Thursday, May 31, 2018

By Cristóbal McKinney, This is UIowa

For decades, the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa has helped make Iowa City a nexus for writers of all ages, walks of life, levels of success—and countries of origin. This environment has enhanced the lives of UI students and Iowa City residents, and for the last several years the IWP has taken the richness of Iowa City’s writing culture to other countries. 

“We used to say ‘The world comes to Iowa,’” says Christopher Merrill, the program’s director since 2000. “Now we say, ‘Iowa goes out to the world.’”

In the last 15 years, Merrill has explored ways to encourage literary forms of cultural diplomacy. In 2007, the IWP partnered with the U.S. Department of State to create Lines & Spaces, which organizes reading tours to countries what the State Department calls “countries of strategic interest.” That first year, American writers went to Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and the Palestinian territories, and have since gone to Venezuela, Congo, South Africa, the Ukraine, and recently Cuba, and most recently, Rwanda. In 2012, the IWP started the Digital Learning Program, which offers online creative writing workshops, as well as massive open online courses (MOOCs) with unlimited enrollment to anyone around the world with an internet connection. The IWP has offered more than ten MOOCs to more than 64,000 students from 197 countries.