Tradition Trumps Twitter At Iowa Writers’ Workshop

By Ryan J. Foley

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – Inside the 154-year-old Victorian home that houses the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, you won’t see many Amazon Kindles. Twitter is viewed as a potentially disastrous distraction. And you can even anger an instructor for mentioning Google in your writing.

At a time when so much has changed in the publishing industry, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious creative writing program embraces tradition. And why not? For more than seven decades, the nation’s best young fiction writers and poets have escaped from life to spend two years in Iowa City writing, reading, hearing criticism of their work and meeting lifelong trusted readers. And that formula continues to have success helping top-notch writers develop their craft.

The program, which has helped train everyone from Flannery O’Connor to Michael Cunningham and T.C. Boyle, remains a powerhouse in American literature as it turns 75 this year. To mark the milestone, hundreds of alumni are coming back to campus in what amounts to an all-star gathering of writers who have breathed the air in Iowa City and that of its once-smoky bars.

Even in a town where it is not uncommon to bump into award-winning writers at the grocery store, the reunion is creating tremendous buzz. Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award recipients and MacArthur Foundation “geniuses” will be among the hundreds of workshop alums in attendance. One of the program’s star faculty members, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Marilynne Robinson, is kicking off the events on with a public speech about the workshop.

Cunningham, who wrote “The Hours,” will speak with other authors at a public event. Boyle, 2010 Pulitzer fiction winner Paul Harding, author Denis Johnson and dozens more will participate in smaller panel events Friday and Saturday addressing topics such as, “what makes literature immortal?” and “the writer as outsider.”

“It will be great to see all these legends of the program,” Arna Hemenway, 23, who just completed his first year in the workshop, says during a break from working on a novel in a library filled with thousands of books written by alums. Hemenway says he feels a bond with those who have gone through before him: “You’re toiling under the same sort of magical, strange, impossible thing.”

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Posted by on Aug 1st, 2011 and filed under Literature & Electronic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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