Poetry in Public 2020 Submissions Now Being Accepted

It’s time once again for local writers to submit poems for consideration in the 18th annual Poetry in Public Program, sponsored by the Iowa City Public Art Program. Writers of all ages and all levels of writing ability and experience are encouraged to submit entries to the contest. The program was initiated in 2002 to celebrate, promote and nurture the rich writing culture that exists in Iowa City.

A panel of local judges will review entries and then select poems that will be displayed throughout the Iowa City community and on local and literary websites. The winning poems will be on display on Iowa City buses, the Iowa City Public Library, the Johnson County Senior Center and the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center from May through the fall. Selected poets will also have the opportunity to read their poem during the Iowa Arts Festival in June.

Rules for the competition are as follows:

  • Entrants must be residents of Johnson County.
  • Only one poem per author will be considered. Submitted poems will not be returned.
  • The poem can be no more than seven lines in length (not including the title), and can be either an existing or new work.
  • An excerpt from a longer poem will be considered if it can stand alone.
  • Poems are generally published as is. Teachers and/or parents are encouraged to work with students on proper spelling and punctuation before submission.
  • Poems will be judged on quality of writing as well as accessibility and suitability for public display before a general audience.
  • Special complex formatting, layouts, “word art,” and use of non-standard typefaces should be avoided.
  • If reprint permissions are required, please get permission prior to submitting your work.

NOTE – Please keep in mind that selected poems are printed on 11″ x 17″ posters for some display purposes. You can find samples of selected poems below.  Lengthy poems require that the font size be reduced which reduces readability and should be avoided.

Entries should be submitted by 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 through the new online submission process:

Poetry in Public 2020 On-Line Submission

The submission form can also be printed and completed:

Printable Submission Form

Mail or drop off to:

Iowa City City Hall
Attn: Poetry in Public
410 E. Washington Street
Iowa City, IA 52240


For questions or other details call Marcia Bollinger at 319-356-5237 or e-mail marcia-bollinger@iowa-city.org.

Printable Posters to help spread the word!

11 x 17 Landscape              11 x 17 Portrait           8 1/2 x 11 Landscape




Welcoming a New Decade

As this decade comes to a close, we wanted to highlight some of the collaborations and contributions all the Cities of Literature have participated in during the last ten years. 

  • In the last decade, 36 new Cities of Literature were welcomed to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, now making for 39 total Cities of Literature.
  • In 2015, Reykjavik hosted a Multilingual Creative Writing Workshop for women over the course of 5 months. 
  • Melbourne hosted their first Blak&Bright festival in 2016. Blak&Bright is a Victorian Indigenous Literary Festival and has taken place yearly since its beginnings in 2016. 
  • In 2016, Heidelberg and Granada co-wrote the “Osip Mandelstam: Word and Destiny” to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the birth of poet Osip Mandelstam.In 2016, Reykjavík, Kraków, Tartu and Heidelberg participate in “Drop the Mic” a project that aimed to blend and engage the worlds in songwriting and poetry.
  • In 2016, Reykjavik displayed images and words from 18 other Cities of Literature in their town hall. 
  • In 2016, Heidelberg and Prague participated in “Exhibition Poetry” a four day translation workshop in which poets from both cities collaborate to exchange knowledge and deepen their cultural understandings of each other. 
  • In 2017, Reykjavik and Melbourne participated in “Sleipnir’s Literary Travels,” an interactive online children’s project where Sleipnir, an imaginary horse from Norse mythology, travels the world freely. Children were invited to create postcards and submit their own fictional short stories.
  •   In 2017, Krakow leads ReadPL, a project to combine literature and new technology. This project allowed free rental of e-books throughout the globe. In 2017, 11 other Creative Cities participated including Barcelona, Dublin, Dunedin, Dundee, Edinburgh, Lviv, Norwich, Nottingham, Prague, Reykjavik, and Ulyanovsk. 
  • In 2018, Granada initiated the first World Poetry Day collaboration between other Cities of Literature. Participating Cities were Granada, Baghdad, Barcelona, Krakow, Dublin, Edinburgh, Heidelberg, Iowa City, Ljubljiana, Nottingham, Obidos, Prague, Reykjavik, and Tartu.
  • In 2018, Durban led a Global Forum 4Literacy and The Traveling Books Project. By exchanging books from different countries, Durban used this initiative to promote improved childhood literacy in their community. 
  • In 2018, Milan, and 8 other Creative Cities in Italy began measuring the impacts of creativity in local development, and how increased creativity can support growth in tourism, and economic stability. 
  • In 2018, Edinburgh and Melbourne participated in a literary programmers exchange program. Seven delegated from Melbourne visited Scotland for ten days with a festival focused itinerary. Delegates from Edinburgh will be selected in 2020.
  •   In 2018 Bucheon opened B39, a borderless art space built from an old garbage incinerator plant. The space is now a multidisciplinary art space, and hosts exhibitions, performances, and educational events.
  • In summer 2019, Melbourne led a global slam poetry competition titled 
    Poets from Edinburgh, 
    Iowa City, Heidelberg, Melbourne, Nottingham, Quebec City, Tartu, and Utrecht competed by sending in short videos as examples of their work and the grand winner was decided at the Melbourne Writers Festival.
  • In 2019, Edinburgh’s Scottish International Storytelling Festival created the world’s first Global Storytelling Lab. The Lab works towards the SDGs by exploring how the power of story worldwide can help address the Climate Emergency. 
  • In December 2019, during COP25 Madrid, Iowa City led a #17booksfor17SDGs campaign. For 17 days 11 participating Cities of Literature recommended a book daily that corresponded with one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Not to mention hundreds of book festivals, residencies, public readings and much more! Other collaborations and achievements from the Creative Cities Network can be found here

