Iowa City Book Festival, City of Literature celebrate 10th anniversaries this fall

The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature will celebrate its 10th anniversary by hosting the tenth Iowa City Book Festival from Oct. 1-7 2018. The festival schedule, which will feature authors from around the country and around the globe, including those from other Cities of Literature.

Long a showcase for partnerships with other area organizations, this year’s festival will feature programming presented in conjunction with the University of Iowa’s Green Room, Special Collections at the University of Iowa Libraries, the International Writing Program, the Johnson County League of Women Voters, the Englert, Iowa City Hospice and more.

The festival will begin on Monday, Oct. 1, with the Green Room collaboration at the Englert Theatre. The Green Room series is presented as part of a UI course that “invites innovative thinkers to bring to the course the most important question they believe ‘twenty-somethings’ should be trying to answer and that higher education should be trying to inform.” The result is an ongoing community conversation about timely topics.

Each year, the festival features the public reading of a classic work of literature with supporting programming throughout the week. This year’s public reading is of Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. In conjunction with Special Collections, events around the reading begin on Tuesday, Oct. 2, with a presentation of related works and the panel discussion “From Plutarch and Milton to Goethe and Shelley: A Festival of Books in Frankenstein.” Things continue on Wednesday, Oct. 3, with the public reading, a panel led by Special Collections Curator Peter Balestieri, and a screening of one of the adaptations of “Frankenstein” hosted at FilmScene by Corey Creekmur from the UI Department of Cinema Arts.

Thursday at the festival features presentation of the City of Literature’s annual Paul Engle Prize to writer Dina Nayeri. 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. Nayeri is the seventh writer to win the award. She will receive the award at an event at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library. Nayeri is a novelist, essayist and activist who has written extensively about the life and challenges of refugees.

In addition, the popular storytelling podcast “Welcome to Night Vale,” will visit the Englert Theatre at 8 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $30 and are available at the Englert box office or at

Saturday, the biggest day of programming at the festival, will feature dozens of events including readings, panel discussions, workshops, a book fair and more. The festival closes Sunday evening, Oct. 7, with a presentation by Dr. Ira Byock about his book, The Four Things That Matter Most, presented in partnership with the Iowa City Hospice program Honoring Your Wishes. Byock will talk at the Coralville Center for Performing Arts.

Other highlights include:

  • Authors from other Cities of Literature will be featured at the festival. They include Sjón from Reykjavik, Sunni Overend from Melbourne, and ZP Dala from Durban, South Africa.
  • Politics will feature prominently at this year’s festival, include Dan Kauffman (The Fall of Wisconsin), Ari Berman (Give Us the Ballot) and Silvia Hidalgo (How to Be an American).
  • The annual Day in the City of Literature returns on Sunday, Oct. 7, 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:

    • Wayetu Moore is founder of One Moore Book, a nonprofit organization that encourages reading among children of countries with low literacy rates and underrepresented cultures by publishing culturally relevant books and creating bookstores and reading corners to serve these communities. Her first bookstore opened in Monrovia, Liberia, in 2015. Her debut novel is She Would Be King.
    • Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of four novels, including The Good Girl, Pretty Baby, Don’t You Cry and Every Last Lie. A former high school history teacher, Kubica lives outside of Chicago.
    • Guy Branum is a comedian who has written for “The Mindy Project” and “Billy on the Street,” appears regularly on “Chelsea, Lately” and is currently the host and star of “Talk Show the Game Show” on TruTV. His debut book, My Life as a Goddess: A Memoir through (Un)Popular Culture, comes out this fall.
    • Mary Mejia is the Minnesota-based author of The Dragon Keeper and Everything You Want Me to Be. She writes what she likes to read: contemporary, plot-driven books that deliver both entertainment and substance. Her forthcoming book is Leave No Trace.
    • Mike Mullin lives in Danville, Indiana, and writes the “Ashfall” series of young adult novels. His new novel is Surface Tension. His debut, Ashfall, was named one of the top five young adult novels of 2011 by National Public Radio, a Best Teen Book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and a 2016 YALSA Popular Paperback.

