2018 City of Literature Gift Guide

Still searching for the perfect gift for the lit-lover in your life? Check out our literary gift guide for all of your last minute gift needs.

For the Bookaholic

Does your aunt Sally seem to eat up novels faster than Santa sneaking Christmas cookies? Luckily, Iowa City has a plethora of local bookshops filled with a genre for every readers’ appetite.
Prairie LightsFrom Poetry to fiction head to this cozy shop to find signed copies from their most recent readings! Grab a gift card if you’re unsure what is up next in your loved-one’s “To Be Read” stack.
Iowa BookThis Iowa City staple isn’t just for textbooks. With a delightful selection of books in the basement you’re sure to find something for both the readers and the Hawkeyes in your home.
The Book EndDid you know the Iowa City Public Library has their own bookstore? Find the Book End on the second floor of the ICPL, and enjoy their wide range of gently used books, and audio-books.
The Haunted BookshopNot only is The Haunted Bookshop full of books (and cats), but they also have the best toys! Cross two people off your list in one spooky stop.

For the Coffee Connoisseur

Whether you’ve got a writer that practically lives at their local coffee shop, or a student that needs a little motivation to get through finals week we’ve listed our favorite local coffee shops to grab a gift card from!
Java House Cozy ambiance, antique furniture, and piping hot coffee, what else do you need to get in the creative spirit? You’ll find it all in the Java House! Gift cards available, as well as beans for at home brewing.
High Ground CafeWith coffee, tea, smoothies, a full lunch menu, and a wide selection of beers and wine you could spend the whole day at High Ground…and you just might! High Ground also has locations in Coralville, if your giftee prefers to stay away from the downtown scene.
Prairie Lights CafeAs if you didn’t need another reason to go to Prairie Lights head up to their second floor coffee shop. Featuring pastries from Deluxe Iowa City, and staff created lattes this spot is a favorite of writers from all over Iowa City.
CortadoNeed a place you can really zen out and focus in? Cortado may just be the spot. Bright comfortable lighting and a WIFI-free coffee shop means you’ll have no distractions from getting your writing or reading done. (Try out the Peppermint Mocha featured in this photo!)


For the Artist

Still haven’t found the perfect gift idea? Iowa City is full of local shops that offer a variety of literary gifts!
RSVPHere you’ll find a notebook for every type of writer, and pens that come in every color. They also carry a series of note cards featuring local authors! This is the store to head to whether you’ve got a budding author on your hands, or someone that wants to explore bullet journaling!
White RabbitFor the fashion and book lover this women’s store carries both vintage and new clothes, as well as cheeky posters, and City of Lit hoodies and prints.
Artisans GalleryJewelry and art from local artists the Artisans Gallery has gifts you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Check out the City of Literature bookmarks near the front of the store!
Raygun If you haven’t bought someone a tee-shirt from Raygun as a gift yet, are you even a true Iowa Citian? Check out our “Iowa City is Lit-erature” shirt.
BlickBlick not only has notebooks, and all the art supplies you could ever dream of, but they also carry calligraphy sets! Set up your loved one with their new favorite writing hobby.
The Iowa Writers’ HouseWith workshops starting in January and going on throughout spring give your loved one the gift of creativity this year! The IWH has gift cards, and workshops available for purchase.


Entries for Poetry in Public 2019 Now Being Accepted

It’s time once again for local writers to submit poems for consideration in the 17th annual Poetry in Public Program, sponsored by the Iowa City Public Art Program.

Johnson County 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, at the Iowa City Public Library 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 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.
  • Avoid special complex formatting, layouts, “word art,” and use of non-standard typefaces.
  • If reprint permissions are required, please get permission prior to submitting your work.

Entries should be submitted using the online form posted on the Poetry in Public website atwww.icgov.org/pip. A printable form is also available on the website or by request.

Poetry in Public entries must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019.

Read a New Book Month: Iowa Writers’ Workshop Grads’ 2018 Debuts

Whether it means curling up with a fresh release or simply a new-to-you classic, December is ‘Read a New Book’ month.

Here at the City of Literature, we’ve put together a list of book recommendations that are not only new releases from 2018, but also are debut works for each of the authors. Can you make it through the list before 2018 ends?

How to Love a Jamaican- Alexia Arthurs


Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret-Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.

“This dazzling debut marks the emergence of a knockout new voice.”-O: The Oprah Magazine 

Atrophy- Jackson Burgess


In his moving debut collection, Jackson Burgess examines heartbreak, depression, and empathy through a lens of rigorous introspection. Atrophy’s poems vary in location, mostly between Los Angeles and Iowa City, with reoccurring characters serving as touchstones, forming the book’s narrative. Atrophy wrestles with loneliness, substance abuse, and dissociation, utilizing lists, letters, prose poems, and free verse. These poems celebrate the past while mourning it, armed with the advantage of retrospect. Prescription drugs, dog fights, dance parties, love letters, and ghosts–the world depicted is at times dark, at times humorous, but always human. Atrophy is vulnerable and cinematic, a series of manic meditations exploring what it means to love and be loved, to hurt and be hurt.

