Iowa City Book Festival moves online for October events

Events for the 12th annual Iowa City Book Festival will be held online with original programming and partnerships with co-presenters that celebrate authors from around the block and around the world.

Because of coronavirus restrictions, the festival, which usually is held at various locations throughout the area, will be available to anyone with access to the Internet. All events will be streamed live and recorded for later viewing. This year’s festival partners include the One Community One Book program and the Examined Life Conference, among others.

Because we are not limited by needing to have authors physically present in Iowa City for the festival, we will continue to build programming, so the festival website,, will be the place to find the most up-to-date information about the schedule.

The festival will begin at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 5, with James Autry of Des Moines, who will discuss his new book, The White Man Who Stayed. The book, from North Liberty’s Ice Cube Press, tells the true story of Autry’s cousin, Doug, who did important work related to race in his native Mississippi after World War II.  Access at:

We continue at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6, with a virtual event featuring Thomas Frank. The author of What’s the Matter with Kansas will discuss his new book, The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism. In the book, Frank dispels commonly held beliefs about populism and discusses its history. Access at:

Wednesday, Oct. 7, the One Community One Book project from the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights welcomes Fatima Farheen Mirza at 7 p.m. Mirza, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, will discuss her novel, A Place For Us. The community is encouraged to read the book and then to watch Mirza’s presentation. Access at:

On Thursday, Oct. 8, festival partner the Examined Life Conference presents author Dr. Rana Awdish, author of the critically-acclaimed, best-selling memoir, In Shock, based on her own critical illness. In the book, Dr. Awdish tells of being a young critical care physician who is transfigured into a dying patient. The presentation will be at 5:30 p.m., and like the rest of the programs at the Book Festival, is free and open to the public. Access at:

Friday, Oct. 9, brings a pair of best-selling authors, with Jill McCorkle in conversation with Ron Rash. McCorkle, author of the New York Times bestseller Life After Life, will discuss her new novel, Hieroglyphics, while Rash will talk about his new collection, In the Valley, which includes a novella and stories set in the world of what is perhaps his best-known book, Serena. They will appear at 7 p.m. Access at:

Saturday, Oct. 10, features a look at award-nominated works of literary translation by former participants in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. Anja Kampmann, a German poet and novelist was a part of the IWP in 2010. She will discuss her novel High as the Waters Rise, which was translated by Anne Posten. Pilar Quintana, a Colombian novelist and short story writer who participated in the IWP in 2011, will discuss her novel The Bitch, translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman. The two novels were longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature. Both authors and their translators will participate in the panel at 2 p.m. Access at:

At 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, authors with recent books on North Liberty’s Ice Cube Press will present. David Bluder, will discuss his novel, The Great Gamble; Thomas Cook, will share Clubfoot: The Quest for a Better Life for Millions of Children; David Perkins, will read from his poetry collection, I May or May Not Love You; and Barbara Feller will discuss her book, The Creation of an Artist: Grant Wood’s Boyhood Story. Access at:

Sunday, Oct. 11, features two local University of Iowa Press authors. Erika Billerbeck, an Iowa DNR officer from Solon will read from her new nonfiction book, Wildland Sentinel, 2 p.m. Billerbeck takes readers along for the ride as she and her colleagues sift through poaching investigations, chase down sex offenders in state parks, search for fugitives in wildlife areas, haul drunk boaters to jail, perform body recoveries, and face the chaos that comes with disaster response. Access at:

At 4 p.m., Charles Connerly, professor and director of the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning, will discuss his new book, Green, Fair and Prosperous: Paths to a Sustainable Iowa.

At the center of what was once the tallgrass prairie, Iowa has stood out for clearing the land and becoming one of the most productive agricultural states in the nation. To become green, fair, and prosperous, Connerly argues that Iowa must reckon with its past and the fact that its farm economy continues to pollute waterways, while remaining utterly unprepared for climate change. Access at:

Monday, Oct. 12, which was declared as “Paul Engle Day” in Iowa by Gov. Tom Vilsack, brings the celebration marking the award of the City of Literature’s annual Paul Engle Prize. This year’s winner is Dr. Eve L. Ewing. She will receive her award during a special event at 7 p.m. Dr. Ewing is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. She is the author of the poetry collection 1919 and the nonfiction work Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. She is the co-author (with Nate Marshall) of the play “No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks.” She also currently writes the Champions series for Marvel Comics and previously wrote the acclaimed Ironheart series, as well as other projects. Access at:

Friday, Oct. 16, will feature a conversation at 7 p.m. between author Hope Edelman and writer Kelly Carlin. Edelman will discuss her new book, The Aftergrief: Finding Your Way Along the Long Arc of Loss, a book she describes as “Motherless Daughters all grown up.” Carlin, a writer, actress, producer, monologist, and Internet radio host, is the daughter of the late comedian George Carlin. Access at:

Presidential election polling book author presents Sept. 9 as part of LIT Talks series

The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, in partnership with the Iowa City Public Library, will host author W. Joseph Campbell on Sept. 9, when he will discuss his new book, Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in U.S. Presidential Elections. Campbell’s talk will be online at 7 p.m. Visit–joseph  to register for this free event, or stream live on the ICPL Facebook page.

