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

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:
  • 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 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 or follow us on Facebook ( or Twitter ( .

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.

MusicIC Festival to celebrate Inspiration and Hommage during June 15-18 events

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 The MusicIC festival returns for a sixth season from June 15-18, 2016, to present four programs that explore the theme of Inspiration and Hommage with work that explores the connections between literature and chamber music.

The festival program, assembled by MusicIC Artistic Director Tricia Park, features great string quartets of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. In addition, this summer’s programming will feature a recent work by the Pulitzer prize-winning composer, Caroline Shaw, as well as an innovative evening of storytelling and live music at the Englert Theatre that will bring MusicIC’s 2016 summer programming to an exciting and inventive finale.

MusicIC moves to a new home with the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature after three years under the banner of Summer of the Arts. City of Literature Executive Director John Kenyon said the festival is a good fit for the organization, because it helps to push the boundaries of what can be considered literature.

“Too often we are constrained by the thought of literature being static words on the page,” he said. “With this festival, we can explore the way words and ideas can come alive and be used as inspiration in other art forms, and how those forms – in this case, music – can inspire the written word.”

Music during the festival will be performed by the Solera Quartet, with Tricia Park and Miki-Sophia Cloud on violin, Molly Carr on viola, and Andrew Janss on cello.

The festival begins on Wednesday, June 15, with a free concert at Trinity Episcopal Church. The program, “An Hommage to Haydn,” will feature both Haydn’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77 No. 2, but also Caroline Shaw’s 2011 composition, Entr’acte for String Quartet, which draws direct inspiration from a performance of the Haydn piece. The program closes with Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465 “Dissonance,” which is itself an hommage, or artistic tribute, to Haydn.

The festival’s second night, Thursday, June 16, returns to Trinity for a second free concert. This program, “Beethoven’s Brilliance: The Difficult Resolution,” features two string quartets by the master. The first, String Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1, is said to have been inspired by the tomb scene from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This program will feature an actor reciting Juliet’s final words from the play. Beethoven also took inspiration from the work of Haydn.

The second piece is String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135. Here, in the fourth and final movement, is the vague musical and textual inscription: “Der schwer gefasste Entschluss,” or “The Difficult Resolution.” The slow introduction is marked “Muss es sein” — must it be? This question offers a prelude to the festival’s Friday program.

That program, on Friday, June 17, Mendelssohn as Muse: A Storytelling Event, will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Englert Theatre. Tickets are $12.50, and go on sale Friday, May 20, at the Englert Box Office ( Writers Robin Hemley, Daniel Khalastchi, Amy Margolis, and Sabrina Orah Mark, will read short first-person stories inspired by the Mendelssohn’s magnificent Op. 13 String Quartet, with performance of that piece by the Solera Quartet interspersed between the stories.

Mendelssohn wrote this quartet several months after the death of Ludwig van Beethoven, and the influence of Beethoven’s late string quartets is evident in this work. As a unifying motif, Mendelssohn included a quotation from his song “Ist es wahr?” (‘Is it true?’, op. 9 no. 1) – “Is it true that you wait for me in the arbour by the vineyard wall?” – composed a few months earlier. Mendelssohn includes the title of the song in the score of the quartet, recalling the title Beethoven wrote on the last movement of his Op. 135 string quartet “Muss es sein?” (Must it be?). The original inspiration, “Ist es wahr?” will be performed by singer and Iowa City native Meagan Brus during the performance.

The festival concludes on Saturday, June 18, with a free family concert at the Iowa City Public Library at 10:30 a.m. in Meeting Room A. “What Dvorak did on his Summer Vacation: How Iowa Inspired Dvorak’s American Quartet,” will feature the Solera Quartet as they explore and perform Dvorak’s ever popular “American” string quartet, which was written while the composer was on vacation in Spillville, Iowa. Learn about how the beauty and serenity of the Iowa countryside inspired Dvorak to write this gloriously joyful music.

Festival sponsors are the University of Iowa, Dunn Investments, West Music, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, Knutson Construction, Iowa Public Radio, and Toyota-Scion of Iowa City.