July-October 2010

Iowa City Poetry Marathon:
July 4th to October 31st, 2010

When Iowa City was named a City of Literature in 2008, it joined Edinburgh and Melbourne to become the third city worldwide to receive this designation–a recognition of a century and a half of activity in a small university city that has played a role in the world of literature far out of proportion with its size. Iowa City has long been host to a lively literary scene that has extended beyond the university’s campus to inform the spirit of the community. Our exhibition highlights diverse aspects of literary life both at the University of Iowa and throughout our town.

It was in 1922 that the University made its first significant mark on the national literary scene when it awarded the first Master’s for creative writing. The program that became the world-renowned Writers’ Workshop began in 1936, and in 1941 Paul Engle began his twenty-four year tenure as its director. Other creative degree programs followed, including the Undergraduate Writers’ Workshop in 1949, the Iowa Playwrights Workshop in 1971, and the MFA Program in Translation in 1974. Complementing these creative programs are nationally respected scholarly programs in literary studies such as Cinema and Comparative Literature, English, and the various foreign language departments, as well as programs such as Theatre Arts and the Center for the Book that combine creative and scholarly endeavors.

When, in 1967, Paul Engle and Nieh Hualing established the International Writing Program, offering a creative residency to writers from around the world, they established Iowa City as a center of the world literary scene. Since that time, authors from practically every country on earth have lived, written, and lectured in Iowa City. One result of this vibrant range of literary activity has been that Iowa City is frequently a setting for literary works by both American and international writers.

Literary life in Iowa City has by no means been limited to the university. Literature has long played a significant role in the larger community, and legions of writers have made our town their home. These writers have established their own informal networks and formal institutions and have carried their activities literally to the city streets.

The 1960s and 1970s were a particularly fruitful time for literary activity in the community, as the homegrown literary movement of the “Iowa City Actualists” developed, local writers conducted “poetry marathons,” and performing groups like Duck’s Breath Mystery Theatre had a national impact through radio broadcasts.

Iowa City’s vibrant literary life has also been reflected in its many literary magazines, small presses, and bookstores. The Iowa City Public Library not only hosts readings, but has in recent years sponsored a children’s author-in-residence program. Literature may be found on our city buses (courtesy of the city’s “Poetry in Public” placard program) and on our sidewalks (through the plaques of the Iowa City Literary Walk).

The University Libraries aim to fully reflect the literary diversity that is Iowa City. The Special Collections Department has collected the papers of many of our writers, small presses, and little magazines. The papers of Paul Engle and Nieh Hualing in particular contain a wealth of information on the literary scene, including correspondence with countless writers in the United States and abroad. The growing collection of works by authors who have participated in the International Writing Program provides a unique cross-section of the international literary scene since 1945. And through events such as the Iowa City Book Festival, the University Libraries have become an active participant in the literary life of Iowa City.



Exhibition Planning and Installation
Tim Shipe, Ericka Raber, Chiaki Sakai

Bill Voss

Graphic design
Jessica Baker, Caitlyn Mills, and Sarah Lenger at IMU Marketing + Graphic Design

Special thanks

Dr. Alphabet, Marvin Bell, Timothy Barrett, Marcia Bollinger (Office of Neighborhood Services, City of Iowa City), Anna Burkey (Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust), Maeve Clark and Debb Green (Iowa City Public Library), Joyce Holland, Gregg LeFevre and Jennifer Andrews (Andrews LeFevre Studios), Chris Merrill and Natasa Durovicova (International Writing Program), Joseph Michaud, Dave Morice, Jeanette Pilak (Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature), Russell Valentino, Nancy Abram and Matt Andracki (IMU Marketing and Design) and numerous staff members of the University Libraries.

For more information about the exhibit content, please use: “City of Literature” Subject Guide at http://guides.lib.uiowa.edu/cityofliterature.