2016 Iowa City Book Festival: Build your own theme

Two years ago, we had the great fortune of presenting an Iowa City Book Festival featuring two Pulitzer-winning authors with strong Iowa ties in Marilynne Robinson and Jane Smiley. An attendee at the Smiley event remarked, “You obviously had an Iowa theme to this year’s festival. What will the next theme be?”

Our theme that year was actually something closer to “amazing authors with new books out who said ‘yes’ when we asked them to appear,” but we took the compliment in stride, and wondered about the next year’s festival. We stuck with that theme, and again presented a festival that attendees said they thought would be difficult to top.

This year, we again sought out a mix of writers who would be able to speak on a number of different topics and who represent various styles and genres.

However, we seem to have stumbled onto the theme first articulated by that attendee two years ago, because our schedule is full of authors with Iowa ties — writers who live here, teach here, studied here and moved on, or who write about our state.

We have another Pulitzer winner with local ties in novelist Robert Olen Butler, a University of Iowa graduate who went on to write many critically acclaimed novels. His latest is Perfume River.

On the other end of the experience spectrum is Nathan Hill, whose The Nix is one of the best-reviewed debut novels in recent memory, with theNew York Times saying he has “talent to burn” and likening him to Thomas Pynchon and John Irving. Hill worked as a reporter in the Gazette’sIowa City office more than a decade ago.

We have Iowa-based poets in Jennifer L. Knox,Ryan Collins and Anais Duplan, Iowa fiction writers in John Domini and Kali VanBaale, and mystery novelists with Iowa ties in beloved former northeast Iowa Sheriff’s Deputy Donald Harstad and Minneapolis-based UI grad Allen Eskens.

Those writing about Iowa also make up a big part of our lineup this year. Dan Barry, a New York Times reporter who wrote extensively about disabled men forced to work at a processing plant in Atalissa, revisits that story in the acclaimed Boys in the Bunkhouse. Claire Hoffman, a well-respected magazine writer, recounts her time growing up within the sphere of Fairfield’s Maharishi International University inGreetings From Utopia Park. Tom Shroder writes about his grandfather, the Iowa-born MacKinlay Kantor, in The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived, while Julie Rubini writes about the Iowa-born Nancy Drew scribe in Missing Millie Benson.

The list goes on. And that’s not the only list. If you are interested in issues of race,Leonard Pitts, Jr.Roxane Gay, and Crystal Chan are not to be missed. Are international politics and immigration of interest? Come hear Suki Kim and Okey Ndibe. If you love poetry, the aforementioned writers will be joined by a contingent of visiting Irish poets from our fellow City of Literature in Dublin. Medicine? TryAngelo Volandes or Leslie Jamison. Travel? Check out Tom Lutz. Science Fiction? F. Paul Wilson‘s Panacea is a ripping read.

The above only scratches the surface of what is on offer.  With more than 100 presenters in 60 events over six days, you can build your own Book Festival, find your own themes, and curate your own experience. It’s all free and open to the public.

Roxane Gay named recipient of 2016 Paul Engle Prize


Roxane Gay has been named the fifth 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.

Gay 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. 6. The event is at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library. The event is free and open to the public.

Gay has emerged as one of the strongest voices in American letters in her various roles as a writer, professor, editor and commentator.  She is the author of the short story collection Ayiti, the novel An Untamed State, and the essay collection Bad Feminist. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, West Branch, Virginia Quarterly Review, NOON, The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Time, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Rumpus, Salon, and many others.

It was announced in July that Gay has been chosen as one of the writers of the forthcoming Marvel comic, “World of Wakanda.” She and the poet Yona Harvey will work on the project, becoming the first black women to write for Marvel.

She is an associate professor of English at Purdue University, contributing op-ed writer at The New York Times, founder of Tiny Hardcore Press, and co-editor of PANK, a nonprofit literary arts collective.

Speaking about the award, Gay said, “It is an unexpected but very welcome surprise to be receiving the 2016 City of Literature Paul Engle Prize. I write because I love it, plain and simple. Before my first book was published, my dream was just to publish a book, to have people read my stories and essays and, hopefully, enjoy them. It never crossed my mind to dream of anything more. To receive an award like this, to know my work is seen as valuable to the communities I work in, reminds me that the dream of writing and having my words resonate with people is more than enough because sometimes, dreams take on a life of their own.”

Gay sat for an interview as part of the City of Literature’s “Writers on the Fly” video interview series in 2013 when she was in Iowa City as part of the Mission Creek Festival. The video can be seen at www.writersonthefly.org/roxane-gay.

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.
  • Sara Paretsky, author of the bestselling V.I. Warshawski mystery series. She also created Sisters in Crime, a group that has evolved into a worldwide organization that supports women crime writers, and is a past president of the Mystery Writers of America.

ICPL Seeks Classic Book Cover Makeovers

The Iowa City Public Library has reserved every display space throughout the building for Recovering the Classics’ book cover makeover project.

They need your help to fill them.

In 2013, Recovering the Classics asked designers from around the world to reimagine the covers for great books in the public domain. People all over the world contributed hundreds of recreated covers, 50 of which will be on display at the Library during the 2016 Iowa City Book Festival Oct. 4 through Oct. 9, continuing through the end of November.

