Stream receives Engle essay contest prize during Book Festival

engle essay

Palen Stream, top winner in the 2014 Glory of the Senses: Paul Engle Essay Contest from the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, received her prize of one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa during and event at this year’s Iowa City Book Festival.

Stream, now a junior at Bedford Community High School in southwest Iowa, read her winning essay, “The Trail of Senses That Leads Me Home,” at the ceremony. She was one of three winners in attendance, joined by runners-up Paige Curry from Spencer High School, and Erin Kinne from Boone High School. Curry and Kinne also read their winning essays, which earned them $500 cash scholarships.

Other runners-up unable to attend were Sarah Cabeen, Clarinda High School; Claire Boes, Abraham Lincoln High School (Council Bluffs); Sierra Paul, Bedford Community High School; and Cassidy Strickland, Bedford Community High School. They also will receive $500 cash scholarships.

In her winning essay, Stream writes about a series of places in and around her community that to her are “quintessential Iowa.” The essays were judged by a team from ACT in Iowa City. In notes about the winning essays, the judges wrote that Palen’s essay “is a tour-de-force through the sounds, smells, and sensations of quintessential Iowa, taking her reader fluidly through the complex set of emotions that arise from growing up in a state with one foot planted firmly in tradition and one foot pointed toward the future.”

The contest asked Iowa high school sophomores to write a three-to-five-page essay about an “Iowa experience,” drawing on a specific memory to capture the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of the day.

The contest and an accompanying weeklong curriculum distributed to all high schools in Iowa are based on the writings of Paul Engle – the long-time director of the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop and co-founder of the UI’s International Writing Program – particularly his memoir, A Lucky American Childhood.

Details about the 2015 contest will be released this fall.

Photo: Paige Curry, Palen Stream, Erin Kinne and University of Iowa President Sally Mason (photo by Linda Schreiber)
Video: University Office of Strategic Communication


New Writers on the Fly video interview site

on the fly capture

The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature today has launched a new website that gathers video interviews with dozens of authors and makes them available for viewing by readers, writers, students, teachers and anyone who enjoys learning more about writers and their craft.

Writers on the Fly, found at, debuts with a featured video interview with Mary Szybist, the 2013 National Book Award winner in poetry, who reads from and discusses her latest collection, Incarnadine. Szybist will appear at the 2014 Iowa City Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 4, as part of a memorial reading marking the 10 years since the passing of poet Donald Justice.

In the videos, shot by Iowa City videographer Ben Hill, the authors sit for a series of questions – some consistent from one to the next, and some unique to that writer – and discussion of their work. In new videos being added to the collection every other week, the authors also read briefly from their work.

A new feature for educators offers lesson plans that draw on specific videos. As the site grows, additional plans will be added, giving teachers a unique resource when teaching writing. The Writers on the Fly debuted as an occasional feature on the City of Literature’s web site in 2010. With this new, dedicated site, those videos can all be found in one place along with additional resources to enhance the experience.

“We have dozens of these videos available, and it is our hope that this new accessible format will help viewers to discover and use this valuable resource,” said City of Literature Executive Director John Kenyon.

Older videos are being added to the site daily, while new, unseen videos will debut every other Monday. Existing interview subjects include Stuart Dybek, Mona Simpson, Nathan Englander, and Mary Swander. New and forthcoming interviews feature Amber Dermont, Aleksandar Hemon, Roxane Gay, and Joe Hill.


Urrea named 2014 Paul Engle Prize winner

Luis Alberto Urrea has been named the third recipient of the Paul Engle Prize, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.

The prize, established in 2011, honors an individual who, like Paul Engle, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing, or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.

Urrea will receive the prize, which includes a one-of-a-kind work of art and $10,000, during a special ceremony as part of the Iowa City Book Festival on Oct. 4. The event is at 1 p.m. in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber on the University of Iowa campus, and is free and open to the public.

He will appear throughout the Corridor during a three-day visit to the area, Oct. 2-4. He will visit West Liberty High School; read at New Bo Books at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct., 3, in Cedar Rapids; meet with high school and college students in Iowa City; and will participate on a free panel about immigration at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 2, at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts.

Urrea said the award comes as he wrestles with the idea of purpose in his work and how he should focus his intentions.

