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Release: Aug. 11, 2000

University of Iowa International Writing Program welcomes new director and 20 writers

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa International Writing Program (IWP) will return to full strength this fall when it welcomes both a full contingent of 20 prominent writers from 17 countries and new director Christopher Merrill.

The IWP writers will be available to the public through a variety of free events, including joint readings with the UI Writers' Workshop at 5 p.m. on Sundays, Sept. 10 through Nov. 5, in the Prairie Lights bookstore in downtown Iowa City; and panel discussions at 3 p.m. Wednesdays, Sept. 13 through Oct. 25 in the Gerber Lounge, Room 304 of the UI English-Philosophy Building.

During their visit, the writers will not only work on their current literary projects but will also contribute to a mini-course, "International Literature Today," attend readings, interact with students in the UI Translation Workshop, visit literature classes, learn firsthand about Iowa's rural heritage, attend performances in Hancher Auditorium, and interact with faculty and students in a variety of academic departments.

Merrill comes to the UI from the College of Holy Cross, where he was distinguished writer in residence and holder of the William H. Jenks Chair in Contemporary Letters. He will also become a full professor in the UI English department.

Merrill has published in a wide variety of literary forms. He is the author of three collections of poems, including "Watch Fire," for which he received the Peter I.B. Lavan Award for younger poets from the Academy of American Poets; four book-length works of translation; several edited volumes; and three volumes of non-fiction, with a fourth volume forthcoming, all of which concern his travels through foreign lands.

Merrill's poetry, fiction, essays, articles and translations have appeared in many books, magazines and literary journals, ranging from the anthologies "Poems for a Small Planet" and "The Pushcart Prize XV: The Best of the Small Presses" to periodicals including The Antioch Review, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, The Fiction Review and Sports Illustrated. He has also had articles, reviews and commentaries in the Albuquerque Journal, Houston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Orion Magazine, Quarterly West, Salt Lake City Deseret News, San Francisco Chronicle, Santa Fe New Mexican and National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

His most recent book, "Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars," has received extensive critical praise. A starred review in Publisher's Weekly stated, "this book might very well become a modern classic about what once again seems a painful and incomprehensible corner of Europe."

Merrill has translated two books by the leading young Slovenian poet Ales Debeljak and a large portion of the poems in "Feast" a new book by Tomaz Salamun, a Yugoslavian writer who attended the International Writing Program in the1970s. He has also translated works by Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, Rene Char, Paul Celan and Bosnian writer Ferida Durakovic. In 1997, Merrill received the Translation Award from the Slovenian Ministry of Culture.

He has participated in activities of the Flying Cafe Europa, a group of artists and writers from Eastern and Central Europe. He was founder and director of the Santa Fe (New Mexico) Literary Center, and director of both the Santa Fe Writers' Conference and the Taos Conference on Writing and the Natural World. Merrill originated the Orion Society's Forgotten Language Tour, which over the past eight years has brought scores of nature writers to more than 30 states around the country.

The IWP is a unique residency program that brings together the writers of the world. Founded in 1967 by Paul and Hualing Engle, the IWP was the first international writers residency at a university, and it remains unique in world literature.

The IWP brings established writers of the world to the UI, where they become part of the lively literary community on campus. Over the years, nearly a thousand writers from more than
115 countries have completed residencies in the program.

At the UI, IWP participants interact with each other and with the many poets, fiction writers, playwrights and translators in Iowa City. The UI is the home of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and the Iowa Translation Workshop. The Writers' Workshop, another groundbreaking UI program, was the first university program to grant academic credit for creative work in literature and was the prototype for the many college creative writing programs that have transformed the terrain of American literary life.

Most IWP residency groups include a mix of poets, fiction writers, screenwriters, playwrights, journalists, essayists and critics. All the writers are well established, and many are among their country's leading literary figures or are writers of international stature.

Many of the IWP writers travel from Iowa City to present lectures, symposia and readings at other campuses in Iowa and throughout the country, and to visit places of cultural or historical interest. During their travels the writers, many of whom are visiting the United States for the first time, become acquainted with American peoples, cultures and society. In recent years, IWP writers have visited ethnic communities in the United States and Canada with cultural/historical ties to their literary traditions.

The IWP is the primary contact through which foreign writers know the U.S., and it becomes the source of first American publication for many of the writers. In addition, at the UI the writers experience personal, intellectual and literary encounters that would be impossible in their home countries, free from political pressures. The IWP stresses the common interests of writers everywhere, in an atmosphere that puts political differences into perspective. For writers who live under repressive regimes, the IWP has provided an unprecedented opportunity to write, speak and interact freely.

As an active advocate of literary freedom throughout the world, the IWP has identified and supported writers who have been spokespersons for freedom, and has intervened on behalf of oppressed and imprisoned writers.

The importance of the IWP to international understanding was recognized in 1976 when former Senator, diplomat and UN Ambassador Averrill Harriman nominated the Engles for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1995 the program was honored with the Governor's Award for distinguished service to the State of Iowa.

A quarter century of residencies have enabled the IWP to accumulate an unparalleled collection of resources on international literature. The IWP remains in contact with former participants, creating an unprecedented literary and intellectual network without national boundaries.

The IWP is staffed and housed by the University of Iowa. IWP writers have been financed by the United States Information Agency, through bilateral agreements with numerous countries; by grants given by cultural institutions and governments abroad; and by private funds that are donated by a variety of American corporations, foundations and individuals. The program has now been permanently overseen by the UI Vice President for Research David Skorton.

To learn more about the IWP, visit the program's site on the World Wide Web:

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ARGENTINA: Martin Rejtman -- fiction writer, screenwriter, film director
AUSTRALIA: John Mateer -- poet
BRAZIL: Regis Bonvicino -- poet
BURMA: Nu Nu Yee -- fiction writer
INDIA: H.S. Shivaprakash -- poet, playwright
IRELAND: Mike Finn -- playwright
ISRAEL: Motti Lerner -- playwright, screenwriter
KOREA: Hwang Ji-Woo -- poet
NIGERIA: Ogaga Ifowodo -- poet
Abubakar Gimba -- fiction writer
POLAND: Piotr Sliwinski -- poet, critic
Izabela Filipiak -- fiction writer, playwright, critic
RUSSIA: Viktoriya A. Fomina -- fiction writer
SINGAPORE: Heng Siok Tian -- poet, playwright
Anuar Othman -- fiction writer
SOUTH AFRICA: Zachariah Rapola -- poet
TOGO: Yves-Emmanuel Dogbe -- fiction writer
UGANDA: Pascal Adyeeri Mugarra -- fiction writer, playwright
VIETNAM: Vo Thi Hao -- fiction writer, journalist
WEST BANK: Zakaria Mohammed -- poet, playwright, editor