Other than the “Welcome to Night Vale” event at the Englert, all festival events announced to date are free and open to the public.

Most events will be held on Saturday, Oct. 6. 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 (, where we will share news of new programs and authors as they are confirmed.

Dina Nayeri named 2018 Paul Engle Prize winner

Dina Nayeri has been named the seventh 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.

Nayeri 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. 4. The event is at 7 p.m. at the Coralville Public Library, and is free and open to the public.

Speaking about the award, Nayeri said, she was honored and moved by the news.

“Iowa City is where I accepted myself as a writer, as an Iranian, and also an American,” she said. “It was a place of rebirth. Every day I walked into Dey House, passing the great Jim McPherson as he chatted with my classmates and I felt lucky. I read his work and tried to find the courage to talk to him about it. To be named to an award that he inaugurated in his final decade makes me feel a part of something beautiful and important. I hope I can inspire half as much joy and resolve as that brilliant man inspired in me.”

Nayeri is a novelist, essayist and activist who has written extensively about the life and challenges of refugees. She has published two novels. Her debut, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, was released in 2013 and translated to 14 foreign languages. Her second novel, Refuge, was released in 2017 and was a New York Times editor’s choice. Her acclaimed essay “The Ungrateful Refugee,” was published in The Guardian as a Long Read in 2017 and was anthologized in The Displaced, a collection edited by Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Than Nguyen.

She holds a BA from Princeton, an MBA and Master of Education, both from Harvard, and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow and Teaching Writing Fellow. She lives in London.

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.
  • Alexander Chee, a writer, teacher and activist. He is the author of the novels Edinburgh and Queen of the Night, as well as the memoir How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Chee is renowned essayist who writes honestly and fiercely on subjects such as race, gender, and LGBTQ+ issues

2018 Jazz Fest performances to celebrate 10th anniversary as a City of Literature

Image result for iowa city jazz festivalHow fitting that on the 10th anniversary of Iowa City earning the designation as a UNESCO City of Literature the Iowa City Jazz Festival has three major acts that incorporate literature as an integral element of the performance. Each night of the festival brings an innovative blend of literature and music, as artists find inspiration in the written word.

The literary connections begin at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 29, with Iowa City’s own John Rapson, director of the jazz studies program at the University of Iowa. His “Hot Tamale Louie” was inspired by a 2016 New Yorker article by Kathryn Schulz. That piece, “Citizen Khan,” tells the story of Zarif Khan, an Afghani who made his way to Sheridan, Wyoming, around the turn of the last century, and began selling tamales.

Rapson created a musical production that blends Mexican waltzes, Western ballads, Eastern folk songs and more, all woven together with jazz, to tell Khan’s story.

Things continue at 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 30, with the Jane Ira Bloom Quartet. Bloom’s latest album, Wild Lines, which, as the album subtitle states, finds Bloom “Improvising Emily Dickinson.” The Soprano saxophonist and composer carries her admiration for the 19th century poet through the recording studio and onto the stage, with songs paying tribute to Dickinson. A special two-CD version of the album incorporates readings of some of the poems that inspired the work, drawn from the collections The Gorgeous Nothings and Emily Dickinson and The Art Of Belief.

The weekend closes – from a literary standpoint – with a performance at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 1, by Matt Wilson’s Honey and Salt, a group that performs music inspired by the poetry of Wilson’s fellow Illinois native Carl Sandburg. Wilson hails from tiny Knoxville, Illinois, just about five miles from Sandburg’s home in Galesburg, and was born just three years before the poet’s death.

Sandburg’s work is wide ranging, in some ways capturing early 20th century life as well as anyone. Wilson is able to pick and choose from the poet’s vast catalog, finding poems that work well in song or in recitation. He groups these into sections that touch on city life, prairie life and music.

These performances, which find journalism and poetry pulled off of the page and given life through song, are a fitting celebration of Iowa City’s literary milestone.

