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University of Iowa News Release


Dec. 19, 2007

Photos: Box by Julie Leonard. Printing by Empyrean Press, left, Calligraphy by Cheryl Jacobson, right.

UI, Iowa City unveil formal UNESCO City of Literature proposal

The University of Iowa today unveiled its formal application to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to designate Iowa City the world's second City of Literature: appropriately, a beautiful boxed volume designed and created with hand-made paper and original calligraphy by the UI Center for the Book.

The proposal, which UNESCO invited Iowa City to submit after receiving an earlier draft proposal, was to be jointly unveiled at 1:30 p.m. by the UI and Iowa City in the Paul Engle Lounge of the Shambaugh House, the International Writing Program (IWP) headquarters on the UI campus. Participants included IWP Director Christopher Merrill, UI President Sally Mason and Iowa City Mayor Ross Wilburn. Engle was the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Iowa poet who led the UI Writers' Workshop to prominence and co-founded the IWP.

"What this proposal represents is the richness of the Iowa literary tradition," Merrill said. "And a successful bid to become a UNESCO Creative City in Literature will cement in the public's mind the centrality of Iowa to writing. This is the place where great writing begins."

Mason added, "This is a joyous occasion - the culmination of more than a century of distinguished work in the literary arts, which has made the University of Iowa and Iowa City synonymous with literature. I am very pleased that the university and the city have combined forces to bring forward this exciting proposal."

The UI Center for the Book specialists who contributed to the special packaging for the proposal are Tim Barrett (handmade papers), Cheryl Jacobsen (calligraphy) and Julie Leonard (box design and construction). Iowa City Empyrean Press director Shari DeGraw provided letterpress printing and the proposal layout design, and poet Marvin Bell, emeritus faculty member of the Writers' Workshop and former Iowa Poet Laureate, wrote a special poem honoring the Iowa City writing community.

Following this afternoon's event, the proposal book will be shipped to the UNESCO office in Paris for final consideration. A decision is expected in February.

If the proposal is accepted, Iowa City will join Edinburgh, Scotland, as a UNESCO City of Literature and will become part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, recognizing and enhancing Iowa City's stature as an international literary center. Other cities in the Creative Cities Network -- honoring and connecting cultural centers for cinema, music, crafts and folk arts, design, media arts and gastronomy, as well as literature -- are Aswan, Egypt; Sante Fe, N.M.; Berlin, Germany; Montreal, Canada; Popayan, Colombia; Bologna, Italy; and Seville, Spain.

The Creative Cities Network was designed to promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world. The cities that apply to join to the network seek to promote their local creative scene; they share interest in UNESCO's mission towards cultural diversity. Once the city is appointed to the network, it can share experiences and create new opportunities for itself and others on a global platform, notably for activities based on the notion of "creative tourism."

The Writing University taskforce was launched by former UI Provost Michael Hogan to embrace and celebrate the UI's stature as a literary center, and to provide enhanced opportunities for coordination and cooperation among UI literary programs.

The Writing University -- represented on the Web at -- includes the following: Writers' Workshop, the IWP, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Nonfiction Writing Program, the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, the Intermedia area of the School of Art and Art History, the Irish Writing Program, the Iowa Young Writers' Studio, the Translation Workshop, the Spanish Creative Writing Workshop, the UI Center for the Book, the UI Press and the Iowa Review. UI radio station WSUI originates the "Live from Prairie Lights" reading series, which is accessible worldwide through streaming audio on the Internet.

The catalyst for the UI's literary activity was the Writers' Workshop, the first creative-writing degree program anywhere and the blueprint for many of the creative writing programs that now thrive on campuses worldwide. When Engle retired from the workshop, he and Hualing Nieh Engle founded the IWP, a residency program that remains unique in world literature.

The formation of the Writing University taskforce and the launch of the Writing University Web site are detailed in this news release:

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073 (office), 319-430-1013 (cell),

PHOTOS of the unveiling will be available later this afternoon at