ICPL’s exhibit of classic book cover makeovers by local artists and readers will be displayed throughout October and November, too. This project is open to participants of all ages and artistic abilities; anyone who wants to give their favorite classic book a new face is welcome to contribute. Here’s how:

  • Choose a title from the list of books that have aged into the public domain: www.icpl.org/classics
  • Make an original work of art that prominently features the book’s author and title.  All two-dimensional approaches (painting, photography, drawing, fiber, and digital creations) are welcome.
  • Drop off your cover at the First Floor Help Desk by 9 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 19.

Only one submission per person, please.

For more information, call the Library at 319-356-5200.

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 nine high school sophomores from across Iowa.

The winning essay was “Adrift,” by Jackie Olberding, a student at Beckman Catholic High School in Dyersville. In recognition of her essay, Jackie will receive one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa, offered in partnership with the UI.

In the essay, she writes about canoeing on the river with her mother. 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, Olberding does this, remarking on the feel of the cold water and the sound of the birds singing in the trees.

The essays were judged by a team from ACT in Iowa City. Commenting on Jackie’s essay, the team praised the way Olberding captured details.

“As readers we were unanimously drawn to Jackie’s ability to simply, and clearly convey a host of sensory experiences through her highly focused narrative. Jackie’s intimate portrayal of just a few moments on the river both captures her Iowa experience, and makes it accessible in a way that let’s every reader participate in her memory.”

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.

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

  • Jade Barnes, Spencer
  • Olivia Coram, Muscatine
  • Madison Johnson, Denver
  • Rebecca Johnson, Remsen
  • Peter Noll, Ankeny
  • Lauren Perdew, Bedford
  • Isabel Rushton, Iowa City
  • Cecelia Thomas, Iowa City

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

2016 Iowa City Book Festival Lineup

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The seventh Iowa City Book Festival schedule will feature bestsellers, Pulitzer Prize winners, strong ties to Iowa and authors from around the world. In addition, strong partnerships with area groups will bring programs on topics that include environmentalism, sustainability, global politics, and end-of-life care. The festival will be held Oct. 4-9, 2016.

With an expanded schedule – adding two days to the traditional four to create the longest Iowa City Book Festival yet – the program will feature evening events from Tuesday through Saturday, in addition to the regular lineup of readings, panel discussions, demonstrations and more.

Highlights of those evening events include the unveiling of the latest YA novel from bestselling author Rick Riordan, who will present his forthcoming novel, The Hammer of Thor, which is the second book in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy. That ticketed event will be held at the Englert Theatre at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7, and is presented by the festival and Prairie Lights. Tickets are $24, and attendees receive an autographed copy of the new book. Tickets will go on sale at the Englert box office and www.englert.org on Tuesday, July 12 at 12:30 p.m.

Also attending this year’s festival is Suki Kim discussing her acclaimed account of her time teaching English in North Korea, Without You, There is No Us.

Kim is this year’s selection for the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights’ One Community One Book project. As in the past, the Book Festival is partnering with the UICHR to bring the program author to Iowa City.

That is one of many partnerships that will lead to strong programming in October. Other highlights include:

  • Angelo Volandes, author of The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan for End-of-Life Care, will appear on Tuesday, Oct. 4, in conjunction with Iowa City Hospice/Honoring Your Wishes;
  • Andrea Wulf will discuss The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, on Thursday, Oct. 6, in a partnership with the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability;
  • University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate Leslie Jamison will discuss her essay collection, The Empathy Exams, on Friday, Oct. 7, in partnership with the Examined Life conference.

The festival traditionally has a strong selection of fiction represented on its schedule, and this year will be no different. Highlights include:

  • Puliter Prize winner and UI alum Robert Olen Butler, who will read from his new novel, Perfume River, which examines family ties and the legacy of the Vietnam War through the portrait of a single North Florida family.
  • John Domini of Des Moines, who will read from his acclaimed new collection of short stories, Movieola.
  • Former northeast Iowa deputy sheriff Donald Harstad, who returns with November Rain, the latest in his beloved Carl Houseman mystery series.
  • F. Paul Wilson, author of the wildly popular “Repairman Jack” series, will discuss his new stand-alone medical thriller, Panacea.
  • Former Gazette news reporter Nathan Hill returns to Iowa City with The Nix, his highly touted debut novel.

Other authors scheduled to appear include Julie Rubini (Missing Millie Benson), Crystal Chan (Bird), Jennifer L. Knox (Days of Shame and Failure), Marc Nieson (Schoolhouse), James Brooks (Mesa of Sorrows), Tom Lutz (And the Monkey Learned Nothing), Anais Duplan (Take This Stallion), and many more.

Other than the Riordan event, all festival events are free and open to the public.

Most events will be held on Saturday, Oct. 8. The full schedule will be released closer to the event. For specific times and locations for festival events, or to learn more about programs and authors, please visit www.iowacitybookfestival.org or follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/iowacitybookfestival or Twitter (www.twitter.com/iowacitybookfest) .

Iowa City was named a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008 in recognition of its rich literary heritage culture. It is one of only 20 Cities of Literature worldwide, and the only one in the United States, to hold this honor.