In the last decade our own City of Literature has accomplished a lot as well, here are just a few of the highlights! 

  • In 2010, we launched our Writers on the Fly video series. Each video is a short interview with authors who have visited Iowa City. As of now there are over 95 interviews on our website. http://writersonthefly.org/
  • In 2010 Tricia park and Judith Hurtig founded MusicIC, a chamber music festival inspired by literature. http://www.musicic.org/
  •  In 2011, the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature awarded the inaugural Paul Engle Prize to author James Alan McPherson.
  • In 2012, saw the release of the documentary “City of Literature,” exploring Iowa City’s rich literary history. http://cityofliteraturefilm.org/watch/
  • In 2013, we hosted our first ever One Book Two Book Children’s Literature Festival. http://onebooktwobook.org/
  • In 2013, introduced the Paul Engle Glory of the Senses High School essay contest. http://www.iowacityofliterature.org/Paul-Engle-essay-contest/
  •  We hosted ten years of amazing Iowa City Book Festivals. 
  • In 2018, our 10th anniversary, we hosted the annual international UNESCO City of Literature conference right here in Iowa City, and welcomed representatives from 23 other Cities of Literature.
  • There have been nearly 100 Little Free Libraries installed in the Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty area within the last ten years.


Wow what a decade it has been! As we ring in the new year we look forward to many more collaborations with other members of the Creative Cities network as well as with the people in our community right here in Iowa City. Happy New Year!

Local Booksellers Gift Giving Guide

Sidekick Coffee & Books – (1310 1/2 Melrose Avenue, Iowa City) Sidekick Coffee & Books is a community coffee shop and bookstore, a hub for those seeking exceptional coffee, food, books, and conversation. Our full-service coffee bar and thoughtful collection of books for babies to adults offer the best of selections for you and your sidekick. Join us for storytime, book-themed events, or just to enjoy a good book, a cup of joe, and a tasty pastry or scoop of ice cream. We can’t wait to talk books and sip coffee with all of you.

Sidekick recommends:

Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug By Jonathan Stutzman • Jay Fleck

Tiny is determined to conquer the impossible, and he does just that by finding out how to do things his way.  This is an inspirational story about never giving up and being a good friend. I hope we see more adventures from Tiny!  It is a great gift for young readers.


Song for a Whale  by Lynne Kelly

Iris is an inspirational main character who is the only deaf person in her school.  She also happens to be amazing with technology. When she learns about a whale that is unable to sing to other whales she empathizes immediately.  She makes it her quest to make communication for this whale possible. Iris’s character will have you hooked from the very beginning. This is a must read for all middle readers. 


Fish Everywhere by Britta Teckentrup

Do you have a young animal or fish lover in your life?  This beautifully illustrated and well organized non-fiction book is the gift you have been looking for!  It covers all types of fish, from freshwater to the deep blue sea, how they stay alive, what makes a fish a fish, what fish eat, and more!  This book is sure to be a one-of-a-kind gift.  



The Captain’s Book Shoppe – (1570 South First Ave, Suite H, Iowa City) The Captain’s Book Shoppe is an independent book dealer. It markets quality pre-owned, used, and rare books at reasonable prices. Assisting world-wide clients to ethically grow, protect or liquidate their book collections. The Captain sorts, grades and markets new acquisitions during store hours. Clients are welcome to poke around the stacks to find treasure that has not yet made it onto the internet. The store owner, Cap’n Jeff, is the primary book buyer. He enjoys travelling to acquire interesting, rare and affordable books. He has over 30 years’ experience assessing and acquiring fine books. He turned his book passion into a business in 2017. If you have books for him to assess, please contact him.

The Captain’s Book Shoppe recommends:


People need stories to make sense of the world–to hold their lives together, and to fasten on to those values that last. The greatest stories are found in the Bible, enduring through the centuries. In Genesis, acclaimed television journalist Bill Moyers brings together some of the world’s liveliest minds for spirited round-table discussions of the ageless stories from the Bible’s first, towering book.


MAISIE DOBBS by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator, began her working life at the age of thirteen as a servant in a Belgravia mansion, only to be discovered reading in the library by her employer, Lady Rowan Compton. Fearing dismissal, Maisie is shocked when she discovers that her thirst for education is to be supported by Lady Rowan and a family friend, Dr. Maurice Blanche. But The Great War intervenes in Maisie’s plans, and soon after commencement of her studies at Girton College, Cambridge, Maisie enlists for nursing service overseas.

