The University of Iowa

Writing Program brings Russian, Arabic writers to IC

June 28th, 2012

By Lu Shen, The Daily Iowan

Iowa City has been welcoming people from all across the globe for years. Various cultures are orchestrated beautifully in this city and enrich its cultural heritage.

This summer, the International Writing Program is bringing younger writers, between the ages of 16 and 19, from Russia and Arabic-speaking countries to the University of Iowa for their Between the Lines (BTL).

Students participating in BTL will study creative writing and will be able to experience American culture during a two week stay at the university.

Although BTL has been in operations since 2008, this is the first summer young Russian writers will join the program. The first session focusing on Russian students will start at June 30. And Arabic-speaking students will begin their study and life on UI campus at July 13.

Ghada Al-Muhanna, a Saudi Arabian student from BTL 2010, said she loved this program.

"If I have a chance to do it again, I'll do it again," she said.

The Saudi junior — who said she loves Iowa City's pie shakes — said she gained self-confidence from BTL and is now not afraid to be criticized.

"I was kind of restricted by myself when writing before I went to BTL," she said. "But later I knew that I don't have to be specific. I don't have to be held up in one style. I could try everything as I wish. Even an Arabian can write about Australia. You don't have to be restricted by your racial background."

Ghada said the experience of studying creative writing and meeting people from other countries widened her horizon and allowed her to see more of the world.

"American culture was not so shocking to me because I came to the States every year," the Saudi Junior said. "But there were cultural differences between Arabic students from different regions. It's amazing. I got to learn much more about Arabic culture."

Kecia Lynn, BTL coordinator, said this program is designed to encourage young people from overseas to express themselves in two languages and to think about the spaces between them.

"We wanted to make possible a dialogue between voices, cultures and languages for a group of young people, ages 16 to 19, who may be just beginning to write their own prose and poetry," she said.

Lynn told The Daily Iowan American students in the same age group who "are enthusiastic about sharing literary and cultural interests across borders" are welcomed to join BTL as well.

It's a great privilege to be able to give young people an environment that makes writing and literature the main dish rather than the side dish, Lynn said.

"So much of success is tied up with money and the things money can buy," she said. "But it's possible to have one's own definitions of success that don't neatly fit with the common narrative. The artistic life is often hard, but the rewards can be very great."

Oleg Timofeyev, cofounder and artistic director of the International Academy for Russian Music, said he thinks the program can be a positive experience, especially because of mainstream misconceptions about people of Russian and Aribic culture.

"I think it's an excellent idea precisely today," he said. "There is still a lot of Cold War rhetoric around, and even though there is no Communism left in Russia, the media and especially the popular culture keep treating the Russians as a potential enemy."

Timofeyev said he the same type of prejudice surrounds Arabic people today.

"The Arabs, on the other hand, cause a more recent paranoia — the same idea, only negative, militant associations in media and popular culture," he said. "No, there are open-minded, interesting people all over the world, regardless of their nationality or of their government's political course. And this is why I find this particular program of great potential."

Young writers will attend a literature seminar and a language-specific writing workshop each weekday. They will be able to learn a variety of works from different countries with a writer's eye and share creative writing works among peers.