By Andy Mitchell
The aptly named “United Nations of Writers” gathered to receive a warm welcome to the Iowa City community Monday night. The International Writing Program celebrated the arrival of 34 writers from around the world for their 12-week stay here.
It was a special night for the program; 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the IWP, and it was a time for reminiscing and honoring its storied past. The IWP’s 50th Anniversary coordinator Alice Gribbin, who helped organize historical pieces of the IWP’s history on a new website, said there’s nothing like it in the world. And after 50 years, the IWP continues to be a bright symbol of unity across the world.
Program Director Christopher Merrill officially started the night with a lighthearted interpretation of how Paul Engle and Huahling Nieh Engle thought about bringing together writers from around the world to the University of Iowa. Engle thought it was “a crazy idea.” Merrill capped off his opening statement with “1,500 writers later, here we are.” He took a moment to thank Nieh Engle.
“How did you get so many people?” Nieh Engle asked. “We couldn’t.”
Merrill was followed by University President Bruce Harreld, who welcomed the 34 writers to the United States, Iowa, Iowa City, and the university. He continued the message of unity.
“We all have writing in our veins,” he said. “[IWP] is about sharing and opening up; it’s about humanity.”
He further encouraged the writers to become included in the community and explore all it offers, jokingly telling them to “leave the program” to get further connected in the community. Merrill staged his “displeasure,” and warm laughter sounded throughout the room.
All 34 writers introduced themselves individually. The IWP pulled from all walks of life, corners of the world, and styles of writing. Those selected were novelists, journalists, poets, essayists, filmmakers, and musicians, all under one roof. A variety of countries were represented and linked together for their love of writing, from Taiwan to New Zealand, from Spain to Nigeria, Italy, Palestine, Uganda, Belgium, and many others.
The IWP believes in breaking down the political barriers that keeps humanity apart and bringing everyone together out of love for the written word, Merrill said.