“Jackson Burgess is the most dazzling, urgently urban and unfailingly inventive young chronicler of lost highways and avenues of broken dreams since the early poems of Denis  Johnson and the ballads of Tom Waits.” -David St. John, Chancellor of the Academy of  American Poets

The Dependents- Katharine Dion


After the sudden death of his wife, Maida, Gene is haunted by the fear that their marriage was not all it appeared to be. Alongside Ed and Gayle Donnelly, friends since college days, he tries to resurrect happy memories of the times the two couples shared, raising their children in a small New Hampshire town and vacationing together at a lake house every summer. Meanwhile, his daughter, Dary, challenges not only his happy version of the past but also his view of Maida. As a long-standing rift between them deepens, Gene starts to understand how unknown his daughter is to him’and how enigmatic his wife was as well. Katharine Dion’s assured debut moves seamlessly between Gene’s present-day journey and the long history of a marriage and friendship. Rich and wonderfully alive, The Dependents is the most moving kind of drama, an intimate glance into the expanse of family life and the way we must all eventually bridge the chasm between what we want to believe and what we know to be true.

How Are You Going To Save Yourself- J.M. Holmes


Bound together by shared experience but pulled apart by their changing fortunes, four young friends coming of age in the postindustrial enclave of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, struggle to liberate themselves from the legacies left to them as black men in America. With potent immediacy and bracing candor, this provocative debut follows a decade in the lives of Dub, Rolls, Rye, and Gio as they each grapple with the complexity of their family histories, the newfound power of sex and drugs, and the ferocity of their desires.

How Are You Going to Save Yourself illuminates in breathtaking detail an entire world-one that has been underrepresented in American fiction. At times funny, often uncomfortable, occasionally disturbing, these stories fearlessly engage with issues of race, sex, drugs, class, and family. Holmes’s blistering and timely new voice, richly infused with the unmistakable rhythms of hip-hop that form the sound track to his characters’ lives, delivers an indelible fiction that has never been more vital and necessary.

“As up-to the-minute as a Kendrick Lamar track and as ruefully steeped in eternal truths as a Gogol tale” (Kirkus, starred review).

Fall Together- Sarah Strickley


Sarah Strickley’s work is bold, honest, and confident. Her language is the perfect combination of lyricism and directness. Fall Together is remarkable for its inventive stories that carry the reader into dark territory. The sensibility overseeing these powerful stories is quirky and playful; Strickley is a connoisseur of a myriad of source materials, from contemporary tabloid fodder to age-old literature and legend.

“In each piece, a wholly human character comes to life to delight and instruct the reader, to make her revisit what she thought was the familiar world and find it, somehow, faintly shifted and newly fresh.” -Antonya Nelson, author of Bound and Funny Once

Other People’s Love Affairs- D. Wystan Owen


In the ten luminous stories of D. Wystan Owen’s debut collection, the people of Glass, a picturesque village on the rugged English coast, are haunted by longings and deeply held secrets, captive to pasts that remain as alive as the present. Each story takes us into the lives of characters reaching earnestly and often courageously for connection to the people they have loved.

Owen observes their heartbreaks, their small triumphs, and their generous capacity for grace. A young nurse, reeling from the disappearance of her mother, forges an unlikely friendship with a local vagrant. A young boy is by turns dazzled and disillusioned by a trip to the circus with a family friend. A widower revisits the cinema where, as a teenager, he and an older woman shared trysts that both thrilled and baffled him. A woman is offered fragile, uneasy forgiveness for a cruel act from years ago. And in the title story, a shopkeeper’s vision of the woman she loved is upended by the startling revelation of a secret life. Surprising and powerful, and in the classic tradition of fiction by James Joyce, William Trevor, and Elizabeth Strout, Owen’s interconnected stories strike a deep and resounding emotional chord.

“Owen writes exquisite stories that lodge somewhere in my chest and keep detonating–loudly, devastatingly–again and again.”–Garth Greenwell

Ohio- Stephen Markley


On one fateful summer night in 2013, four former classmates converge on the rust belt town where they grew up, each of them with a mission, all of them haunted by regrets, secrets, lost loves. There’s Bill Ashcraft, an alcoholic, drug-abusing activist, whose fruitless ambitions have taken him from Cambodia to Zuccotti Park to New Orleans, and now back to “The Cane” with a mysterious package strapped to the underside of his truck;

Stacey Moore, a doctoral candidate reluctantly confronting the mother of her former lover; Dan Eaton, a shy veteran of three tours in Iraq, home for a dinner date with the high school sweetheart he’s tried to forget; and the beautiful, fragile Tina Ross, whose rendezvous with the captain of the football team triggers the novel’s shocking climax.

At once a murder mystery and a social critique, Ohio ingeniously captures the fractured zeitgeist of a nation through the viewfinder of an embattled Midwestern town and offers a prescient vision for America at the dawn of a turbulent new age.

