Iowa City Book Festival 2021 Takes Hybrid Format

Iowa City Book Festival offers readings, film screenings, exhibits, and more, late October and throughout the fall

IOWA CITY – The 13th annual Iowa City Book Festival, which will be held Oct. 18-24, will feature a mix of in-person and online events that blend original programming and partnerships with co-presenters to celebrate the written word. Several events focus on authors with ties to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, while others highlight issues related to immigration.

Because of coronavirus restrictions, in-person events produced by the festival will require masks and will have limited, spaced seating. Partner events may have other restrictions. Programs will be streamed live online and recorded for later viewing as well. This year’s festival partners include the One Community One Book program, The Examined Life Conference, FilmScene, Riverside Theatre, The University of Iowa Libraries, and more. The festival is supported by the City of Iowa City and the University of Iowa.

The festival website,, is the place to find the most up-to-date information about events. In addition, the festival will take advantage of opportunities to present readings and discussions throughout the fall.

The first book event of the festival is a joint poetry reading by Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduates Julie Hanson and Marc Rahe at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19, in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library. Hanson is the author of Unbeknownst, an Iowa Poetry Prize winner, and the new The Audible and the Evident. Rahe’s latest collection is Gravity Well from Iowa City-based Rescue Press.

The Book Festival partners with the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program for an event with poets and translators Habib Tengour and Pierre Joris on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m., in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library. Fall 2021 IWP participant Tengour, from Algeria, has published more than 20 volumes of writing, including the recent poetry collection, La Sandale d’Empédocle. He will be joined by Joris, a prolific poet and translator, whose most recent works are Fox-trails, -tales, & -trots: Poems & Proses, and Memory Rose into Threshold Speech, which gathers the poet Paul Celan’s first four books and completes Joris’s project to translate all of Celan’s work from German into English. Joris and Tengour are also the co-editors of vol. 4 of the Poems for the Millennium anthology series, The University of California Book of North African Literature (2013).

On Thursday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m., the One Community One Book project from the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights will present author Reuben Jonathan Miller, who will speak about Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Aftermath of Incarceration. Miller’s presentation will be a virtual event, and details about how to access the stream will be shared closer to the date.

Also at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 21 is the featured presentation of The Examined Life Conference from the University of Iowa College of Medicine. Authors Gina Frangello and Emily Rapp Black will be in conversation with Cate Dicharry discussing their new books, Blow Your House Down and Sanctuary and Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg, focusing on the intersection of our stories and bodies.

Register at:

On Friday, Oct. 22, participants in the International Writing Program will hold a noon panel discussion in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library.

Saturday, Oct. 23, is the festival’s busiest day, with a mix of in-person and virtual events. Things begin at 11:30 a.m. in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library with a reading and presentation by award-winning Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate Gregory Galloway. His third novel, Just Thieves, is a classic noir that follows recovering addicts and accomplished house thieves Rick and Frank, whose latest job is easy… perhaps too easy.

Kristy Nabhan-Warren follows at 1 p.m. in Meeting Room A, where she will discuss her latest book, Meatpacking America: How Migration, Work, and Faith Unite and Divide the Heartland. Nabhan-Warren, the V. O. and Elizabeth Kahl Figge Chair of Catholic Studies and a professor in the departments of religious studies and gender, women’s, and sexuality studies at the UI, spent years interviewing Iowans who work in the meatpacking industry, both native-born residents and recent migrants from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In Meatpacking America, she digs deep below the stereotype and reveals the grit and grace of a heartland that is a major global hub of migration and food production.

The topic of migration continues at 2:30 p.m. in Meeting Room A with Chuy Renteria, who will discuss his debut book, We Heard It When We Were Young. In this book from University of Iowa Press, Renteria tells the story of a young boy, first-generation Mexican American, who is torn between cultures: between immigrant parents trying to acclimate to midwestern life and a town that was, by turns, supportive and disturbingly antagonistic.

