Paul Engle Day and Prize
Paul Engle (October 12, 1908 – March 22, 1991), was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on October 12, 1908, and grew up in a frame house in the Wellington Heights area. After graduating from Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Engle attended Coe College and the University of Iowa where he was one of the first students to earn an advanced degree based on a thesis of creative work—a collection of poems. His first published collection, Worn Earth, went on to win the Yale Series of Young Poets. His best-selling second book of poetry, American Song, was heralded on the cover of the New York Times Book Review in a headline declaring him “A New Voice in American Poetry”. After Iowa, Engle travelled as a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford University in England.
Though Engle did not found the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, he built its reputation as the top graduate writing program in the United States. During his tenure as director, he was responsible for luring some of the finest writers of the day to Iowa City: Phillip Roth, John Berryman, Kurt Vonnegut, and many other prominent novelists and poets served as faculty under Engle. Additionally, Engle increased enrollment and oversaw numerous students of future fame and influence, including Flannery O’Connor, John Irving, Raymond Carver, William Stafford, and Robert Bly.
After directing the Writers’ Workshop for twenty-four years, Engle and future-second-wife Nieh Hualing co-founded The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, which invited dozens of published authors from around the globe to visit the University of Iowa to write and collaborate. For their work with the IWP, Engle and his wife were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976. Engle died at the age of eighty-two, having published fourteen books of poetry, a novel, a memoir, and an opera libretto, and his literary legacy lives on in the lives and works of those authors he helped to educate and inspire.
In 2000, nearly a decade after his death, Paul Engle was declared Iowa’s “Poet of the Century” and then-Governor Tom Vilsack declared that Engle’s birthday, October 12th, would hereafter be known as “Paul Engle Day” to honor this life of creativity, mentorship, and generosity.
To recognize Engle, the City of Literature organization conducts two projects that bear his name. Click on either to learn more abut these programs.