100 Days of War and Peace begins Feb. 1

Following on successful community reading projects in 2020, the City of Literature once again offers the chance join with others from around the world to read a classic novel. This time we will gather to read Leo Tolstoy’s classic, War and Peace. Over 100 days, from Feb. 1-May 10, we will read a section every day and discuss it here with our host, Anna Barker.

Anna, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Iowa, will assign each day’s reading of about 10 to 14 pages, and offer commentary. This commentary, and what promises to be a robust discussion of the book, can be found in a special group on the City of Literature’s Facebook page. You also can read Anna’s introductions to the book and learn about the reading assignments at the War and Peace page on our website.

We recommend the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, but you can join along with any version you have at hand. Please join us for this exciting reading project!

#17Booksfor17SDGs 2020 Picks

By Brooke Sarrazin, Marketing Assistant

Last month our organization and 14 other sibling Cities of Literature took part in our second annual “17 Books for the 17 SDGs” social media campaign. From December 7-23 each city posted a book with ties to their city that corresponded with one of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The idea behind the campaign is to raise awareness for the SDGs, and to provide readers with a complete list of books that relate to sustainable development in their community. Below you’ll find Iowa City’s book picks coupled with a brief description of each goal and links to supporting information.

Goal 1: No Poverty

Poverty is found in every corner of the world, whether or not it is seen by a community’s most affluent population. The UN defines poverty as persons living on less than $1.25/day. Since the COVID-19 crisis, the number of people living in poverty began to increase for the first time since 1990, reversing 30 years of progress. Poverty targets the most vulnerable and least powerful populations which is why poverty often follows conflict, natural disasters, crises, and political instability. Refugees and forcibly displaced persons are among the most impoverished and most difficult to lift out of poverty. According to the World Bank, there are about 79.5 million forcibly displaced people, and since 2010 there have been historically high numbers of refugees, internally displaced persons and asylum seekers. The displaced themselves are often escaping conflict or persecution and are extremely vulnerable and impoverished. Often times, the host communities themselves are struggling with their own poverty hardships and struggle to find adequate resources to support an influx of refugees.

Our pick for SDG 1 is Exodus by Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate ‘Gbenga Adeoba. Exodus focuses on forms of migration due to slave trade, war, natural disasters, and economic opportunity. This book works to tell experiences of the exiled and displaced through poetry.

More about SDG 1. 

More about the link between forced displacement and poverty. 

Marvin Bell, 1937-2020

When I heard of Marvin Bell’s passing this morning, my first thought was of unrealized plans. Every time I spoke with Marvin over the past few years, he reminded me of the idea he had shared to erect a statue of Paul and Hualing Engle in Iowa City. If we could put up a statue of Irving Weber, we could do this, too.

To the end, Marvin was thinking of others. So, when I scrolled through social media this morning, I was not surprised to see so many writers with ties to Iowa City sharing their Marvin stories about his teaching and mentorship, his poetry and his friendship, the influence he had on their work and their lives. Through his teaching at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and elsewhere, his lectures, his writing, his interviews and more, he had an outsized impact on the world of letters and on this community.

As part of my career in journalism before I became director of the City of Literature, I wrote about the arts for The Gazette. In that role, I was paid to read and interview authors. One of the pleasures of that time was becoming familiar with Marvin’s poetry, and having the chance to interview him about that work. The first time I spoke with Marvin was in 2000 when he was named the state’s first Poet Laureate. “I hope to show by example that poetry is a natural human activity,” he told me, something I’m sure my younger self thought of as a throwaway line, but which seems today, looking back on his life and career, to encapsulate so much of who he was.

Later that year, his collection Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000 was published. Later than planned, as a matter of fact. Because of the popularity of Harry Potter, printing presses were backed up printing one of those books, and authors like Marvin were forced to wait. An August publication date became November, and scheduled readings were postponed into the next year. Marvin seemed to take it in stride and was self-effacing about this selection from his life’s work up to that point. “It’s a pretty tight selection given all that I’ve published, but it’s still big enough to hold open a small door.”

