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.

MusicIC Festival moves online this week

While the in-person programming for the 2020 edition of MusicIC was canceled due to the COVID-19 situation, the festival still will offer programming this week as it moves online.
The festival, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, will offer performances by veteran festival performers and one MusicIC newcomer. These performers were scheduled to perform in person this year, and plans call for them to visit Iowa City in 2021.

The performances can be viewed at the festival website,, or at the festival’s Facebook page. The videos will be available starting at the listed time, and will be viewable from that point forward.
  • Saturday, June 20, 10:30 a.m. – “Ferdinand the Bull” story by Munro Leaf and music by Alan Ridout. Performances by Tricia Park, violinist (Artistic Director of MusicIC) and vocalist Meagan Brus (Managing Director of MusicIC). In partnership with the Iowa City Public Library children’s department.
Will will be raising funds for our artists and two local community organizations during these concerts. Donations made between now and June 30 through the City of Literature’s secure donation platform will be shared between our artists and the Black Mamas Matter Alliance and the African American Museum of Iowa. (Links will be available on the video descriptions).
We wish we could be together with you to share music and literature in person. Please join us virtually to celebrate the artistry of these talented musicians, and look forward to seeing them in Iowa City in 2021.
Visit for more information about the festival.