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University of Iowa News Release


April 16, 2009

International Writing Program takes 'New Symposium' to Morocco

The University of Iowa International Writing Program (IWP) will extend its successful "New Symposium," which met for three years on the island of Paros in Greece, with "Writing In and Beyond the City," a gathering of writers and artists in Fez and Casablanca, Morocco, from April 28 through May 5.

The event will take place in the form of a "Souk Ukaz" -- an Arab tradition of intellectual and artistic exchange. In huge gatherings, traders from different tribes meet to sell and buy products, but the events are also social and cultural extravaganzas where poets compete. The Souk Ukaz (Ukaz market), situated on the spice route in Arabia, is the most famous of these gatherings, where the winning poet is rewarded with a gold inscription of the poem hung on the walls of al-Kaaba in Mecca.

Preparing for the gathering in their home countries, through shared readings and drafting of essays, the "New Sympoisum" group will spend five days in Morocco, discussing the individual presentations, visiting the surrounding cityscapes, meeting with local writers and artists, and staging public readings.

The topic springs from the tipping point reached at the turn of this millennium: For the first time in recorded history, more people live in cities than in rural areas that are closer to nature.

"Cities are magnets and magnifiers, their concentration offering a rich terrain for the mind and the arts, a space where change is paramount," says IWP Director Christopher Merrill. "Literature has generally gravitated to cities as a theme, and now more than ever these hot spheres of innovation and creative destruction dominate our imagination of the world.

"Yet what if contemporary literature's urban bias gets in the way of imagining the concerns and forms of the suburban, the provincial, the peripheral, the hinterland, of space abandoned? Thus, if we must begin to write to the scale of endangered ecosystems, must fiction and poetry give up its love affair with the polis?"

Participants will include IWP veterans and other prominent artists and writers from Europe, the United States, South America, Asia, North Africa, Mexico and the Middle East.

To learn more about the event and read biographies of the participants visit

The symposium is funded through a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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