Schedule set for 2019 Iowa City Book Festival, Oct. 1-6

The Iowa City Book Festival’s 11th year will feature a mix of authors, panel discussions, workshops, a book fair and more, with programming that blends the best in fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

The festival will be held from Oct. 1-6, with most events at various locations throughout downtown Iowa City. Long a showcase for collaborations with other area organizations, this year’s festival partners include the International Writing Program, the One Community One Book program, Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, the Iowa Writers’ House and more.

The festival will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 1, at the Coralville Public Library with presentation of the City of Literature’s annual Paul Engle Prize to poets Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady. The prize, sponsored by the City of Coralville, 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. Derricotte and Eady co-founded Cave Canem in 1996 to remedy the under-representation and isolation of African American poets in the literary landscape.

On Wednesday, the festival welcomes New York Times bestselling mystery novelist John Sandford. The Cedar Rapids native and University of Iowa graduate is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of 40 novels, including 29 in the Lucas Davenport “Prey” series, and 11 in the Virgil Flowers series. Sanford will discuss the latest in the Flowers series, Bloody Genius, at 7 p.m. on Oct. 2, in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library.

Also Wednesday, the festival welcomes writer, activist and academic Raj Patel. Best-known for the book Stuffed and Starved, the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System, Patel returns to discuss his latest work, History of the World in 7 Cheap Things. He also will show rough cuts from his latest documentary film, a story of community activists from one of the world’s poorest countries traveling the U.S. to talk to farmers, advocates and policymakers about climate change. Patel’s talk, presented by the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, will be at 7 p.m. on Oct. 2, at the Englert Theatre. It is free and open to the public.

Thursday features two University of Iowa Ida Beam lecturers. James Geary, deputy curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and editor of Nieman Reports, will present “Juggling Aphorisms,” based on  his latest book, Wit’s End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It. He will appear at 5:15 p.m. on Oct. 3, at Shambaugh Auditorium in the UI Main Library. Geary also will read at the UI’s English-Philosophy Building at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4

Also Thursday is a reading and presentation by Jamaican poet and novelist Kei Miller, an Ida Beam scholar visiting the UI’s International Writing Program. Miller is the author of three novels, several poetry collections, and Fear of Stones and Other Stories, which was short-listed for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book. He will present at 7 p.m. on Oct. 3, in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library

Friday is highlighted by a presentation by Lauren Markham, author of The Far Away Brothers. Markham’s book, which tells of the harrowing journey Salvadoran twins Ernesto and Raúl Flores take to illegally immigrate to the U.S. to escape violence in their home country. The book is this year’s selection for the UI’s Center for Human Rights “One Community One Book” program. Markham will speak at 7 p.m. in 240 Art Building West.

Each year, the festival features the public reading of a classic work of literature with supporting programming throughout the week. From Monday, Sept. 30, through Friday, Oct. 4, volunteers will read Leo Tolstoy’s classic War & Peace aloud in its entirety. The reading will take place from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the Pedestrian Mall stage outside the Graduate hotel. Other programming, including partnerships with the Stanley Museum of Art, Special Collections at the UI Main Library, a screening of the classic 1966 film at FilmScene, and more will be a part of the celebration throughout the festival and beyond.

Saturday, Oct.5, the biggest day of programming, will feature dozens of events including readings, panel discussions, a book fair and more.

Other Saturday highlights include:

  • A celebration of the 50th anniversary of the University of Iowa Press. Authors of current UI Press books will present, including Kendra Allen, Paula Becker, and Don Waters.
  • Christina Ward, author of American Advertising Cookbooks: How Corporations Taught Us to Love Bananas, Spam, and Jell-O, will speak about her book, followed by a sampling of some of the infamous recipes by the Iowa City group Historic Foodies. Special Collections at the UI Main Library also will be showcasing several pieces from the Szathmary Culinary Collection.
  • A celebration marking the retirement of longtime UI Writers’ Workshop administrator Connie Brothers will be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 4, in Macbride Auditorium.
  • A panel discussion on immigration featuring authors from the second volume of the Iowa Writers’ House project We the Interwoven and Lauren Markham will be held on Saturday, Oct. 4.

The festival closes Sunday with a full day of events that include the start of a week’s worth of screenings of a new digital restoration of Sergei Bondarchuk’s eight-hour adaptation of War & Peace at FilmScene. Also on the Sunday schedule is a writing workshop presented in partnership the University of Iowa’s Center for Teaching, readings, and more.

Other than film screenings at FilmScene, all festival events are free and open to the public.

Derricotte, Eady named 2019 Paul Engle Prize winners

Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady have been named recipients 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.

Derricotte and Eady become the eighth and ninth winners of the award. This is the first time the award has been presented to two people in one year. Each will be presented with a one-of-a-kind work of art and $10,000 during a special ceremony as part of the Iowa City Book Festival on Tuesday, Oct. 1. The event is at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library, and is free and open to the public.

Derricotte and Eady co-founded Cave Canem in 1996 to remedy the under-representation and isolation of African American poets in the literary landscape. What started as a gathering of 26 poets is now an influential movement with a renowned faculty, high-achieving national fellowship of over 400 and a workshop community of 900.

Speaking about the award, Derricotte said she knows and admires Paul Engle’s poetry and his work in the world of literature.

“Receiving this award—considering that when Cornelius and I started Cave Canem all we wanted to do was to create a safe space for black poets—makes me think about (and question) many things, especially, how our writing connects us and leads to changes in the world.  Cave Canem seems to be something that just wanted to happen, something that, while it needed quite a bit of heavy lifting, attracted just the right people to keep picking it up.  Thank you so much for recognizing Cornelius and me for our parts.”

Derricotte is a poet and memoirist who is a professor emerita of writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of six volumes of poetry. She won a 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. More than 1,000 of her poems have been published in magazines and journals Her latest book is I: New and Selected Poems.