Also at 2:30 p.m. is a presentation by author Laura Gellott, professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (Kenosha), who will discuss her new book, Helen Perry Curtis and the European Trip of a Lifetime. Gellott was inspired to a lifetime of teaching and European travel by Curtis’s 1937 book Jean & Company, Unlimited. She located Curtis’s three granddaughters, and the meeting resulted in the publication of Gellott’s book, which traces Curtis’s life from its Nebraska roots to New Jersey and New York and across the European continent in the 1930s. Gellott will be in Shambaugh Auditorium in the University of Iowa Main Library.

The final author event on Saturday is a virtual presentation at 4 p.m. by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, who will discuss her book, Not a Nation of Immigrants. Dunbar-Ortiz is the winner of the 2017 Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize, and is the author or editor of many books, including An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, a recipient of the 2015 American Book Award.

Saturday also features the “Reading Through the Roarin’ 20s” open house in the University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections & Archives Reading Room. From 1-4 p.m. See rare and unique materials not just from the 1920s, but also the 1820s, 1720s, 1620s and so on. During this open house-style event, all are invited to explore centuries of book history and innovation through this fun lens.

Two more author events are scheduled for Sunday, October 24. Iowa Poet Laureate Debra Marquart will be joined by Iowa City West High student Shreya Khullar, Iowa’s first Student Poet Ambassador, to read from and discuss their work. Marquart, Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Iowa State University, will talk about her latest book, The Night We Landed on the Moon: Essays Between Exile & Belonging, as well as her poetry. Khullar is an editor for Polyphony Lit, an international student-run magazine, and her writing is published, or is forthcoming in The Rising Phoenix Press, Polyphony Lit, Hypernova Lit, and more.

The final author event of the festival features Fiona Sampson, author of 28 books of poetry and nonfiction, including the critically acclaimed In Search of Mary Shelley. In this virtual event at 2:30 p.m., Sampson will discuss Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the first biography of the 19th century writer and feminist icon.

Other festival programming revolves around the latest in a series of community reading projects led by Dr. Anna Barker on behalf of the City of Literature. Participants from around the world are currently reading and discussing Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov together. In addition, Dr. Barker will lead guided tours of her curated exhibit, “From Revolutionary Outcast to a Man of God: Dostoevsky at 200,” Friday, October 22 and Saturday, October 23 at 4 p.m. at the University of Iowa Main Library Gallery. Programming partners FilmScene and Riverside Theatre will offer related events.

A series of films will be screened at FilmScene during the festival. These include the 1958 adaptation of “The Brothers Karamazov” at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17; “La Chinoise” at 7 p.m., on Monday, Oct. 18; “The Double” at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 19; and “White Nights” from 1957 at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 24. All will be screened at The Chauncey location. More information at

Riverside Theatre will stage a unique performance of “The Grand Inquisitor,” a play adapted from a chapter of The Brothers Karamazov, in the UI Main Library Gallery. The play features John William Watkins along with designs by Chris Rich, Jenny Nutting Kelchen, and Bri Atwood. Riverside co-founder Ron Clark directs. This is the Iowa premiere of this play. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 21-23, and 28-30, and at 2 p.m. on Oct. 24 and 31. The performance is free to the public, with reservations strongly recommended. Seats may be reserved at

For the most up-to-date information about festival events, including links for all virtual programs, please visit the festival website at: Additional events will be announced on the website. For additional information, follow us on Facebook at:, or Twitter at:

Reykjavík hosts first-ever hybrid UNESCO Cities of Literature meeting

Reykjavík UNESCO Creative City of Literature welcomed 31 representatives from 21 Creative Cities of Literature for the hybrid Creative Cities of Literature Annual Conference (Sept. 6-10), and the same number of delegates took part remotely from Creative Cities of Literature around the world. The theme of the Conference was Conversation and Inspiration- Reconnect in Reykjavik, focusing on the need for Cities to reconnect after a time of relative isolation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cities shared what they had learned and offered best practice for recovery and equity of opportunity in communities, and planned residencies, future collaborations, and mentoring and cooperation within the growing Network.

