Book Fest draws record attendance

The 2015 Iowa City Book Festival has wrapped, and it was a rousing success. With more than 50 events featuring more than 100 authors and presenters over four days, there was something for everyone, More than 4,000 people took advantage.

Sara Paretsky holds up this year’s Paul Engle Prize while Alison Ames Galdstad looks on.
The festival began Thursday with a handful of events that culminated with a talk by Jonathan Katz about the public health emergency left by the disaster relief efforts after the devastating Haiti earthquake.

Friday was capped with the annual Engle Prize award celebration. The prize, presented by the City of Literature organization, celebrated bestselling mystery novelist Sara Paretsky. The event, which also featured book reviewer Maureen Corrigan, drew a capacity crowd to the Coralville Public Library.

Saturday was a day full of events, with panel discussions, readings, demonstrations and more. A Book Fair featuring independent publishers, print journals, booksellers and more drew people to the Pedestrian Mall, while events scattered at eight downtown locations kept people moving about.

The day closed with a standing-room-only talk at the Englert Theatre by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who spoke about his new book, Saving Capitalism. In an hour-long presentation, Reich blended serious scholarship with witty quips.

The highlight of the festival for many was also its biggest — and the biggest in festival history. Bryan Stevenson, an attorney and social justice activist gave a talk Sunday afternoon at the Iowa Memorial Union that was based on his best-selling book, Just Mercy.

More than 1,000 people turned out to hear Stevenson, whose book was the selection for this year’s One Community One Book project from the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights. The City of Literature and the Center partnered with the Geneva Ministries to bring Stevenson to the Book Festival.

The dates for the 2016 festival have been set: Oct. 6-9. Mark your calendars!

Paretsky to receive 2015 Paul Engle Prize


Sara Paretsky has been named the fourth 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.

Paretsky 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. 2. The event is at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library. She will be joined by noted NPR and Washington Post book critic Maureen Corrigan, who will conduct a Q&A with Paretsky. The event is free and open to the public.

Paretsky is best known as the author behind the bestselling Chicago-based V.I. Warshawski mystery series, including the new novel, Brush Back. She revolutionized the mystery world when the series debuted in 1982 with Indemnity Only, a book that challenged the stereotypes of women in fiction as victims or vamps. Over the course of 17 Warshawski novels, Paretsky has crafted a tough, street-smart yet feminine heroine who allows her creator tackle social issues.

The author has spent much of her career opening doors for other writers – particularly women – and assisting those without a voice. That work includes the creation in 1986 of Sisters in Crime, a group that has evolved into a worldwide organization that supports women crime writers. She currently serves as president of the Mystery Writers of America, a post she says she took to help address the issue of diversity in the genre. She has won numerous awards for her writing and for this work, but many of her contributions go unheralded.

Paretsky came to Chicago from her native Kansas in part due to a passion for social justice. She worked as a community organizer during the Civil Rights era, and more recently, served with then-state senator Barack Obama on the board of Thresholds, a group that serves Chicago’s mentally ill homes. She also has mentored teens in Chicago’s most troubled schools, and works closely with literacy and reproductive rights groups.

Speaking about the award, Paretsky said, “We all have one or two fundamental questions about life—about our own lives—that we keep returning to, and trying to sort out. Mine have to do with speech and silence: who gets to speak, who has to listen. When you’re powerless, it can be hard to speak, easy to remain silent.

“I try to understand cruelty, both the petty acts we all do from time to time, and the gross acts, lynch mobs, Auschwitz, Rwanda, that most of us pray we’ll never commit. I’m not interested in reading or writing books that seek to inhabit the minds of torturers. Rather, I want to know the mind of that rare person who steps forward, who speaks.

“Perhaps my biggest fear is that in an extreme situation, I would be neither hero nor villain, but the hidden bystander, the person who watches lynch mobs or thugs dragging my neighbors out of their houses. I keep hoping that if I study Mandela, or Havel, I will become stronger, less willing to take the soft option.

