Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2009 | News

Literary Haven

By IAM Staff
Iowa City receives global recognition for its writing culture.

The United Nations confirmed this past fall what anyone who has spent time at the UI has known all along: Iowa City is a City of Literature.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the college town the world’s third City of Literature. Edinburgh, Scotland, and Melbourne, Australia, share that literary honor. One of only two American cities that belong to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, Iowa City joins cultural centers such as Berlin, Montreal, and Seville, which work together to unlock their creative potential.

“This is at once a celebration of the literary riches and resources of Iowa City and a spur to action,” says UI International Writing Program (IWP) Director Christopher Merrill, who headed the university committee that submitted the UNESCO proposal. “We look forward to working with our new partners in the Creative Cities network—to forging dynamic relationships with writers, artists, and others committed to the life of discovery. This is a great day for Iowa City.”

Iowa City celebrated the distinction with a ceremony in the Old Capitol’s Senate Chamber. University, city, state, and writing community representatives spoke at the event. Mayor Regenia Bailey, 82BM, 88MA, 95MBA, described Iowa City as a town where novelists become city council members and citizens shop at grocery stores beside famous authors. Attendees also saw a video of Marvin Bell, 63MFA, a former Iowa Writers’ Workshop (IWW) instructor, who presented the poem he wrote as part of Iowa City’s application.

The IWW, which became the world’s first creative writing degree program in 1936, serves as the bedrock of Iowa City’s literary community. Authors regularly come to town to participate in the Workshop, the IWP, or readings at Prairie Lights Bookstore. Iowa City’s writers have taken home the most prestigious awards in literature, including the Pulitzer Prize. The town also boasts 11 presses, a library-loving population, and a literary walk.

The City of Literature honor doesn’t just speak to Iowa City’s literary past, but also looks forward to future possibilities. “This is not the last you will hear of this designation,” said Bailey at the celebration ceremony. “Our future is written.”