“The UNESCO Creative Cities of Literature have used the time during the global pandemic to explore new ways to support readers and writers in our communities, knowing the connection afforded by literature is needed more than ever in these isolating times,” said John Kenyon, Executive Director, Iowa City UNESCO Creative City of Literature and Creative Cities of Literature Network Lead. “Our annual meeting in Reykjavík allowed us to share what we have learned with one another and to discuss how we can strengthen our collaborations globally through the virtual tools that have become commonplace. To do so in a beautiful city like Reykjavík, where we had the opportunity to see in person the work being done by writers, artists, creators, programmers, and so many others, brought home how vital that work can be.”

The delegates experienced Reykjavík‘s literary and cultural landscape and met authors, translators, booksellers, and other key players on the City‘s literary scene. Reykjavík also published a collection of new essays on creativity and writing by 14 local authors, launched at the Reykjavík International Literary Festival which coincided with the Creative Cities of Literature Annual Conference.

During a visit to the Reykjavík City Library, delegates presented the Library with children’s books from their city, in keeping with a tradition that began when Iowa City hosted the Creative Cities of Literature Conference in 2018, when the team from Reykjavík City of Literature coordinated an effort to have the visiting cities bring and donate a children’s book to the library at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. This year Iowa City donated Creekfinding by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Claudia McGehee, which the children of Reykjavik soon can find in the stacks. Literacy was a key theme of the Conference, and Reykjavík’s anniversary year had in fact commenced with a book gift for all children in the City celebrating their first birthday, along with reading tips for their parents.


“Reykjavík UNESCO Creative City of Literature celebrates its ten-year anniversary in 2021. Hosting the Cities of Literature Annual Meeting made this milestone birthday very special, and organisng a hybrid meeting on this scale was highly educational,” said Kristín Ingu Viðarsdóttir, Project Manager, Reykjavík UNESCO Creative City of Literature. “It will benefit both the network and Reykjavík City generally as we further develop this new way of working together globally. As always, the Reykjavík team came out of the conference with new ideas, new connections, and further plans for cooperation and this international meeting was also highly valuable for the local literary community.”

For more information:

About the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN): Created in 2004, the UNESCO Creative Cities Network gathers 246 cities from over 80 UNESCO Member States that have positioned culture and creativity as strategic enablers for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the local level. The Network covers the seven creative fields of Craft and Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Media Arts, and Music. Thirty-nine UNESCO Creative Cities of Literature from 28 countries are currently members of the Network and collaborate actively and closely to promote the power of literature for sustainable and inclusive societies. Iowa city was the third designated UNESCO City of Literature globally in 2008, and the first designated City of Literature in the United States.

For more information on the UCCN, please visit:

To learn more about the UNESCO Creative Cities of Literature Network:


Winners Named in 2021 Paul Engle 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 eight high school students from across Iowa.

The winning essay was “The First Morning,” by Johnnie Each, now a junior at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School. In recognition of her essay, Johnnie will receive one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa, offered in partnership with the UI.

In the essay, she writes about the experience of a rainstorm in Backbone State Park. With vibrant description, skillful control, and emotional resonance, Each offers a powerful sensory description that brings to life the way “even the somberest looking pine seems to be alive this morning as beads of water collect on its needles and drip, drop playfully down the branches” as she rides her bike down a road “that is slowly decaying back into gravel and asphalt chunks,” past “swaying boughs… [and] the dark blur of the lake; a moody and murky smear against the pallid sky.”

  2021 winner Johnnie Each.

The essays were judged by a team from ACT in Iowa City. Commenting on Johnnie’s essay, the team said her ability to recount an experience so vividly and play and experiment with how words are used while maintaining precise control of voice and grammar, distinguished this essay as exceptional.

“She uses this memory to reflect on the importance of family and community, explaining how this family vacation to Backbone is a long-standing tradition which, in an uncertain world, offers the quiet comforts of summer days spent ‘creek stomping and crawdad catching’ and evening meals spent ‘swatting flies and swapping stories on the peeling green picnic tables,’ as she comes to understand how “This place, these people- they are the eyes of my storm,” the judges wrote. “Each’s wise and lovely essay celebrates the importance of family, tradition, and the beauty of nature, all within the context of discussing the weather—and there is nothing more Iowa than that.

The contest is 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.

Seven runners up from around the state will receive $500 cash scholarships from the City of Literature.

