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Release: May 13, 1999

‘A Community of Writers’ released by UI Press

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Each year it seems, a University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate achieves some new level of public acclaim for literature, and with each accolade, the graduate enriches the program’s 63-year history.

In a new book, "A Community of Writers: Paul Engle and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop," published by the UI Press, editor Robert Dana collected recollections and descriptions that mingle myth and history with style and grace and no small amount of humor in painting a historical portrait of the first-in-the-nation program.

The book includes writing by luminary graduates and faculty members including Kurt Vonnegut, Donald Justice, Robert Bly, Marvin Bell, W. D. Snodgrass, Philip Levine, Charles Wright, Hualing Nieh Engle and Gail Godwin. Their pieces range from reminiscences of student life, to portraits of great literary figures who passed through the workshop -- Dylan Thomas, John Berryman and Robert Lowell among them.

"We do not pretend to have produced the writers included in this book. Their talent was inevitably shaped by the genes rattling in ancestral closets. We did give them a community in which to try out the quality of their gift," said Paul Engle, who led the workshop from the early '40s through the late '60s.

With these words, which were written long before the Iowa Writers’ Workshop became world famous, much imitated and academically rich, Engle captured the spirit behind his beloved workshop.

Today there are numerous writers’ workshops, many of them founded and directed by graduates of the UI workshop. But when Engle returned to his alma mater to lead the workshop, it was a novelty. His irrepressible nature, conviction and reputation as a poet elevated the stature of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Since the UI awarded its first creative-writing master’s degree in 1936 -- to Engle, no less -- world-famous authors including John Irving, Robert Bly, Jane Smiley, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Carver, Margaret Walker and Rita Dove have attended the workshop. More than 25 alumni and faculty have won the Pulitzer Prize -- America's most prestigious literary prize -- including current alumni faculty members Jorie Graham and James Alan McPherson.

In the 1990s workshop graduates captured nine of the 20 Pulitzers awarded for fiction of poetry, including 1999 winners Mark Strand and Michael Cunningham.

In addition to editing "A Community of Writers," Dana’s most recent books of poetry are "Hello," "Stranger," and "Yes, Everything." Dana is a 1954 UI Writers’ Workshop alumnus who taught for 40 years at Cornell College, Mt. Vernon. He retired in 1994. He has received National Endowment fellowships, the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award in 1989 and a Pushcart Prize in 1996.

"A Community of Writers," (304 pages, $17.95 paperback, ISBN 0-87745-668-2) is available at bookstores or directly from the UI Press by calling 1-800-621-2736.