MusicIC Festival to celebrate space and light during June 20-23

Special performance of ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ highlights schedule

IOWA CITY – The MusicIC festival returns for an eighth season from June 20-23, 2018. Over the course of four programs, MusicIC will gaze skyward, finding inspiration in the stars and beyond. The Festival is presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.

The festival program, curated by MusicIC Artistic Director Tricia Park, features great string quartets of Beethoven, Bartok and Mozart. In addition, this summer’s programming will feature contemporary works by Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov and American composer Christopher Cerrone. The final evening concert blurs the lines between classical and pop music with a chamber arrangement of Pink Floyd’s classic The Dark Side of the Moon. Local writers will share brief original pieces that touch on the themes in that work. This concert at the Englert Theatre that will bring MusicIC’s 2018 summer programming to an exciting and inventive finale.

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. Amanda Grimm (viola) and Laura Usiskin (cello), who have performed with Orchestra Iowa, as well as local musicians Minji Kwon (piano) and Eric Douglas (drums) will join the quartet for some of the performances. Iowa City native Meagan Brus will be vocalist during the festival as well. The musicians will be joined at the Friday, June 23 concert by writers including Jan Weissmiller, Daniel Khalastchi, and Tameka Cage Conley.

The festival begins on Wednesday, June 20, with “Stargazing,” a program that includes classics from Beethoven and Bartok, as well as Cerrone’s How to Breathe Underwater, a work for string quartet and electronics that was inspired by a character in the Jonathan Franzen novel, Freedom. The concert is at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, and is free and open to the public.

Things continue on Thursday, June 21, with “Night Music,” a program that includes multiple pieces by Brahms and Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) Op 4, inspired by poetry of Richard Dehmel. The concert is at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, and is free and open to the public.

The festival’s only ticketed event will be Friday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Englert Theatre, where the Solera Quartet will be joined by drummer Eric Douglas and vocalist Meagan Brus to perform an arrangement by Andrew Janss (cellist of the Solera Quartet) of the Pink Floyd progressive rock classic, The Dark Side of the Moon. Also on the bill is Tenebrae by Osvaldo Golijov, a piece the quartet has performed at a past MusicIC festival and which has been brought back by popular demand.

For the Pink Floyd piece, local writers will join the performance to read original work on the themes of money, madness, and mortality, echoing the themes of the album.

Accompanying the performance of the Pink Floyd piece will be a projection of the filmed light improvisation “Invisible Writing” by famed ‘60s light show pioneers Single Wing Turquoise Bird.

Tickets are available at the Englert box office or at

The festival closes on Saturday, June 23, at 10:30 a.m. with a free family concert at the Iowa City Public Library in Meeting Room A. 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, MidWestOne, Dunn Investments, and Toyota-Scion of Iowa City.

One Community, One Book 2018

Kathrina Litchfield of the UI Center for Human Rights is pleased to announce that this fall she will be offering her annual 1-credit-hour course on UICHR’s One Community, One Book on-site at IMCC Oakdale. Half of the students will be UI LABB students, and half of them coming in from the UI campus. The class will be examining the theme of “Redesigning the American Dream” through reading the 2018 OCOB selection Reading with Patrick: A Student, a Teacher, and a Life-Changing Friendship and several other texts. OCOB author Michelle Kuo will not only be visiting our campus for a community lecture in early November, she will partner with Litchfield in teaching the last two weeks of the course inside the prison.
Registration for the UI fall 2018 semester has begun, so please share information about the course with undergraduates who might be interested. The course helps to fulfill requirements for the Certificate in Human Rights but is also open to all majors. Interested students should contact Litchfield via email at
The course number is HRTS:3905:0001 Topics in Human Rights. Class meetings are September 20-November 1, Thursdays, 5-7pm. A link to ICON course info is here:
Attention: This course will be taught on-site at the IMCC Oakdale Correctional Facility. UI campus student enrollment is limited to 12, plus 12 UI LABB students from the facility. Students must contact the instructor before their enrollment will be processed. Students are responsible for their own transportation to and from the facility (7.7 miles each way). Students must contact the instructor for permission to enroll in the course.