International literature meeting held in eastern Iowa


IOWA CITY (KWWL) – Literary leaders from Edinburgh to Baghdad, and all across the globe, are coming together in a local community that is famous for producing world-class writers.
It’s all happening through an annual meeting put on by the United Nations. Iowa City is adding chapters to its literary legacy by playing host, starting Tuesday night.
The United Nations created a special agency, UNESCO, to connect countries globally through education, science and culture. UNESCO has what’s called the Creative Cities Network, which covers seven creative fields: crafts and folk arts, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts and music.
As the host of the network’s annual meeting, Iowa City celebrates its tenth year of being designated as an UNESCO City of Literature. In 2008, Iowa City was only the third city in the world to be a designated city. Now, there are more than 25 globally. Up until 2017, Iowa City was the only one city from the United States, until Seattle joined the ranks.
As a City of Literature, each designated city has a mission to celebrate and support literature from a local level to internationally, and to connect readers and writers.
“It’s a chance for some of my colleagues from the other cities of literature around the world, there are 28 of us right now, to talk about what we’re doing in our cities; talking about potential collaboration, sharing best practices, and just getting to know one another better,” said Iowa City’s UNESCO Executive Director, John Kenyon.
In October, the U.S. announced it would withdraw from UNESCO, citing an “anti-Israel bias.” Iowa City was selected to host the meeting prior to that decision.  Kenyon said the announcement would not affect the Iowa City designation and hopes through the meeting to show the other countries how Iowa City remains committed to the organization.
Kenyon said he also hopes, after this week, that the other representatives will have a better understanding of why Iowa City is a literary designation.
The presence of literature fills nearly every street in the center of Iowa City, such as the literary walkway along the sidewalks that celebrates 49 writers with Iowa ties. It’s also apparent inside the Prairie Lights bookstore, where a large section of the store is dedicated to authors who have spent time in town.
That impact is rooted from the early days of the University of Iowa’s famed, Writer’s Workshop.
“It was the first program that awarded an MFF to writers in the country. So many, many famous writers have been here. The soul of the city is based in literature,” Jan Weissmiller, Prairie Lights co-owner, said.
Ahead of Tuesday night’s UNESCO opening reception, many of the UNESCO representatives paid a visit to the bookstore where, on nearly any given night, you can find an author doing a public reading.
“It’s wonderful to have these directors from these other cities of literature from all over the world seeing our city, and seeing what it has to offer,” said Weissmiller.
Congressman Dave Loebsack opened the reception inside the Old Capitol Building on the University of Iowa’s campus.
“I am exceedingly proud to represent the city where I live at the moment, Iowa City, and really this whole region and just all the great history that we have here; the writer’s workshop, the International Writer’s Workshop, all the literature that’s been produced here in Iowa City, mainly at the University of Iowa.  But not just there, also out in the larger community,” Loebsack said.
The majority of the UNESCO meetings will be conducted behind closed doors but, on Tuesday, representatives will host a panel discussion about the innovation programs that are happening in their communities. That event will be free to the public and will take place from 5:15 to 6 p.m. at Hancher Auditorium, as part of its ‘Thursday Night at Hancher’ series.


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