Campbell’s talk is part of the LIT Talks series, a series of occasional events designed to bring the authors of books about politics and social engagement to the library to discuss the ideas in those books. For this event, Campbell will visit virtually. Attendees will be able to ask questions and interact during the event.

Campbell, an American writer, historian, media critic, and blogger, as well as professor at American University’s School of Communication’s Communication Studies program, looks at the long history of polling and its perils in this new book.

Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential election brought sweeping criticism of election polls and poll-based statistical forecasts, which had signaled that Hillary Clinton would win the White House. Surprise ran deep in 2016, but it was not unprecedented. In Lost in a Gallup, Campbell examines in lively and engaging fashion the history of polling flops, epic upsets, unforeseen landslides, and exit poll fiascoes in American presidential elections. Drawing on archival collections and contemporaneous sources, W. Joseph Campbell presents insights on notable pollsters of the past, including University of Iowa alumnus George Gallup, as well as Elmo Roper, Archibald Crossley, Warren Mitofsky, and Louis Harris.

The story is one of media failure, too, as journalists invariably take their lead from polls in crafting campaign narratives. Lost in a Gallup describes how numerous prominent journalists—including Edward R. Murrow, Jimmy Breslin, Mike Royko, Christopher Hitchens, and Haynes Johnson—were outspoken poll-bashers and critics. In assessing polling’s messy, uneven, and controversial past, Campbell emphasizes that although election polls are not always wrong, their inherent drawbacks invite skepticism and wariness. Readers will come away better prepared to weigh the efficacy and value of pre-election polls in presidential races, the most important of all American elections.

Previous LIT Talks include presidential candidate and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg discussing his book, Shortest Way Home, Drake University Professor Jennifer Harvey discussing her book, Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, and New York Times editorial board member Jesse Wegman talking about his book, Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College.

Prairie Lights will have copies of the book available. Visit or call (319) 337-2681 to order. A digital edition will be available through with a library card.

New community reading project:
50 Days of Paradise Lost

After successfully completing our 100 Days of Decameron project in July, the City of Literature now turns to an epic poem with “50 Days of Paradise Lost. The project will again be led by Anna Barker, an assistant adjunct professor at the University of Iowa, and a member of the City of Literature board of directors. Beginning Sept. 1, Anna will lead participants through this 10,000 line poem over the course of 50 days.

For each of the 12 books, Anna will write an introduction, which can be found on our Paradise Lost page. In addition, she will provide daily Facebook posts on the history, politics, art, literature and Milton’s personal life experiences that inspired the creation of the poem.

Anna will be using the Norton Critical Edition of the book, but any edition will do. To get started, read her introduction, join the Facebook group, and then start reading. See you Sept. 1!

Winners Named in City of Literature Student 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 five high school students from across Iowa.

The winning essay was “The Effects of Fog at Dusk,” by Kenna Prottsman, a student at Iowa City High School. In recognition of her essay, Kenna will receive one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa, offered in partnership with the UI.

In the essay, she writes about how her hometown changed as its residents dealt with the emerging coronavirus pandemic, while the aspects of nature and weather remained untouched by the health crisis. The contest asks students to pay special attention to include details that evoke the sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, capturing the day with all five senses. In her essay, Kenna does this by noting the humid air and the reflected light as she walks through town after a rain, recounting memories from a time of “shining faces and laughter that rings empty across the sidewalks.”

The essays were judged by a team from ACT in Iowa City. Commenting on Kenna’s essay, the team praised the way she described her city, not shying away from the stressful realities of the pandemic while also evoking its beauty.

“Kenna’s essay recounts an early spring evening’s walk through an unnaturally quiet and closed-down city in the midst of a pandemic. With meticulous and vivid sensory detail, the author brings to life not only the city’s hushed present, but also its vibrant past, and her faith in the continued resilience of her hometown and its residents.”

The contest and an accompanying weeklong curriculum distributed to all high schools in Iowa are 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.

Four runners up from around the state will receive $500 cash scholarships from the City of Literature. The runners up are:

  • Connor DeGroote, Cedar Falls High School
  • Kufre Ituk, Liberty High School (North Liberty)
  • Samantha Kidgren, Carroll Community High School
  • Tailor Varner, North Scott High School (Eldridge)

The contest is designed to recognize sophomores from each of Iowa’s nine Area Education Agencies, which cover the state. This year, due to a lack of suitable submissions from five AEAs, students in only four of these areas were recognized.

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

Downtown Iowa City Arts Showcase: Rachel Yoder of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature

In 2008, Iowa City’s literary heritage earned its recognition as the first UNESCO City of Literature in the United States. The nonprofit Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature is building on that legacy by working to advance writing on all levels: local, national and international.

Rachel Yoder talked to Little Village about some of the organization’s events, and read a piece she performed at last year’s MusicIC festival, which is sponsored by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature. Advertisement Yoder is the co-founder and editor of draft: the journal of process.

Support Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature: To support Rachel Yoder: Presented by the Iowa City Downtown District and Little Village.