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Release: Sept. 27, 2001

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Merwin to give Engle Reading Oct. 12

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin will present the annual Paul Engle Reading at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, in Shambaugh Auditorium of the University of Iowa Main Library. The reading, part of Merwin's UI residency as an Ida Beam visiting faculty member, will be free and open to the public.

The Paul Engle Reading honors the memory of the Cedar Rapids poet who led the Iowa Writers' Workshop to prominence and co-founded the UI International Writing Program (IWP). At the turn of the millennium, Engle was selected as Iowa's poet of the century, and in 2000, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack proclaimed Engle's birthday, Oct. 12, as Paul Engle Day in Iowa.

The recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for his collection "The Carrier of Ladders," Merwin is a translator as well as a poet -- a winner of the PEN Translation Prize. During his visit to the UI, Merwin will participate in the International Writing Program conference, "Lost and Found: The Art of Translation," Oct. 12-14 in the Iowa Memorial Union.

Merwin's translations, prose and poetry have attracted attention from literary critics since the publication of his first book, "A Mask for Janus," in 1952. Although Merwin's work has undergone many stylistic changes throughout the course of his career, it is unified by the recurring theme of man's separation from nature. Merwin sees the consequences of that alienation as disastrous for the human race.

Adrienne Rich wrote in 1970, "W.S. Merwin has been working more privately, more profoundly and daringly than any other American poet of my generation. . . . Merwin's poems are more open than ever in their account of human loneliness and the miracles of revelation that happen in spite of it. They reach backward and forward as he connects himself with the archaic, the totemic, the legendary, yet exist on the verge of our shattering future. I would be shamelessly jealous of this poetry if I didn't take so much of it into my own life."

Reviewing Merwin's "The Vixen" (1996) in The New Yorker, J.D. McClatchy wrote, "Merwin has always been a contemplative poet, drawn to the lessons of the natural world and the rigors of unmediated vision. He has also been a romantic poet, heroic in his quest for the depths and intensities, the powers and possibilities of consciousness. Best of all, he has been a surprising poet, continually slipping the bonds of anyone's easy admiration."

Merwin is the author of more than 20 collections of poetry. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Merwin has received the Bollingen Prize for poetry, a Guggenheim fellowship, the Tanning Prize from the American Academy of Poets and many other honors and awards.

Paul Engle rose from humble Iowa roots -- he was a stable cleaner and a stock boy in his youth --to became one of the world's leading cultural figures.

Clark Blaise, the Writers' Workshop alumnus who directed the IWP through most of the 90s, described Engle as "the most influential American writer of the century," for how he transformed the life of the writer in the United States. "He virtually created the literary community of America, and he was writer's ambassador-at-large to the rest of the world. . . He made the word 'Iowa' synonymous with writing and turned Iowa City into the narrative capitol of the world."

At the UI Engle became the first student anywhere to obtain a graduate degree of the basis of a book of poems. That book, "Worn Earth," won the 1932 Yale Younger Poets award, marking Engle as one of the most promising poets on the American literary scene. A New York Times review of his second book hailed him as "a new voice of American poetry."

Soon after he returned to Iowa from study at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, Engle took over the UI graduate seminar in creative writing. Engle's vision, enthusiasm and persistence built that course of study into the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the most prestigious and influential writing program in the world -- the blueprint for the many creative writing degree programs that now thrive on U.S. campuses.

In 1966 Engle retired from the Writers' Workshop, but the following year he and his wife, Chinese novelist Hualing Nieh Engle, founded the International Writing Program, a unique residency program for prominent foreign writers. In more than 30 years, nearly 1,000 writers from more than 115 countries have completed residencies at the UI. Thirty writers traveled from 25 countries to participate in the IWP this fall.

The importance of the IWP to international understanding was recognized in 1976 when the Engles were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1995 the program was honored with the Governor's Award for distinguished service to the State of Iowa.

Although Engle devoted most of his energy to the UI writing programs, he managed to write 20 books, winning Guggenheim, Ford and Rockefeller Foundation fellowships, and the Lamont Award of the Academy of American Poets.

In1990 Engle's career was recognized with the Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1999 the Iowa magazine "Stand Alone" selected Engle as Iowa's poet of the century.

In response to his death, Philip Roth said, "I think it's accurate to say that with his Writers' Workshop that Paul did as much for serious writing in America as anybody in American history." And Kurt Vonnegut added, "This man did more for other artists than anybody I can think of."

Ida Beam, a native of Vinton, willed her family farm to the UI Foundation in 1977. Her only university connection was a relative who graduated from the College of Medicine. With proceeds from the sale of the farm, the UI established a fund to bring a variety of top scholars to the university for lectures and discussions.

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