Eady is the author of eight books of poetry. His second book, Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, won the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1985; in 2001, Brutal Imagination was a finalist for the National Book Award. He has taught at Notre Dame University and the University of Missouri. He is currently at SUNY Stony Brook Southhampton.

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
  • Kwame Dawes
  • Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Sara Paretsky
  • Roxane Gay
  • Alexander Chee
  • Dina Nayeri

International Youth Day

August 12 is the U.N. designated international youth day! This year’s theme is transforming education in alignment with goal number 4 of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. To celebrate here at the Iowa City of Literature, we put together a list of children/adolescent books written by just a few of the Iowa authors we’ve worked with in the past! 

Finding Fortune by Delia Ray

In this alluring mystery, twelve year old Ren runs away from home in search of a ghost town on the  Mississippi river ironically misnamed “Fortune.” When Ren does find this the sleepy, seemingly forgotten town she stumbles upon many unique characters who string together a mystery that is beckoning to be solved. Iowa City author Delia Ray incorporates tidbits of forgotten history in the story giving the novel a perfect blend of information and story-telling for middle school readers. 

Creekfinding: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin 

Illustrated by Claudia McGehee

This picture book tells the inspiring story of how a “lost” creek in Northeastern Iowa was restored after being covered up by cornfields for years. Illustrated by Iowa City resident Claudia McGehee, the pictures in this book not only beautifully portray the revival of the creek, but also emphasizes the nature and life that was recovered in restoring the entire ecosystem. In other words, McGehee’s illustrations bring to life the life that was brought back into the creek! 

The White House for Kids by Katherine L. House

This interactive history book for children not only gives the history of America’s most famous residence, but also tells anecdotes and fun facts that most don’t know, such as how Susan Ford once held her prom in the East Room. This book also includes 21 presidential themed activities such as how to sign your name like the president or instructions for “Hooverball” a game named after President Herbert Hoover. This book was written by Katherine L. House, a nonfiction children’s book author and Iowa City resident.  

Magic Thief Series by Sarah Prineas

This four book series is perfect for fans of Rick Riordan. Connwaer is taken on as an apprentice by Nevery, a mysterious wizard. In a city of dwindling magic, Conn must use his streetsmarts from his previous life of being a common thief to find the cause of the diminishing magic. The answer may be something ferociously evil. From sneaking out of prison, to accidentally blowing up his house practicing magic, Conn’s magical abilities are tried again and again as he desperately tries to save the city he calls home. 

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards

Illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Mrs. Goldman knits hats for everyone in the neighborhood, and young Sophia helps by making decorative pom-poms. As winter approaches, Sophia notices that Mrs. Goldman herself doesn’t have a hat for winter, and doesn’t have the time to knit herself one. Sophia decides to take matters into her own hands and teach herself to knit Mrs. Goldman a hat. With lots of determination and frustration, Sophia knits Mrs. Goldman a very awkwardly shaped hat with many holes. Feeling defeated, Sophia is unsure if she can even give the hat to Mrs. Goldman until she comes up with a solution. Completel with 20 pom-poms, Sophia gifts the hat to Mrs Goldman. Perfect for ages 4-8, this book will teach a thing or two about giving and remembering that it’s the thought that counts. 

Gondra’s Treasure by Linda Sue Park

Illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Gondra, a young dragon born from an Asian dad and a European mom loves the traits she inherited from both her dragon parents. Gondra’s true treasure is her diverse cultural background in the make-believe world of dragons and she is appreciative of her differences and similarities to both heritages. Illustrated by Iowa City resident Jennifer Black Reinhardt, the illustrations create a friendly family portrait and invites the reader to celebrate diversity in their own lives. 


Winners named in City of Literature 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 seven high school students from across Iowa.

The winning essay was “The Wonders of the Willow,” by Natalie DeGabriele, a student at Cedar Falls High School in Cedar Falls. 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 day canoeing on a lake, finding beauty in the toil as the challenge of keeping up with more experienced paddlers gives way to an acceptance of her limitations. The contest asks students to pay special attention to include details that evoke the sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, capturing the day with all five senses. In her essay, Natalie does this, remarking how he rusted metal sides of the boat dig into her fingers as she clenches the sides, and how the dingy yellow life jacket, two sizes too big, inhibits the movements of her partner.

The essays were judged by a team from ACT in Iowa City. Commenting on Natalie’s essay, the team praised the use of detail and description.

“From the very first line of ‘The Wonders of the Willow,’ readers find themselves sitting with the author in her lurching, tilting canoe. Natalie’s skillful use of the present tense combines with an abundance of keenly observed details to immerse readers in the physical challenge of canoeing, the complexities of friendships, and the tranquility she eventually finds beneath the branches of a weeping willow tree.”

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.

Six runners up from around the state will receive $500 cash scholarships from the City of Literature. The runners up are:

  • Adam Holmes, Iowa City High School
  • Anna Jacobson, Spencer High School
  • Kaia Neal, Decorah High School
  • Audrey Seibel, Durant High School
  • Clare Williams, Cedar Falls High School
  • Claire Winjum, Dallas Center-Grimes High School

The contest is designed to recognize sophomores from each of Iowa’s nine Area Education Agencies, which cover the state. This year, due to a lack of suitable submissions from three AEAs, students in only six of these areas were recognized. 

For more information about Paul Engle and the ways in which the City of Literature celebrates his life and work through this contest, please visit

Help Crown a Slam O Vision Champion

Participating Cities of Literature have chosen their winners, now it is time to rank them all. Videos of the winners will be screened at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, August 1 at MERGE. Those in attendance at our event will help to rank them. These rankings will join those from other cities and be used to pick an overall Slam O Vision champion!