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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 14, 2009

UI presents world premiere of play about Paul Engle Oct. 23-24

The world premiere of "Leaner than Light: 12 Frames of Paul Engle," Lisa Schlesinger's two person play about the legendary Iowa poet who led the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop to prominence and co-founded the International Writing Program, will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 23 and 24, in Theatre B of the UI Theatre Building.

The Oct. 24 performance will be preceded by Global Express, featuring staged readings of work by current participants in the IWP, at 6 p.m. Directed by Iowa Playwrights Workshop alumna Maggie Conroy, Global Express will feature short dramatic pieces, as well as stage adaptations of poetry and stories. Audience members are encouraged to come to Global Express, and stay for the Engle play. Free refreshments will be available in the interlude.

Both events are free and open to the public.

IWP Director Christopher Merrill said, "Paul Engle's impact upon the literary world, as a behind-the-scenes force, is as significant as that of any literary figure of the 20th century. It is time to bring this teacher, writer and leader -- this tremendous son of Iowa -- center stage."

The IWP, with funding from Humanities Iowa and the assistance of Theatre Arts faculty, commissioned Schlesinger, a graduate and faculty member of the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, to bring Engle's life to the stage. The world premiere production is directed by guest artist Lisa DiFranza, an affiliate artist at the Portland State Company and a faculty member at Columbia College in Chicago.

engle"Leaner than Light" combines Engle's own words, drawn on his poetry and memoirs, with scenes from his life and the recollections of colleagues. The production also incorporates video footage by Katie Roche. The roles of Paul and Hualing Engle will be performed by UI theater alumni Benjamin Schmidt (who also designed the set) and Saffron Henke.

Paul Engle Day, his Oct. 12 birthday, was established in 2000 through a proclamation by then Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. A native of Cedar Rapids, Engle was graduated from the UI as the first poet anywhere to obtain an advanced degree on the basis of a collection of poems -- a collection that won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.

engleAfter studying in England on a Rhodes Scholarship he returned to the UI to lead the Writers' Workshop to international fame, and in 1967 he and Hualing Nieh Engle founded the International Writing Program (IWP). He died in 1990 while en route to receive Poland's highest civilian honor - one of many honors from countries around the world that attested to his impact.

The Writers' Workshop remains the most prestigious and influential writing program at any university, and it was the blueprint for the many creative writing programs that populate campus in the United States and throughout the world. And the importance of the IWP to international understanding was recognized as early as 1976, when former senator, diplomat and U.N. Ambassador Averrill Harriman nominated the Engles for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1995 the program was honored with the Governor's Award for distinguished service to the State of Iowa.

The IWP 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 writers from more than 120 countries have attended the IWP, including Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk from Turkey.

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

UI arts events are searchable on the UI Master Calendar: For additional arts information, 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 News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Lisa Schlesinger,; Christopher-Merrill,; Winston Barclay, UI News Services, 319-384-0073,