City of Literature, Press-Citizen partner on holiday story contest

The City of Literature is partnering with the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Iowa City Downtown District to find a story to publish in the paper’s Dec. 25 issue.

This continues a tradition that began three years ago, when the paper began publishing an original short piece of fiction on that morning. This year, the paper seeks a holiday-themed story from someone in the community.

Submissions will be accepted through Nov. 19. The winner will be selected by a panel assembled by the City of Literature, and the winning story will be published on the front page of the Press-Citizen on Dec. 25. The author will receive a $50 Downtown District gift card.

Other submissions may be published on the Press-Citizen website on Dec. 25.

The guidelines:

• In a Microsoft Word document, write a holiday-themed story no more than 1,700 words in length.

• Email the finished story to Include the words “holiday story” in the subject line.

• Be sure to include your name, phone number and the town you are from so we know how to contact you, if needed.

• The deadline for submissions is 5 p.m. Nov. 19.

Happy 10th anniversary Edinburgh City of Literature

UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network got its start 10 years ago this month when Edinburgh, Scotland, was named the first member as a City of Literature. Since that time, the network has grown to 41 cities (with more on the way), and the Cities of Literature now number seven.

Congratulations to Edinburgh on a decade of literary excellence, and thank you for lighting the way for the rest of us!

Our friends in Edinburgh celebrate the 10th anniversary of their designation with this wonderful poem by Christine de Luca, current Makar, that reserves a line for each of the other six Cities of Literature. The poem was read this morning at a full meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council.

Through the Traffic of Tongues

Ten years we’ve had of trafficking,
of keeping borders open through words,
through discerning conversation,

the hospitality of books. Seven citadels
of literature, all fostered from a dream;
seven hills and heavenscities of possibilities.

Edinburgh: first to light up with literature,
spelled out its heritage and future. That night
in Paris was a consummation, a delight.

We passed the flame to Melbourne:
an ancient meeting place of sign and symbol,
built on gold, a rush of writing, a wealth.

Then Iowa City made the cut; told the world
it had made the sentence behave
and misbehave, recast our myths.

Dublin followed with its Book of Kells,
its four Nobel literary laureates
and a daft Bloomsday every June.

Reykjavik was standing in the wings,
holding its ancient tongue; weighing
its Edda and Saga, its poetic forms.

But Julian of Norwich was stirring in her grave.
Across 600 years we still need the solace of words
that tell us that all shall indeed be well.

Kraków is the seventh hill, the seventh dream:
its word hordes, bulging libraries, its bookshops;
the deep lines on its literary face.

All outward-looking places, all generous,
all built on the topography of words.
Open the book, read, translate, pass on the gift.

This poem, including the title, includes snippets – italicised – from poems by Edinburgh’s three previous Makars; Stewart Conn, Valerie Gillies and Ron Butlin. Also a quote from the Iowa City of Literature website.)


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.