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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 11, 2010

UNESCO City of Literature names Pilak its first executive director

The board of directors of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature has named Jeanette Pilak as the first executive director of the organization. Pilak was most recently director of the University of California Santa Cruz Arts & Lecture Series. She will start April 1. Christopher Merrill, director of the University of Iowa International Writing Program and president of the City of Literature Board, said Pilak quickly rose to the top tier of candidates because she has demonstrated at every stage of her career an uncanny ability to bring new ways of thinking to an organization.

"She has a wide range of experience with arts organizations, she has terrific ideas about how we can turn our UNESCO designation into a dynamic organization and in her interviews she made clear that she will give 110 percent to the literary arts in our community. She will make things happen," he said.

Pilak was previously executive director of the Oregon Creative Services Alliance in Portland, director of programming and marketing with the city of Eugene, Ore. and festivals manager with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

"I am eager to arrive so that we may all turn our attention to the critical job of implementing strategic, coordinated activities to share the richness of our creative communities with the nation and the UNESCO Creative Cities Network throughout the world," Pilak said. "I am honored to join the collegial environment of the City of Literature team where everyone has come together to work to build upon the collective impact writing, literature and publishing has had on Johnson County."

As executive director, Pilak will oversee operations of the nonprofit organization, reporting to the 19-member board. Her duties will include programming, outreach and fundraising. Her office initially will be at the Iowa City Public Library.

"I am thrilled to be returning to the Midwest. During my brief visit to Iowa City, I was reminded of the great Midwestern hospitality and the practical, can-do spirit of the citizens," she said.

Iowa City joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's Creative Cities Network in November 2008 when it was designated the first City of Literature in the United States and the third in the world. It joins Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia, as a City of Literature and 16 other cities worldwide to form the Creative Cities Network, which honors and connects cultural centers for cinema, music, crafts and folk arts, design, media arts and gastronomy.

The UI Writing University taskforce, chaired by Merrill, spearheaded the UNESCO proposal on behalf of the city.

To learn more about the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature or the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, visit

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About Iowa City as a City of Literature

The city has a network of university, grassroots and civic institutions that teach, celebrate, nurture and study great writing. These include the UI Writers' Workshop, the Translation Workshop, the Playwrights Workshop, the Nonfiction Writing Program, the International Writing Program, the Summer Writing Festival and the Young Writers' Studio. It has been the home to authors who have won more than 25 Pulitzer Prizes in literature. It also is home to 11 literary presses, dozens of literary events annually and the Iowa City Public Library, the busiest library in the state of Iowa.


About the UNESCO Creative Cities Network

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 toward 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." It has grown to 19 cities, in various creative realms and meets annually to foster cooperation between the member cities and plan the Network's direction.

UI arts events are searchable on the UI Master Calendar: Exhibitions are searchable at 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, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Christopher Merrill,, 319-335-2609 (office), 319-594-0263 (cell); Jeanette Pilak, 503-708-1111 (cell); Winston Barclay, University News Services, 319-430-1013 (cell),