Writers’ Workshop, University of Iowa
Sometimes you come across a literary site which is completely surprising and upends some of your preconceived notions about it. Our first visit to Iowa City in 2014 was a surprise like that, and a very enjoyable and interesting one.
The University of Iowa is home to the first creative writing program in the United States. It was founded in 1936. Nearly 75 years later, this Midwestern town became the third city designated a UNESCO World City of Literature. Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia were the first and second cities. This official designation has a great deal to do with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.
The state does not have a lot of authors’ homes or museums to visit. However, the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa more than makes up for that. Countless well-known writers like have studied here, including Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, and John Irving. And Canadian writer W.P. Kinsella, whose novel, Shoeless Joe, was adapted into the movie Field of Dreams, is a program graduate. Beyond the impressive list of graduates, noted authors such as Marilynne Robinson and Phillip Roth have taught here. Paul Engle was the longtime director of the program and currently the director is Lan Samantha Chang.
Iowa Avenue Literary Walk
Iowa City celebrates its literary links with a unique and fun feature on the sidewalk, of all things. The Iowa Avenue Literary Walk, is a collection of bronze sidewalk plaques. It’s located along a stretch of city blocks. Each plaque has a quote from one of the 49 major writers associated with Iowa.
When we visited Iowa City, we went first to Prairie Lights bookstore to purchase The Iowa Avenue Literary Walk booklet. We thought it would be worth reading before we visited the famed sidewalks and we were right. Not merely a tally of each tile, the booklet is a detailed guide to the literary “walk of fame” and describes each writer’s connection to Iowa. We had fun walking along reading the plaque of each of the 49 featured writers. Even if we hadn’t heard of the author featured, each quote and corresponding artistic presentation was thoughtful. And the booklet was helpful in giving us information about writers we weren’t familiar with. We enjoyed seeing how each artistic design was clever and unique. Along the way, we loved seeing the street mural and other architectural features of the town.
Walking through Iowa City, we found all kinds of restaurants, bookstores, and buildings which connected to literary history. We look forward to our next visit, as there is so much more to see.
This is the second stop on our Iowa Trail!
Rebecca Blake Beech