“Receiving the Paul Engle prize is an honor which I’m not sure I deserve—but which I gladly accept. I hope it will help me remember a commitment to high-risk speech.”

Paretsky will appear throughout the Corridor during a visit to the area. More details will be available at

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.

The Engle Prize itself is a one-of-a-kind work of art created by M.C. Ginsberg in Iowa City. The piece is crafted to reflect the work and impact of the recipient, while tying it to the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.

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 
  • Kwame Dawes, a professor at Nebraska University, editor of the journal Prairie Schooner, and author of the recent poetry collection, Duppy Conqueror 
  • Luis Alberto Urrea, a multi-genre author whose works include the novel Into the Beautiful North, the non-fiction work, The Devil’s Highway, and the recent poetry collection, The Tijuana Book of the Dead.

Iowa City Press Co-op to Present Paper Marbling Workshop


A paper marbling workshop led by Annie Tremmel Wilcox will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 22, at the Congregational UCC Church, 30 N. Clinton St., Iowa City. There is no experience required for this introductory workshop. The cost is $75, with the funds going to support the nonprofit Iowa City Press Co-op. Contact Jane Murphy at murphyjane51[at] for more information, or register at

Gray Hawks writing group donates book proceeds to City of Literature

Greyhawks donation 7-20-15

Members of the Gray Hawk Memoir Writing Group have donated proceeds from their first book, Yesterdays, to the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.

The book gathers writing selections from members past and present, 24 in all. It is available at Prairie Lights Books and

 “Everyone in Iowa City has a story to tell,” said John Hudson, moderator of the Gray Hawk Writers. “We believe that since Iowa City has become a UNESCO City of Literature more and more average citizens are beginning to find joy in writing, and think of themselves as writers. Some of us write only to entertain ourselves, others to share with a writing group, some actually do end up being published. That is what happened with a group of memoirs written by the Gray Hawk Writers. Our book, Yesterdays, has had some success. Our check is just a small way of saying thank you to the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature for not only honoring the esteemed professional writers, but also raising the awareness and enthusiasm of us just plain folk.”

The group agreed to donate proceeds to the City of Literature, and donated $250 in late July.

“This group’s very existence is evidence of the rich literary culture in Iowa City that exists beyond the bounds of traditional structures, and its book is evidence that the writers who thrive in that culture have considerable talent and wonderful stories to tell,” said John Kenyon, executive director of the City of Literature organization.

Winners named in Paul Engle student essay contest

The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization has completed judging for this year’s Paul Engle Day: Glory of the Senses Essay Contest, and will award scholarships to 10 high school sophomores from across Iowa.

The winning essay was “Beneath a Green Sky,” by Natalie Holmes, a student at Iowa City High School. In recognition of her essay, Natalie will receive one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa, offered in partnership with the UI.

In the essay, she writes about a tornado that hit Iowa City in 2006 when she was a young girl, and about the stories her mother told her and her siblings during the storm to keep them calm.

The essays were judged by a team from ACT in Iowa City. Commenting on Natalie’s essay, the team said, Holmes’ essay stood out because of her “masterful weaving of the essential themes of Iowan life.”

“The powerful force of Nature enveloping us, the comfort of close family, equanimity in the face of crisis, the transformative power of our creative imagination — the Iowa of Natalie’s story-within-a-story is at once both fantastical and familiar, retelling a powerful recent event from our lives with the wonder and innocence of a child.”

The competition 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.

Nine runners up from around the state will receive $500 cash scholarships from the City of Literature. This year’s cash scholarships were funded by a donation made in honor of departing University of Iowa President Sally Mason in recognition of her six years as a member of the City of Literature board of directors.

The runners up are:

  • Julia DeValk, Solon
  • Peyton Schmitt, Lone Tree
  • Olivia Schuster, Dyersville
  • Shannon Hoffman, Dyersville
  • Allysan Bushore, Boone
  • Sophia Burger, Spencer
  • Deion Malloy, Wayland
  • Hailey Pullman, Hawarden
  • Alex Kasemeier, Denver

All prize winners will be recognized this fall at an event in Iowa City.