Iowa City’s contributions to literature are countless and brilliant. Renowned writers have found inspiration and support in Iowa City, and institutions dedicated to the pursuit of literature thrive here.
To celebrate and honor Iowa City’s importance to the literary community, UNESCO sponsors the annual Iowa City Book Festival.
This year’s festival will take place September 28 through October 13 at various locations that promote reading and writing, including the Iowa City Public Library, Prairie Lights Bookstore, and the University of Iowa Main Library. .
Iowa City, UNESCO City of Literature Executive Director John Kenyon was instrumental in organizing the festival. He said the festival would elevate the literary life of Iowa City.
“Literature is the common thread that unites the fabric of our community,” Kenyon said. “Having a book festival that really shines a light on literature for a few weeks brings in people from outside who maybe don’t normally interact with us, raises awareness of local writers who have worked hard and may have lost in the shuffle as we continue to tout all the big names.
Kenyon said this year’s festival will be celebrated longer than usual, as it is the first time since the pandemic that the literary community can enjoy the events in person. The festival will also be one of the biggest in its 14-year history, with 40 events taking place over a two-week period.
“It’s a week longer than we normally would, but this year we had so many things we wanted to do, so many partner organizations that wanted to do things with us that it just required expanding the schedule,” Kenyon said.
While the festival is meant to be a social and entertaining activity for book lovers, many presenters also hope to use their platform to comment on pressing societal issues and intellectual matters.
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“We see the festival as contributing to ongoing conversations within our community,” Kenyon said. “There are a lot of larger topics that people talk about when they come together, like race, like violence, like environmentalism — a lot of our writers touch on those topics.”
James Throgmorton is a writer who wants to speak out on an issue that is central to the public interest at the festival.
As the former mayor of Iowa City, he was one of the city’s mission leaders from 2012-2019: to become more inclusive and sustainable. His new book, “Co-crafting the Just City,” is a non-fiction account of his experiences in pursuit of this goal, and he will speak about it at one of the festival events.
“As a former board member of the City of Literature and as a former city council member and mayor of Iowa, I strongly support [Iowa City’s Book Festival]“said Throgmorton. “I look forward to being one of this year’s entrants, especially given the outstanding roster of guest writers.”
Another presenter is author Jerald Walker, who wants to comment on race, a topic he says is of great importance. Walker is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, a professor at Emerson College, and a highly regarded writer. The event will focus on his latest book, “How to Make a Slave”.
“On the issue of race and racism and how people deal with it, we have a number of authors, but the one I would highlight the most is Jerald Walker,” Kenyon said. “He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and a National Book Award finalist for his book ‘How to Make a Slave.’ This is a collection of essays that largely deal with how we struggle against race in our daily lives. I know his speech will be very stimulating.
Walker hopes that presenting his book at the Festival will make it more accessible to people facing situations similar to those he experienced.
“It’s a collection of essays,” Walker said. “They are based on my experiences as a husband, father, writer and as an American citizen who happens to be black and what it means to be a black person in this country who works, teaches, educates in this country, and the difficulties sometimes that this presents as well as all the opportunities.
Walker is delighted to have the opportunity to present his book.
“I recognize what an important festival this is,” Walker said. “Iowa City is known for its respect for writers and writing. They do their best to promote literature. It is an honor to be invited and I am happy to participate.
Beth Livingston, a professor at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, is another author who sees the festival as an opportunity for people to become better informed about social justice. She co-authored a book recently with Tina Opie, professor of organizational behavior at Babson College.
The book is called “Shared Sisterhood: How to Take Collective Action for Racial and Gender Equity at Work”. Livingston said it started with co-writer Opie’s bewilderment as to why women were finding it so hard to connect with each other.
“[Opie] started thinking about this idea of ’if we’re all women, why do black and white women seem to be so divided at work?’ Said Livingston. “She says [she felt] like we should all fight for women’s equity, so what divides us, what separates us? »
Through their presentation and their book, Livingston and Opie aspire to address some of these issues.
“I’m happy to talk to employees, managers, companies — anyone who’s like, ‘Okay, I really care about fairness — but I don’t know how to connect with other different people. of me. I don’t know how we can come together to create this change,” Livingston said. “Our book is sort of a step-by-step on how to do that.”
Journalist, author, and UI professor Don McLeese will entertain and educate at the festival through a conversation with former fellow journalist, Kyle Munson, about his book “Slippery Steps: Rolling and Tumbling Towards Sobriety.”
“One of the reasons I wrote this book is that many recovery books are presented from [perspectives of] people [whose] life crumbled, marriage crumbled; people who lost their health and their jobs – making it seem like you would only change your life if you hit that kind of bottom,” McLeese said.
In addition to welcoming these conversations about these pressing contemporary social and moral issues, Book Festival organizers also want to remember and deepen public appreciation of influential classics.
Darrin Crow, storyteller and teacher from Iowan, will perform some of poet Edgar Allan Poe’s most acclaimed works in a performance titled “Morbid Curiosities and Mabbott Poe.”
“It’ll be cool to present the program,” Crow said, “It’s a first-person narrative, so it’s basically a visit with Poe, and through what he shares, the stories of his life and also some of the best-known stories and poems.
Anna Barker is Professor of Humanities at UI. She offers free tutorials on world literature classics throughout the year and hopes to spread awareness of these tutorials. Barker will also host a screening of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece “Les Miserables” at the festival.
“I love celebrating a book’s anniversary,” Barker said, explaining that the screening will commemorate the novel’s 160th anniversary.
Through this eclectic mix of events, Book Festival organizers hope to honor and nurture Iowa City’s literary tradition. Aron Aji, Director of Translation Programs at UI, is volunteering as this year’s festival organizer. He spoke enthusiastically about how this festival will enliven IC literary circles.
“The Book Festival is a wonderful celebration of all that is written and literary; very appropriate for our city and the university given the extraordinary concentration of creative writers and artists in our community,” said Aji. “Iowa City is known for its love of the literary arts, and the Festival of the Book is a signature event to mark that.”