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


MusicIC Presents: The Kreutzer Sonata

What is the music of jealousy? Of obsession? Of desire? Award-winning playwright Jennifer Fawcett (Apples in Winter, Birth Witches) returns to Riverside with an adaptation that weaves together Leo Tolstoy’s haunting novella with the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Leoš Janáček. Recorded by four-time Grammy Award winning producer and recording engineer Jesse Lewis. An audio-immersive theatrical experience you won’t soon forget.

Premieres August 8 at 4 p.m. on Iowa Public Radio Classical

More information at