Collaboration brings Little Free Libraries to local community

Through a collaboration between local parents, Alexander Elementary School, Iowa City West High School, the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization, the Community Foundation of Johnson County, and several other organizations, twenty-five Little Free Libraries have been placed in the greater Iowa City community.

The parent teacher organization at Alexander Elementary School came up with the idea to add Little Free Libraries throughout town, a process that began in October 2016.

A Little Free Library (LFL) is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. Iowa City has several little libraries scattered throughout town, but Angie Jordan, the Little Free Library project leader, noticed that the southeast area was lacking libraries in high foot traffic areas where families live.

Jordan says, “Bringing access to literature, art and the power of writing to the youth and people on the southeast side of Iowa City has motivated us in this first phase of the LFL project.”

Last fall, Jordan recruited another parent to help her with the project, Anna Flaming. The two moms wrote grants, approached individual donors, and met with high school industrial tech teachers to discuss partnerships. They received a grant in January 2017 from HAV Life Foundation Johnson County that moved the project forward.

While Iowa City West High School students in a workshop class built the libraries, Jordan and Flaming hosted creative contests for Alexander Elementary School students to participate in the Little Free Libraries project. In a persuasive essay contest, students wrote about their favorite book and why it should be included in the new Little Free Libraries. The winners were given a new copy of their favorite book, and each Little Free Library was filled with students’ favorite books through a donation from MidWestOne.

Additional funds that went directly to purchasing charter signs to be placed on the libraries was provided through a fund at the Community Foundation of Johnson County that is jointly managed by the City of Literature organization and the Altrusa Club of Iowa City.

“The charter signs link our efforts directly to – literally putting each library on the worldwide map!  (The City of Literature organization) also offered insights and ideas to help network our efforts into the greater community of Iowa City,” Jordan explains.

With help from a true community effort, students at Alexander Elementary School and Iowa City West High School have turned a dream for additional community libraries into reality.

Little Free Libraries have already been placed at Fire Station #3, the Broadway Neighborhood Center, HACAP apartments (off Broadway), Wetherby Park, Terry Trueblood Park, Fairmeadow Park, Saddlebrook Club House, Paddock Circle, ABC Childcare (off Lakeside), Sandusky Street, Orchard Place (Crosspark and Broadway), and Keokuk apartments (Keokuk Street). Five additional libraries will be placed in Iowa City’s southeast neighborhoods by early August.

“In our next phase, we plan to host supportive programming around these installations, like a 5k run/walk, community scavenger hunts, and yarn-bombing. This project has been a real team effort,” Jordan says.

The City of Literature/Altrusa Little Free Library Fund with the Community Foundation of Johnson County has funds available for those interested in creating a Little Free Library for their neighborhood. Projects must be within Johnson County to receive funding. Visit this page for more information.

Glory of the Senses essay contest winners announced

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 six high school students from across Iowa.

The winning essay was “A Walk in the Woods,” by Lydia Hecker, a student at Iowa City High School in Iowa City. In recognition of her essay, Lydia 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 mushroom hunting expedition by her family. At first reluctant to go, she begins to notice the sights and sounds around here, and soon discovers the inter-connectedness of nature. 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, Hecker does this, remarking on the feel of tree bark and the melodic sounds of birdsong.

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

“Lydia’s essay captures both physical sense and the sensation of belonging with its account of a family tradition,” they wrote. “Her words tell a story that makes intentional use of organization, characterization, and sensory description, drawing the reader into both moments of experience and fond, personal memories.”

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.

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

  • Victoria Harrison, Ankeny
  • Reagan Linder, Cedar Rapids
  • Natalee Lyons, Denver
  • Christina Mueggenberg, Spencer
  • Emma Squiers, Dyersville

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 four AEAs, students in only five of these areas were recognized.

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

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

MusicIC Festival to celebrate ‘transcendence’ June 21-24

The MusicIC festival returns for a seventh season from June 21-24, 2017. In an effort to provide a moment of respite during these challenging times, when our stability and peace are threatened on a seemingly daily basis, MusicIC presents four programs that explore the cyclical quality of life through works that embody the qualities of light, darkness, and transcendence. The Festival is presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.

The festival program, curated by MusicIC Artistic Director Tricia Park, features great string quartets of Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. In addition, this summer’s programming will feature a recent work by Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov. The final evening concert blends Beethoven and the poetry of T.S. Eliot for an innovative evening of live music at the Englert Theatre that will bring MusicIC’s 2017 summer programming to an exciting and inventive finale.

Music during the festival will be performed by the Solera Quartet, with Tricia Park and Miki-Sophia Cloud on violin, Molly Carr on viola, and Andrew Janss on cello. They will be joined at the Friday, June 23 concert by writer and actress Jennifer Fawcett from Working Group Theatre.

