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University of Iowa News Release

Aug. 24, 2006

International Writing Program Panel Addresses Current Issues In Islam Sept. 8

The University of Iowa International Writing Program (IWP) will present a free panel discussion, "Islam and We," featuring three writers from countries with significant Moslem populations, at noon Friday, Sept. 8, in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library.

In the panel discussion the writers -- Ken Bugul from Senegal, Manju Sarkar from Bangladesh and Jagath Kumarasinghe from Sri Lanka -- will discuss what needs to be talked about at the present moment, and by who. Senegal and Bangladesh are overwhelmingly Moslem, while the religious make-up of Sri Lanka -- now gripped in a war between the Sinhala and Tamil populations -- is a complex mixture of Buddhist, Moslem, Hindu and Christian elements.

The panel will be moderated by IWP Director Christopher Merrill who says, "The question is: How are civic and religious matters to be debated vis-à-vis the most exposed monotheistic faith at this crucial moment in history -- Islam?"

Bugul, the pen name of Marietou Mbaye Bileoma, is a novelist and fiction writer whose pen name means "one who is unwanted." Her first novel, "Le baobab fou" (The Abandoned Baobab: The Autobiography of a Senegalese Woman), investigated post-colonial identity for a young African woman in Belgium. From 1986 to 1993, Mbaye headed the African region section of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. She has also convened writing workshops in underprivileged areas, and widely organized other cultural outreach. In 1999 her novel "Riwan ou le chemin de sable" (Riwan or the Sandy Track) was awarded the Grand Prix Litteraire de l'Afrique Noire.

A fiction writer and translator, Kumarasinghe has worked as a journalist and advertising copywriter, mainly in the Sinhala language. After his retirement from copywriting, he joined the Beach Wadiya Writers Group and began writing short stories in English. In 2004 his collection, "Kider Chetty Street" was awarded the Gratiaen Prize.

Sarkar has published 10 short story collections, most recently "Nirbachita Galpa" (2004). Among his 38 books is the novel Abasvumi (1994), which won the Philips Literary Award as Best Novel in 1995. In 1998, he received the Bangla Academy Literary award for overall achievement in literature. He is also an assistant editor of Daily Amar Desh, a leading newspaper in Bangladesh.

All three writers are participating in the IWP courtesy of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.

The panelists are among the 30 writers, representing 23 countries, in residence this fall at the IWP. Biographies of all the writers are accessible on the IWP website,

This year's roster of well-established poets, fiction writers, screenwriters, translators, editors, essayists, journalists, playwrights and literary critics includes writers from current news hot spots including Sri Lanka, Palestine and Iraq. All the world's populated continents are represented.

The IWP -- a unique program that has been described as "The United Nations of Writing" -- introduces talented writers to American life; enables them to take part in American university life; and provides them with time, in a setting congenial to their efforts, for the production of literary work. Since 1967, more than 1,000 writers from more than 120 countries have attended the IWP.

The evolving calendar of events is accessible at and on the IWP site. These calendars will be updated regularly as new events are added.

IWP writers are financed 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 activities of the IWP are assisted financially by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State under the authority of the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, as amended.

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