s Student Philanthropy Group

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