Years later, in 1929, having apprenticed to the renowned Maurice Blanche, a man revered for his work with Scotland Yard, Maisie sets up her own business. Her first assignment, a seemingly tedious inquiry involving a case of suspected infidelity, takes her not only on the trail of a killer, but back to the war she had tried so hard to forget.


Epic battles between good and evil, fantastic creatures, betrayals, heroic deeds, and friendships won and lost all come together in this unforgettable world, which has been enchanting readers of all ages for over sixty years.



Daydreams Comics – (21 S Dubuque St., Iowa City) Established in 1986, Daydreams is THE comic book shop of Iowa City. We present a wide selection of the most recent titles, a wealth of back issues, and an ample collection of graphic novels. We also provide an array of manga, plushes, and more.

Daydreams recommends:

DIE by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans 

A completely entrancing murky adventure of adults being sucked into the role playing game fantasy world they had been lost to 30 years previous. Cleverly constructed and gracefully brought to life by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, this twisted Dungeons & Dragons meets Jumanji  tale will enrapt and devastate.



4 Kids Walk Into a Bank written by Matthew Rosenberg and illustrated by Tyler Boss

One of my personal favorites from the past 5 years. Inventively whimsical, dynamically dark, and effortlessly fun(ny), this tale of childhood friends doing the wrong thing for the right reasons will delight all who stumble upon the caper.



On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Set in deep space, this is a quiet and beautifully melancholic tale of the multitudes of the human experience, cheek to cheek or gallivanting the galaxy. Blending queer romance and coming of age inter-generational drama, it sweetly compels with its vast imagination and delicate depth. It’s a moving and alluring work of fiction for anyone seeking their place in this great cosmos.

Cities of Literature to highlight SDGs through #17Booksfor17SDGs campaign

In a twist on the traditional end-of-the-year “best of” lists that usually arrive in December, the UNESCO Cities of Literature will issue a list of “17 Books for the 17 SDGs” between Monday, December 2, and Wednesday, Dec. 18.

Each day, select Cities of Literature will post book suggestions from their cities and countries to social media, using the hashtag #17Booksfor17SDGs. Each day, a different 2030 Sustainable Development Goal will be highlighted, with books relevant to those topics suggested. These might be nonfiction titles that specifically address that day’s SDG, or perhaps a work of fiction that somehow ties into the theme.

Several of the 39 UNESCO Cities of Literature will take part directly, while others will repost and retweet these selections to broaden the reach of the message.

The project, initiated by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, seeks to draw attention to the Sustainable Development Goals and to show the value in raising awareness to these issues.

To learn more about the SDGs, please visit: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

For a list of Cities of Literature on Twitter, please visit: https://twitter.com/MelCityofLit/lists/cities-of-literature/members

New Cities of Literature among additions to UNESCO network

In celebration of the UN’s World Cities Day 2019, UNESCO has announced the designation of 66 cities to join the Creative Cities Network, making for a total of 246 Creative Cities worldwide. 

Among these new Creative Cities, 11 were designated as Cities of Literature including Angoulême, France; Beirut, Lebanon; Exeter, United Kingdom; Kuhmo, Finland; Lahore, Pakistan; Leeuwarden, Netherlands; Nanjing, China; Odessa, Ukraine; Wonju, Republic of Korea; Slemani, Iraq and Wrocław, Poland. There are now 39 designated Cities of Literature. We welcome our new sibling Cities of Literature to the Creative Cities Network and look forward to collaborating with them in the future. 

“A key value of our designation is the ability to create close ties with other creative cities from around the world,” said John Kenyon, executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization. “These 11 cities will make our network, more diverse and dynamic, and will offer significant new opportunities for our writers to connect with new audiences and our readers to discover new work.”

Iowa City was designated as a City of Literature in 2008, making us the third City of Literature in the world, and the second Creative City in the U.S. Since our designation 11 years ago, we have promoted literary events in and around Iowa City, have organized yearly literary festivals such as the Iowa City Book Festival, our One Book Two Book Children’s Literature Festival, and MusicIC. We also hosted the 2018 City of Literature conference during our 10th anniversary, in which members representing all the Cities of Literature were invited to discuss future projects and collaborations. 

The Creative Cities Network was created by UNESCO in 2004 to promote sustainable development through creative processes within cities and places of urban settlement. The Network recognizes cities from seven creative fields including Craft and Folk Arts, Media Arts, Film, Design, Gastronomy, Literature, and Music. Designated Creative Cities use their creative field by placing creativity at the core of their development and economy to ensure a city centered around inclusivity, safety, resiliency, and sustainability. 

All over the world, these cities, each in its way, make culture the pillar, not an accessory, of their strategy,” says UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “This favours political and social innovation and is particularly important for the young generations.”

For more information on the Creative Cities Network, visit: https://en.unesco.org/creative-cities/