The runners up are:

  • Elizabeth Clark, Ankeny High School
  • Olivia Compas, Glenwood Community High School
  • Kennady Donovan, Central DeWitt High School
  • Heidi Du, Iowa City West High School
  • Lauren Rolling, Ankeny High School
  • Alaina Steffen, Dike-New Hartford High School
  • Sophia Woods, Cedar Falls High School

The contest solicits essays from Iowa high school sophomores, and is designed to recognize the best writing from each of Iowa’s nine Area Education Agencies, which cover the state. The contest was held later this year because of the pandemic. Due to a lack of suitable submissions from three AEAs, not all AEAs were represented.

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

The Kreutzer Sonata: A New Radio Play Airing On IPR Classical

The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature’s MusicIC festival has partnered with Riverside Theatre to create “The Kreutzer Sonata: A Play in Five Tiny Movements,” by award-winning playwright Jennifer Fawcett.

Click here to listen to the performance.

Originally commissioned and presented by MusicIC in 2014, “The Kreutzer Sonata” is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1889 novella of the same name. Fawcett’s adaptation tells the story of Pozdnyshev (played by Martin Andrews), a man who is so consumed by jealousy after hearing his wife (Saffron Henke) play Ludwig van Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, that he is driven to violence. Woven into the play is a performance of the Beethoven sonata and Leoš Janáček’s String Quartet No.1 (also called Kreutzer Sonata), inspired by the Tolstoy novella.

MusicIC and Riverside Theatre had originally planned to co-present a live production of the play in fall 2020. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two organizations reimagined the production as a radio play, directed by Riverside’s Producing Artistic Director, Adam Knight. The resulting production — led by Grammy Award-winning producer Jesse Lewis — incorporates the music of Beethoven and Janáček throughout. The Beethoven Sonata for Fortepiano and Violin No. 9 in A major, Op. 47 (“Kreutzer”), is performed by Ian Watson (fortepiano) and Susanna Ogata (violin). The Janáček String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata,” is performed by The Knights from an original concept and arrangement by Eric Jacobsen, with orchestration by Michael P. Atkinson and conducted by Eric Jacobsen.

MusicIC’s Artistic Director, Tricia Park, says “I’m thrilled to collaborate with Riverside Theatre for this special radio play version of our ‘Kreutzer Sonata’. Especially during these challenging times, I’m looking forward to this coming season with renewed hope. Ever since 2014 when MusicIC premiered and commissioned ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, I’ve planned to offer a restaging of it — a ‘reboot,’ — at some point. Despite the unprecedented obstacles arts organizations are facing due to the pandemic, I’m so proud of the ways in which MusicIC, Riverside Theatre, and the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature have responded to this moment and grown creatively. I’m also delighted to collaborate with Jesse Lewis, Ian Watson, Susanna Ogata, and The Knights as we collectively reimagine this project. Premiering this radio play on IPR is an amazing chance for MusicIC to reach beyond our loyal audience and let more people know about the great things happening here in Iowa.”

More information about this production and the MusicIC festival can be found at

To learn more about Riverside Theatre and the production, please visit

The official ribbon-cutting for James Alan McPherson Park will be held from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 5, at the park, 1856 Seventh Avenue Ct., in Iowa City.

The Iowa City City Council approved the renaming of Creekside Park to James Alan McPherson Park in March 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the newly redesigned park’s ribbon-cutting was delayed.

The ceremony will be a part of the Party in the Park event at McPherson Park. It will include a special park sign reveal, ribbon-cutting, music from Cedar County Cobras, yard games and kids crafts. Consultants will also be in attendance to discuss future park enhancements in honor of McPherson.

The unanimous vote from council changes the park’s name to honor the legendary career and life of McPherson, a longtime Iowa City resident, professor at the University of Iowa’s prestigious Writers’ Workshop, and the first African-American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Best known for his essays and short stories, McPherson‘s 1977 short story collection, Elbow Room, was the publication that earned him the Pulitzer. He would go on to teach at the Writers’ Workshop for over 30 years. Among his many honors is his distinction as the first recipient of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature’s Paul Engle Prize in 2011. McPherson passed in 2016 at the age of 72.

To learn more about the impact and legacy of McPhersonvisit the University of Iowa’s website