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Feb. 9, 2009

Houck and Xu kick off UIMA 'Word Painter' spring reading series

Gabriel Houck, a graduate student in the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program (NWP), will read alongside UI visiting associate professor Xu Xi at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is the first of the UI Museum of Art's (UIMA) spring "Word Painter" readings.

Originally from New Orleans, Houck received his undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University's writing program, "The Writing Seminars," and has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the California Institute of the Arts.

Houck said he would most likely read from his thesis, a nonfiction essay about the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Opened in 2007, the museum was established to counter the evolutionist foundations of natural history museums through exhibits -- complete with dinosaur animatronics -- that teach the theory of intelligent design.

Although he said he does not agree with the Creation Museum's arguments, Houck is drawn to the museum's creativity.

"It's sort of a religious re-imagining of history," he said. "It's very theme-parky, a way of appealing to kids using a sort of fantasy. I'm very critical of it, but at the same time in awe of it."

Xu Xi, the NWP Bedell Distinguished Visiting Writer, is the author of seven books of fiction and essays. She will read from "Evanescent Isles: From My City-Village," her most recent publication of personal essays about her home city, Hong Kong. Drawing upon the stories from her life in the city as a business executive, author, friend and family member, "Evanescent Isles" has been described by author Sue William Silverman as "urgent, insightful, and beautifully written."

"It tries to make sense of the postmodern Hong Kong and the colonial Hong Kong that I grew up in," Xu said.

Xu's other books include "The Unwalled City" and "Overleaf Hong Kong." She is the editor of three anthologies of Hong Kong English literature, most recently, "Fifty-Fifty." Her honors include an O. Henry Prize Story, the shortlist of the inaugural Man Asian Literary Award, as well as resident writer at Lingnan University, the Chateau de Lavigny, the Jack Kerouac Project, among others. She is on the faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and also teaches writing at universities in Asia and Europe.

Created in the fall of 2006 to foster writing about the visual arts, the UIMA "Word Painter" (formerly Writer-in-Residence) Program invites four Master of Fine Arts candidates from the UI Nonfiction Writing Program to the Museum for a three-month residency. The 2008-09 "Word Painters" were selected by Meghan Daum, a well-known novelist and essayist and weekly columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Each UIMA word painter receives an honorarium to work on various writing projects, including an art-based essay. They also read from their work throughout the academic year with well-known writers from the faculty of the UI's famed writing programs.

The Feb. 20 "Word Painter" reading is sponsored by Mike and Agnes Apicella. For more information on the UI Museum of Art, including updated event listings, visit

The Nonfiction Writing Program is part of the Department of English in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. For more information visit

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.

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

MEDIA CONTACTS: Maggie Anderson, UI Museum of Art, 319-335-1739,; Peter Alexander, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0072 (office), 319-541-2846 (cell), Writer: Claire Lekwa.