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!

MusicIC Festival to celebrate ‘greatest hits’ during June 26-29

The MusicIC festival returns for a ninth season from June 26-29, 2019. Over the course of four programs, MusicIC will feature some favorites from past festivals, celebrating classics of chamber music as well as contemporary sounds. The Festival is presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.

The festival is curated by MusicIC Artistic Director Tricia Park, violinist with the Solera Quartet. The quartet’s members have been the primary performers at the festival for the past several years. The group released its debut CD, Every Moment Present, since the last MusicIC festival, and will mark that release with a special performance of its selections during the festival.

“For the past few summers, MusicIC and Iowa City have been hugely important to the Soleras’ development, acting as an “’incubator’ space for us to advance our musical growth, learn and perform new repertoire, and hone our artistic vision,” Park said.

Over the nine years of the festival, MusicIC has featured work by an array of the best known composers in the classical canon, and this year’s program revisits many of those works. All three evening concerts will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City. The quartet – Park and Miki-Sophia Cloud on violin, Molly Carr on viola, and Andrew Janss on cello – will be joined by pianist Dominic Cheli on select compositions.

The first, Wednesday, June 26, “À la Russe,” explores Beethoven’s Op. 59 No. 1, in which he incorporates Russian folk tunes in honor of his patron, Count Razumovsky, as well as Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No 2. The second, Thursday, June 27, is “With Our Compliments,” featuring Beethoven’s String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2, the Franck Violin Sonata and music by contemporary composer Missy Mazzoli. Pianist Cheli will join the quartet on the pieces by Shostakovich and Franck. The third, Friday, June 28, is “Every Moment Present,” a special live concert presentation of all of the music on the Solera Quartet’s new album. This includes work by Caroline Shaw, Janáček, and Mendelssohn.

The festival closes on Saturday, June 29, at 10:30 a.m. with a free family concert at the Iowa City Public Library in the Story Time Room in the Children’s Area. The Solera Quartet will play music from the festival program interspersed with student writers from the Iowa Youth Writing Project, who will read work inspired by the music and the festival’s themes.

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

For the full schedule and more information about the pieces to be performed, please visit