In 2008, Iowa City became the third city to join the UNESCO Cities of Literature programme. This university town’s vibrant culture life, filled with art festivals of all sorts, makes it one of the most vibrant cultural centres in North America. Grant Wood, who painted the famous “American Gothic,” came from there.
Each year, Iowa City hosts the Summer of the Arts festival, which brings jazz concerts, open-air film screenings and many other cultural events. Other staples of Iowa City’s cultural life include the Iowa Biennial Exhibition and the Landlocked Film Festival. The University of Iowa constantly provides cultural events for both students and the general public. Notable literary events include: the Nonfiction Now conference at the University of Iowa and the Iowa City Book Festival. In total, Iowa City hosts 180 literary events each year.
Iowa City is most renowned for its rich literary life. This is above all due to the highly competitive and influential Iowa Writers’ Workshop. This Master of Arts in Creative Writing programme, the first of its kind in the world, has featured many prominent literati among its faculty and graduates, including: Philip Roth, John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut and Flannery O’Connor. Overall, six U.S. poet laureates were graduates of the programme, and 28 faculty and graduates have won Pulitzer Prizes. Meanwhile, renowned non-American writers such as Bei Dao and Orhan Pamuk have taught there as well. The Iowa City Book Festival “is a three-day celebration of books, reading and writings.” In its third day, local businesses participate in book readings and other events.
In addition to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, whose prestige and place in American literature cannot be overstated, Iowa City features many other literary education programmes. The Summer Writing Festival provides dozens of workshops educating the general public on writing. High school students can attend the Young Writers’ Studio. Meanwhile, the University of Iowa also features a Translation Workshop, Playwrights Workshop and Nonfiction Writing Programme.
One prestigious literary award given in Iowa City is the Paul Engle Prize, named after the English Professor who founded the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. It seeks to honour a writer “who, like Paul Engle, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing, or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.” The University of Iowa Press recognises gifted artists with the Iowa Poetry Prize and the Iowa Short Fiction Award & John Simmons Short Fiction Award. Meanwhile, Hot Tin Roof is a creative writing contest aimed at promoting local talent.
Given Iowa City’s rich literary culture, it is unsurprising that the city is home to many publishers (11 to be exact). One deals with translation and another with literacy materials. In addition to many academic manuscripts, the University of Iowa Press publishes poetry and fiction, including that created by the recipients of the Iowa Short Fiction Award and the Iowa Poetry Prize. Meanwhile, the Centre for the Book is devoted to the art of bookmaking.
Due to the fact that many inhabitants of other cities use Iowa City’s ample resources, 101 percent of its population consisted of library users in 2006.The University of Iowa has the United States’ 18th-largest research library. The Iowa City Public Library, founded in 1896 and the busiest public library in the state, boasts of a collection of 175,000 books and offers many educational activities to people of all ages.
Iowa City also has not a few bookstores. The large University of Iowa Book Store and Iowa Book cater to students. The city also has many independent bookstores, including the Haunted Bookshop and Prairie Lights. Prairie Lights is also host to the “Live from Prairie Lights” radio broadcast, the only ongoing programme featuring literary readings on American air.
Iowa City also participates in public literacy programmes. The most spectacular of these is the Little Free Library Programme. This consists of free book exchanges in the city. As mentioned before, the Iowa City Public Library features quite a few programmes aimed at boosting readership.