With Nightworks in hand I became familiar with, and a fan of his work. His poetry was always thought provoking, occasionally a barometer of the times, more often a sort of time capsule. Marvin landed on lines that he loved, and he loved to share them. He told me in 2000 that when he thinks of his older poems, “They seem to me to have been written by someone I used to know well, but he didn’t know me.” I don’t remember a reading that followed where he didn’t utter this same line. And he closed every reading I attended with his poem for his wife, “To Dorothy,” which begins

You are not beautiful, exactly
You are beautiful, inexactly

If I had written something that perfect, I would have read it every time I had the chance, too.

And Marvin had more to say. Though a collection like Nightworks often signals the end of a career, he published two more solo collections and a handful of collaborative works in the years that followed. These books included Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems, a collection of his poems featuring The Dead

Man, a sort of Everyman chronicled in endless ways in Marvin’s verse. This may how he is best remembered in the wider world of poetry, but in Iowa City, we will remember him for many other things as well.

In this job, I went from reading and interviewing to actively working with writers, and every time we asked Marvin to participate in something, he said yes if he was able. He took part in readings to protest wars, to raise money, to dedicate things. We will remember him every time we pass the plaque with his poem, “This Library,”  in the foyer of the Iowa City Public Library, when we stop at the wall in the Pedestrian Mall that bears his poem, “Writers in a Cafe” — written to celebrate Iowa City’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature — or stroll by his spot on the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk.

A few weeks ago, a Zoom reading was arranged that featured dozens of writers reading their favorite of Marvin’s poems, people from all over the world gathering together on computer screens to celebrate the man. Marvin was there, a small square in the bottom of my screen, ailing but smiling, constrained by that little box in a way he never was in the real world. He seemed to be everywhere, and his own words and those of the many he influenced and taught, will carry on.

-John Kenyon

2021 One Book Two Book student writing guidelines released

Though the festival will be scaled back and held online in 2021, the core component of the One Book Two Book Children’s Literature Festival remains: soliciting creative writing submissions from area students.

Students in grades 1-8 in Iowa City-Cedar Rapids Corridor area school districts, or home school students in those equivalent grades, are encouraged to submit one page of writing for the 2021 One Book Two Book festival from the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature. The festival will be held Feb. 26-28, 2021.

The guidelines for submissions can be found on the One Book Two Book website. As in past years, students can submit any original writing — a story, essay, poem, song lyric, graphic novel page, etc. — and all submissions will be evaluated by a team at ACT.

Recognized students will be honored at virtual events during the festival. Two grade level winners will be chosen, one in each of the following categories:

“The Write Stuff”:    For language, clarity, structure, and emotional impact.

“From the Heart”:    For creativity, passion, and expressiveness.

These students will be invited to read their winning submissions. In addition, a percentage of all students whose submissions are deemed to be of outstanding quality also will be honored with a “certificate of distinction.”

Other programming is being planned for the weekend.

Next community read with Barker: Gilgamesh

After successful community reading projects where participants made their way through The Decameron and Paradise Lost, the City of Literature joins with Anna Barker for a shorter project: Gilgamesh.

“I am happy to announce our next reading – welcome to Ten Days of Gilgamesh, November 1-10!” Barker writes. “I absolutely adore the Stephen Mitchell translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh. It is muscular, fresh, modern, and vibrant – with an excellent introduction!”

Barker, an assistant adjunct professor at the University of Iowa, will will lead discussion as participants make their way through the work. An introduction will be posted on the City of Literature website, and Barker will post daily on the Gilgamesh group on the City of Literature’s Facebook page.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is the oldest known literary text, will transport readers to the world of Ancient Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, and take us on a journey to the ancient city of Uruk.

“In Books Eleven and Twelve of Paradise Lost, we encounter the stories of Noah and the Great Flood and meet Abraham, who hails from the Mesopotamian city of Ur,” Barker writes. “The Epic of Gilgamesh predates these Old Testament stories and by one thousand years – the earliest sections of the epic are from 2000 BCE.

“The main character of the epic, Gilgamesh, is the arrogant, brutal and all-powerful king of Uruk who must confront the limitations of his power and come to terms with his human vulnerability. It is a story about a great love and a great friendship, a story of the development of agriculture and flowering of city life, a cautionary tale about the interactions between gods and humans, and a devastating tale of loss and sorrow. As so many of us mourn the loss of dear friends and loved ones, I would like to dedicate this reading to the memory of everyone who departed in 2020. On a personal note, this reading is honoring the memory of David Lee Nelson who left this world too too soon.”

Barker’s introduction to the project will be posted in the days before the Nov. 1 start.