The festival begins on Wednesday, June 21, with a free concert at Trinity Episcopal Church at 7:30 p.m. The program, “Lightness,” will feature Haydn’s “Sunrise Quartet.” Also on the program are Golijov’s “Tenebrae,” and Beethoven’s String Quartet in B flat major Op. 18, No. 6. The Beethoven piece is tied to the “Heilgenstadt Testament,” a letter written by the composer wherein he confides his deep despair about his deafness as well as his intense will to overcome his physical and emotional ailments so that he would come to realize his full artistic potential.

Earlier on June 21, in partnership with the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, the Solera Quartet and Fawcett will present a free “Eleventh Hour” discussion that explores the connections between Beethoven’s Op. 132 String Quartet and T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets through a mix of live music and poetry. This sneak preview of the June 23 concert that closes this year’s festival will be at 11 a.m. in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library.

The festival’s second night, Thursday, June 22, returns to Trinity for a second free concert at 7:30 p.m. This program, “Darkness,” focuses on compositions driven by loss and longing. It begins with Schubert’s Quartettsatz in C minor, D 703, and closes with Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80.

The latter piece long has been thought to be in response to the death of the composer’s sister, Fanny. But recent scholarship suggests that Mendelssohn’s estrangement from and possible affair with his muse, Jenny Lind, aka “the Swedish Nightingale,” also contributed to the sorrow that informs the quartet.

After exploring the themes of lightness and darkness, the festival ends with “Transcendence,” a concert featuring a work by Beethoven that Park says is “an emotionally spiritual work, full of longing, gratitude, and contemplative attempts to converse with God and the afterlife.” That program, on Friday, June 23, will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Englert Theatre. Tickets are $15, and are on sale now at the Englert Box Office ( The Solera Quartet will perform Beethoven’s String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132. In addition, excerpts from T.S. Eliot’s groundbreaking work, The Four Quartets, will be read by Fawcett.

There is evidence that Eliot found inspiration in Beethoven’s composition, and that it may have been a catalyst for him to write his Four Quartets. In a letter, Eliot wrote that he had a record of Op. 132 on his gramophone: “I find it quite inexhaustible to study. There is a sort of heavenly or at least more than human gaiety about some of [Beethoven’s] later things which one imagines might come to oneself as the fruit of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering; I should like to get something of that into verse before I die.”

A special talk-back session will be held in the Englert gallery space following the concert. Iowa Public Radio’s Barney Sherman will lead a discussion with the Solera Quartet about the performance.

The festival closes with a special free family concert at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 24, at the Iowa City Public Library’s Meeting Room A. The concert will focus on Haydn’s “Sunrise Quartet,” and will feature youths reading work written in response to the theme of the composition, in partnership with the Iowa Youth Writing Project.

Festival sponsors are the University of Iowa, Dunn Investments, Iowa Public Radio, MidWestOne, and Toyota-Scion of Iowa City.

Iowa City to host 2018 meeting of UNESCO Cities of Literature

Iowa City has been selected as the host for the 2018 annual meeting of the UNESCO Cities of Literature. Iowa City was designated as the third City of Literature in the world in 2008. The meeting will be part of the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the designation.

Each year, representatives of member cities gather in one of the designated cities for a meeting to discuss policy and projects. Past meetings have been held in Heidelberg, Germany; Dublin, Ireland; and Barcelona, Spain.

At the 2017 meeting in Barcelona, member cities selected Iowa City to host the 2018 meeting. Delegates from Cities of Literature will visit Iowa City in early April 2018. While much of the schedule will include working meetings for the delegates, opportunities for the public to interact with the visitors, and for the visitors to learn more about Iowa City’s literary assets, will be built into the visit.

Iowa City is one of 20 UNESCO-designated Cities of Literature. A call for applications from aspiring cities to the Creative Cities Network is open through June, and new cities will be named to the network in November. New Cities of Literature will be invited to the Iowa City meeting to begin their integration into the network.

“Given the growth trends of the network, we could have representatives from 30 or more cities with us in Iowa City next April,” said City of Literature Executive Director John Kenyon. “This will offer our area a wonderful opportunity to show the rest of the world the things that make us a City of Literature, and a great way to celebrate our 10th year with the designation.”

Celebrate International Jazz Day in Iowa City!

To celebrate International Jazz Day, the City of Literature and the Iowa City Public Library are joining to present “Jazz in The Fight for Civil Rights: Jazz as Activist Music.” This free event will be held at 2 p.m. in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library.

During the Civil Rights movement, many musicians joined African-Americans in using their musical voice as a catalyst in demanding change in America. Many overlook the more subtle sonic contributions that jazz musicians made to this cause. Through live performance, spoken remarks and a visual presentation, this unique program will highlight three of the more prevalent examples of jazz music’s alignment with the African-American fight for civil rights and the backstory behind their creation.

The program was conceived and will be led by Dr. Damani Phillips with the University of Iowa School of Music. Phillips, a saxophonist, will be joined by drummer Jim Dreier, Pianist Steve Shanley, and bassist Blake Shaw.

Through a combination of live performance, spoken remarks and a visual presentation, this unique program will highlight three of the more prevalent examples of jazz music’s alignment with the African-American fight for civil rights and the backstory behind their creation.