Friday, October 21, 2022
Students on a hike in the Aran Islands
Students hiking on the Aran Islands

The University of Iowa (UI) has a long history of sending students to Dublin, Ireland, to study creative writing. The Irish Writing Program, initiated in 1997, was designed to nurture aspiring writers and help them become better at their craft.  

The program was founded by Irish-born writer and graduate of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program, Martin Roper.  When asked why he developed the program, he said he “wanted to create the best study abroad creative writing program in the world.” Roper not only served as the program’s founder, but he also led the course for almost two decades, leaving behind a tradition that continues to this day. 

Blaine Greteman, UI professor of English, has twice led students to Dublin on this program. He rotates leading the program with other UI faculty members who lend their expertise and unique perspectives to the program. 

Greteman finds that “the program really reflects our English creative writing major perfectly: it’s divided into classes on Irish drama, poetry, and fiction, taught by local Irish writers, and a workshop, taught by me. This means the students get to go deep, fast, in an examination of craft, and I’ve just found that it leads to really good original work by our students, as well as sophisticated discussion of Irish literature. We also spend a lot of time going to plays, and I think the Dublin theatre scene is seriously underrated – so this always allows for exciting discoveries and conversations.” 

A favorite memory of Greteman’s was a trip to the Aran Islands that took place as part of the program this past summer. He said, “I had promised the students a ‘sunrise hike’ but it absolutely poured rain nearly the entire time. Nevertheless, I had a few brave souls who went rambling around the hills with me, through the rain, up to a stone age fort. We were soaked, but the sun did break through for just one glorious moment, and I think it was all worth it!” 

Parker Jones and other students in front of the James Joyce tree outside of the Museum of Literature Ireland
Parker Jones (second from left) and other writing program students in front of the James Joyce tree outside the Museum of Literature Ireland

Since its inception, 441 students have participated in this six-week summer program, open to both UI and non-UI students. Parker Jones, a UI junior double-majoring in journalism & mass communications and cinema, recently participated in the program. Jones had always wanted to visit Ireland and was searching for an outlet for her creative writing. This program fit the bill. 

“The workshops we did really helped me manufacture a solid piece I became really proud of. The more creative out-of-the-box prompts we did also made me flex my brain in a way that it wasn't used to, which really helped my writing get more interesting as a whole,” commented Jones. 

“I think the Irish Writing Program has remained popular for so long because of the combination of its excellent faculty, committed students, and ideal location,” said Cory Petersen, UI Study Abroad senior advisor and program coordinator. “The faculty collaborate with talented local writers to bring Ireland’s literary history to life, providing students with an environment that inspires their creativity in a way that is difficult to match anywhere else in the world.” 

Harry Stecopoulos, UI associate professor of English, will be leading the program in summer 2023. On why he was drawn to this program, Stecopoulos remarked, “I love teaching creative writing in a foreign setting. New sites and new experiences almost always inspire undergraduates to produce great work. I'm also a big fan of Ireland and Irish literature. Yeats is one of my two favorite poets.” 

It seems fitting that the program unites Dublin and Iowa City, as both have been named a UNESCO City of Literature. Participants in the program find inspiration in the cobblestone streets, haunts, parks, and historic buildings of Dublin, much like famous Irish authors did before them, and much like Iowa City inspires writers today. 

The Irish Writing Program will continue in this vein and serves as just one more example of why the University of Iowa continues to be known as “the Writing University.” 

When asked what advice he had for students considering this program, Greteman (who will be teaching a course on Shakespeare in London next summer) simply stated, “Pack a raincoat.” 


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International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement.  IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.