Bindi: A Novel- Paul Matthew Maisano


Kerala, 1993: Eight-year-old Birendra suddenly loses his mother, but he refuses to believe he’s an orphan. He’s certain that his mother’s twin sister, the troubled but winning Nayana, will come for him all the way from West London. But when the letter informing Nayana of her sister’s death goes missing, numerous lives are forever altered, and Birendra is set adrift.

Madeline, a Los Angeles native and interior designer to the stars, is floundering in her personal life. In the aftermath of a failed attempt to get pregnant, she flies to India where she finds herself face-to-face with Birendra. In a moment of sudden certainty, she decides she must adopt the boy in order to save them both.

As Nayana falls deeper into crisis at work and in her marriage in London, Birendra learns to make himself at home in Los Angeles, forging an especially close bond with Madeline’s younger brother, Edward, who begins to worry that his sister may have met her match in motherhood. When he learns of his adopted nephew’s family in London, Edward is faced with an impossible choice. If he can find Nayana and reunite her with her nephew, should he? Even if in doing so he would risk unwittingly setting the two women who love the boy most against each other?

Written in stirring prose, and infused with keen emotional insight, Bindi is about our search for family and for home, and an exploration of the ways that loss and longing can be converted into hope, connection, and love.

One Book Two Book 2019: Now Accepting Student Submissions

While some of Iowa City’s littlest learners may still be adjusting to the new school year, we know that secretly they’re all excited to be back playing with friends at recess, trading tales and treats at lunch, and, even if they won’t admit it, learning! Celebrating young writers and fostering creativity in children are two of the main motivations behind One Book Two Book, a celebration of children’s literature in the City of Literature. But no children’s literature festival would be complete without actual children’s writing. That is why the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature is excited to begin accepting submissions for the 2019 Student Writing competition.

We are now encouraging students in grades 1-8 from the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids Corridor area school districts, or home school students in equivalent grades, to submit one page of writing for One Book Two Book 2019. This page can take the form of any type of writing: story, essay, poem, song lyric, graphic novel page, etc. While many of the criteria have carried over from years past, this year we have opened up our language guidelines and are now accepting submissions in English, French, and Spanish! Full submission instructions can be found on our One Book Two Book website www.onebooktwobook.org/student-writing-guidelines.

We know getting a youngster to sit down and write after a long day at school may seem like an arduous task, but this is a great opportunity for kids to start seeing writing as a fun activity rather than homework. Not only will your budding author be given an opportunity to develop writing skills and put that wild imagination to good use, but recognized students will be honored at Write Out Loud, a special event on Sunday, February 24, 2019 during One Book Two Book. Two virtuosos will be selected from each grade level, one in each of the following categories:

The Write Stuff: This award will acknowledge students with technical abilities; praising excellence in language, clarity, structure, and emotional impact.

From the Heart: The second honor seeks to acclaim young writers that excel in creativity, passion, and expressiveness.

Additionally, a percentage of all students whose submissions are deemed to be of outstanding quality will also be honored with a certificate of distinction and will be invited to attend the Write Out Loud event. All recognized student-writers will receive certificates and prizes at the event. Grade-level prize winners, selected by our team of judges from ACT, will be invited to read their winning submissions during the event, as well as have their work published in a booklet, which will be available at the festival.

So, do you have a tiny poet on your hands? Or maybe a class clown that needs a new outlet for their inventive stories? Perhaps a future essayist that has an opinion on everything from their mac n’ cheese to what they learned at Taproot this summer? Or even someone that’s quiet in school but can’t stop reading in his or her native language at home? Whether or not your child expresses an interest in writing, this is a great way to introduce them to creative writing and to the remarkable literary community in Iowa City.

Winners named in City of Literature student essay contest

Iowa City student wins top prize of a free year at the University of Iowa; runners up from Anamosa, Ankeny, Dike, Dyersville, Murray, and Spencer

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 Call of the Creek,” by Elizabeth Ayers, a student at Iowa City High School in Iowa City. In recognition of her essay, Elizabeth will receive one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa, offered in partnership with the UI.

In the essay, she writes about finding solace in a creek near her home, recounting a day spent hiking along and through the creek and highlighting the things she found. 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, Elizabeth does this, remarking on the sunlight shimmering off the water and the “woodblock carving sound” of a woodpecker at work.

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

“The focused time-frame and location of Elizabeth’s essay provides a sense of when and where the author is,” they wrote. “Those details, along with more common sensory descriptions, are effective in transporting the reader into the writer’s experience.”

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:

Alysa Fettkether, Dike-New Hartford
Roger Mason Bundridge, Murray Community Schools
Calvin DeWitte, Anamosa High School
Bridgette Browning, Ankeny High School
Evan Schlarmann, Beckman Catholic High School
Grace Hamilton, Spencer 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.

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 http://www.iowacityofliterature.org/paul-engle-essay-contest/.