By Brooklyn Draisey
Iowa City has yet another claim to fame in the literary world.
Expedia recently published its list of 20 must-see literary destinations, and Iowa City made it. Joining it are famous literary settings, including New Orleans and Bath, England, and homes of famous writers, such as Edinburgh, Scotland, where J.K. Rowling lives, and Concord, Massachusetts, where Ralph Waldo Emerson hung his hat and his fancy.
Locations were chosen based on four categories: bookstores, literary cred, literary events, and what the city is doing to foster future literary arts through writing programs, lectures, and workshops. Iowa City earned five stars in bookstores and writing programs and four in literary cred and events.
John Kenyon, the executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, said the recognition is the kind Iowa City deserves, and it gives bookish travelers a destination somewhat off the beaten path.
“For us, the designation has been a great way to shine a light on the wonderful literary attributes that we have here in the community,” he said. “I think it certainly helps to raise awareness to what we have here for folks who might not have otherwise known.”
Expedia cited the City of Literature as one of the main factors in making Iowa City legendary in the lit scene. Iowa City was the first city in North America to be given the title and the third in the world.
The City of Literature puts on literary events throughout the year, such as the Iowa City Book Festival, and hosts writing workshops and contests. Kenyon noted that Iowa City deserved this designation before it became a City of Literature, but it certainly helped.
“We had it before UNESCO decided to give us this designation, but I think it is one more thing that lets the rest of the world know that what we have here is worth celebrating,” he said.
The Iowa Summer Writing Festival and Mission Creek Festival were also noted, as well as the Iowa City Literary Walk.
Prairie Lights was noted by Expedia as a notable place to visit for literary tourists. Co-owner Jan Weismiller said being a City of Literature and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is what really gave the city its title, and it helps Prairie Lights with its unique and large customer base.
“We’re able to do well here because of the high quality of readers in our town,” she said.
The Writers’ Workshop has consistently produced literary talent for more than 80 years and has seen distinguished visitors such as Robert Frost and Dylan Thomas. For freshman English major and aspiring writer Ryan Johnson, the UI offers connections he couldn’t get anywhere else.
“As an English student, it’s nice to know that there are opportunities where I’m studying that could especially be useful to open doors later on,” he said.
Weismiller said she hopes people see the article from all over the world, so they want to come see a place filled with both a literary history and future. Kenyon said it could help the local economy and Iowa City’s popularity overall, since people would be spending money here when they visit.
“They’re coming to Iowa City because they’re interested in literature, so they might come away with a new favorite author or something they might want to come back to,” he said.