“Maintaining the work of witness in the face of ever shifting career developments and demands is a daunting task,” he said. “This award renews my commitment and vision; validation of this sort is so energizing and will impact my work for some time. The concept of a literature of witness – of bearing witness – has embedded in it the need for action. One must not simply hide in the shadows and type; one must also stand in the light.”

Urrea, a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, is a prolific and acclaimed writer who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph.

Born in Tijuana, Mexico to a Mexican father and an American mother, Urrea has published extensively in all the major genres. The critically acclaimed and best-selling author of 13 books, Urrea has won numerous awards for his poetry, fiction and essays. The Devil’s Highway, his 2004 non-fiction account of a group of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona desert, won the Lannan Literary Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize.

Urrea’s novels include The Hummingbird’s Daughter, its follow up, Queen of America, and the bestselling Into the Beautiful North, which imagines a small town in Mexico where all the men have immigrated to the U.S. A group of young women, after seeing the film The Magnificent Seven, decide to follow the men North and persuade them to return to their beloved village.

Urrea attended the University of California at San Diego, earning an undergraduate degree in writing, and did his graduate studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

After serving as a relief worker in Tijuana and a film extra and columnist-editor-cartoonist for several publications, Urrea moved to Boston where he taught expository writing and fiction workshops at Harvard. He has also taught at Massachusetts Bay Community College and the University of Colorado and he was the writer in residence at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

Urrea lives with his family in Naperville, Ill., where he is a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The Paul Engle Prize is made possible through the generous support of the City of Coralville, which is home to 11 permanent sculptures with artistic and literary ties to Iowa. The sculptures all have ties to work found in The Iowa Writers’ Library, housed in the Coralville Marriott, which features about 800 books written by former students, graduates and faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Paul Engle (October 12, 1908 – March 22, 1991), though best remembered as the long-time director of the Writers’ Workshop and founder of the UI’s International Writing Program, also was a well-regarded poet, playwright, essayist, editor and critic. In addition to recognizing a writer, like Engle, makes an impact on his or her community and the world at large through efforts beyond the page, the award is designed to raise awareness about Engle and his works.

Previous winners of the prize are James Alan McPherson, a longtime instructor at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Elbow Room, and Kwame Dawes, a professor at Nebraska University, editor of the journal Prairie Schooner, and author of the recent poetry collection, Duppy Conqueror.


One Community, One Book Discussion Sept. 20

The Iowa City Public Library will host its 2014 One Community, One Book discussion from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 20, in Meeting Room E on the Library’s second floor.

The 2014 One Community, One Book selection is “The Distance Between Us,” by Reyna Grande. A memoir about Grande and her family, this book tells the story of the difficulties families face when they are separated by borders.

Born in Mexico, Grande was raised by her grandparents after her parents left to find work in the U.S. when she was 4. Years later, she enters the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant to live with her father, but life in America is far from perfect.

One Community, One Book: All Johnson County Reads is a community-wide reading project sponsored by the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights. Now in its 14th year, One Community, One Book encourages community members to read and to discuss the same book selection with a human rights or social justice theme.

ICPL’s book discussion is one of two held in the community in September. A second discussion will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23, at the Coralville Public Library. For a complete list of events, visit

Reyna Grande will attend the Iowa City Book Festival in October, speaking at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 4, in room C20 of the Pomerantz Center.

Copies of “The Distance Between Us,” including book club kits, audio books, and eBooks, are available to check out at the Iowa City Public Library.

For more information about ICPL’s book discussion, visit or call the Library at (319) 356-5200.

Celebrating Finnegan’s Wake around the world


A project coordinated by the Dublin UNESCO City of Literature celebrates the 75th anniversary of James Joyce’s novel, Finnegan’s Wake, through a video collaboration among the seven Cities of Literature.

Short passages from Joyce’s challenging work were selected and presented to the Cities of Literature with an assignment: create a video that helps to bring the passage to life. The result is six short films based on these passages, gathered together and available to view.

The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature partnered with Riverside Theatre and filmmaker Ben Hill to create a short contribution, based on a passage “Mutt and Jute” found early in the book. Actors Ron Clark and Patrick du Laney acted out the scene, filmed by Hill at Riverside’s Gilbert Street location.

The other participating cities were Edinburgh (Scotland), Melbourne (Australia), Reykjavik (Iceland), Norwich (England) and Krakow (Poland).