Iowa City Book Festival program now available to download

With the Iowa City Book Festival less than a month away, we’re excited to announce that the Festival program is now available! Festival-goers can download the program on the Iowa City Book Festival website.

This year’s Iowa City Book Festival will take place October 8-15 in Downtown Iowa City. The week’s events include various author talks, panels, readings, and workshops.

G. Willow Wilson, creator of the Ms. Marvel comic series, will kick off the week on Sunday, October 8, at Hancher, and the annual Roast of Iowa City will close the week Sunday evening, October 15. Other featured authors include Alexander Chee, Nathan Englander, and more.

Download your festival program today, and come visit us at the Iowa City Book Festival in October!

Iowa City Book Festival to celebrate international connections

The ninth Iowa City Book Festival schedule will feature a variety of authors from around the country and around the globe as we celebrate books and writing through a number of strong partnerships with community groups. The festival, produced by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization, will be held Oct. 8-15, 2017.

The festival – the longest to date – begins on Sunday, Oct. 8, with G. Willow Wilson. The event, in partnership with Hancher and the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights, will be held at 2 p.m. in Hancher Auditorium, and is free and open to the public. Wilson, who addresses pressing issues including religious intolerance and gender politics in her work, has published in fiction, nonfiction, and comics. An American convert to Islam, she recounts time spent in Egypt during the waning day of the Mubarak regime, in her memoir, The Butterfly Mosque. The book is the 2017 selection for the One Community, One Book program sponsored by the Center for Human Rights.

The festival then moves to a multi-day celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP). The IWP is best known for the fall residency that brings writers from around the world to Iowa City. Since 1967, more than 1,400 writers from more than 150 countries have been in residence at the UI. The festival will feature readings by IWP guests at Prairie Lights Books on Monday, Oct. 9, and Tuesday, Oct. 10, as well as panel discussions among this year’s resident writers on Tuesday through Saturday.

Wednesday brings fun and politics into the mix with a visit by the authors of The Liberal Redneck Manifesto, comedians Trae Crowder, Corey Ryan Forrester, and Drew Morgan. Their “WellRED Comedy Tour” comes to the Englert in partnership with the Tuesday Agency. Tickets are on sale starting Aug. 11 at

Thursday at the festival features presentation of the City of Literature’s annual Paul Engle Prize to writer Alexander Chee. The prize 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. Chee is the sixth writer to win the award. He will receive the award at an event at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library. He will be joined in conversation by Iowa City novelist Garth Greenwell.

Other highlights include:

  • This year’s read-aloud classic novel is Moby Dick, which will be read from the steps of the Old Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 10, and Wednesday, Oct. 11, and from under the giant whale skeleton in Macbride Hall on Thursday, Oct. 12. Information about times and ways to participate will be posted soon at
  • Poet Rafael Campo, keynote speaker for the University of Iowa’s The Examined Life Conference, will speak and read from his work at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, in the Old Capitol Senate Chambers.
  • The annual Day in the City of Literature returns on Sunday, Oct. 15, when local and regional writers will hold readings hosted at area businesses and other non-traditional venues.

Among the authors who will appear at the festival are fiction favorites and writers tackling a number of fascinating nonfiction subjects. Highlights include:

  • Nathan Englander, a University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate and multi prize winning author, will read from and discuss his latest novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth. He will be joined by fellow novelist, Chris Adrian.
  • Donald Ray Pollock, whose Southern Gothic novels and stories have earned wide acclaim, will read from his latest novel, The Heavenly Table.
  • Will Bardenwerper will read from his book, The Prisoner in His Palace, which tells of the U.S. soldiers who guarded Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in his final days, a book of which Kirkus says, “In skin-crawling detail, the author effectively captures a unique time and place in an engrossing history.”
  • Iowa City writer Lori Erickson will read from Holy Rover, a book that chronicles her travels as a travel writer specializing in holy sites, weaving a personal narrative with descriptions of a dozen pilgrimages.

Other authors scheduled to appear include Ted Genoways (This Blessed Earth), Melissa Fraterrigo (Glory Days), Jennifer Colville (Elegies for Uncanny Girls), Steve Paul (Hemingway at Eighteen), Julia Fiero (Gypsy Moth Summer) and many more.

Saturday also will feature a book fair on the downtown Pedestrian Mall, panel discussions, workshops and more.

Other than the WellRED Comedy event, all festival events announced to date are free and open to the public.

Alexander Chee named 2017 Paul Engle Prize winner

Alexander Chee has been named the sixth 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.

Chee 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. 12. The event is at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library, and is free and open to the public.

Speaking about the award, Chee said, “I am stunned by this news, and honored to be this year’s recipient. It’s an award I hope to live up to.”

Chee, a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is a Korean-American writer, poet, reviewer, and renowned essayist who writes honestly and fiercely on subjects such as race, gender, and LGBTQ+ issues. He is also a veteran of the AIDS advocacy organization, ACT UP. He lives in New York City.

His debut novel, Edinburgh, was praised for its careful handling on the difficult subject of sexual abuse. It was the winner of the Whiting Award, the James Michener/Copernicus Society Fellowship Prize, Iowa Writers’ Workshop’s Michener Copernicus Prize in Fiction, and was the recipient of the Lambda Literary Foundation Editor’s Choice Award.

His second novel, Queen of the Night, a historical novel about a female opera singer, was published in 2016, and was met with high praise. It was named it “epic” by Vogue and The Washington Post wrote that it is, “extraordinarily beautiful and dramatic, a brilliant performance.”

His essay “Girl,” which deals with gender identity, appeared in the 2016 edition of Best American Essays, and his first collection of essays, How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2018.

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.
  • Roxane Gay, 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 new memoir, Hunger. She has won numerous awards for her writing.

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