Iowa City

Iowa City

123 S Linn St

For 80 years, Iowa City has been teaching the world to write. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa pioneered the teaching of creative writing at the university level. Dozens of creative programs within the university and the city followed. The newest chapter in this tradition is Iowa City’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.

Literary Reference

“This Was Iowa”

A feverish air seemed to wave from the flowers.
They opened their charred blossoms; light
curled, uncurled; inside the gold eyes, pollen, sand,
a lifting cane of thin bone.

I was looking at an art book on Georgia O’Keeffe
across from the First National Bank in Iowa City

I didn’t want to get lost in there, so I stared away
getting familiar in a small town.

Herrera, Juan Felipe. This Was Iowa. University of Iowa. Web. (PDF)


Abraham Verghese meets John Irving

One night there was a big reading in Iowa City by John Irving, the author of The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp. The famous novelist’s real purpose in town was to watch an NCAA wrestling tournament. But Irving went to a student party, where the apprentice writers put out some chips and beer in a dirty apartment and, out of intimidation, were slow to approach him. Verghese introduced himself to the author, who, as it happened, was researching a novel called A Son of the Circus, a story about a doctor trying to find his way in India. Verghese had found a mentor, and a friendship took root.

Reid, Jan. “The Good Doctor.” Texas Monthly, Dec 2004.


James McPherson’s Love for Iowa City

…gradually [McPherson] began to connect with his Iowa City neighbors, with colleagues, and with students, and to see in Iowa City the basis of a spiritually centered democracy. “I have many friends here,” he wrote, “black and white and other … I am confident that here I am first of all a person, a human being. I have been accepted into the life of the community. I have open and free access to what in this community has meaning and value”.

DeWitt. “About James Alan McPherson.” Ploughshares at Emerson College. Emerson College in Boston, 2008. Web. 21 May 2016.


Jane Smiley in Iowa City

Here are things I would not have done if I had not spent all of that time in Iowa City:

  • given birth to my three children;
    written The Greenlanders, Barn Blind, A Thousand Acres, and The Age of Grief (at least);
    taught at Iowa State University;
    married the fathers of my children.

I do not in fact know what I would have done, or who I would have been as an adult if I hadn’t lived in and around Iowa City for nine years.


From Jane Smiley’s Iowa City Days on the Writing University website


Jorie Graham on her time in Iowa City

From the Paris Review, interviewed by Thomas Gardner



Well, in the same way the double self-portraits in The End of Beauty were written out of literally being “double” while pregnant—being a person housing another, trulyother, person—another soul than one’s own, another body, another destiny, a different heart.


This was in Iowa City?


Yes. The early years in Iowa City. Getting up at night to feed her, put her back down, and then going to my typewriter with the terrible postpartum fear that I would never write again, not truly or deeply, and then feeling the black windowpanes holding the sleeping town and all its dreamers. It was as if I could feel all the dreams floating over the bodies in all the rooms in that town—and that silence full of dream beginning to pull that book out of me, beckoning, allowing me back into the ancient stream via dream and myth and listening while others slept. A roving consciousness over a sleeping world. That’s what Iowa was like, for me, in those years. It was not merely “not Washington,” or “not Rome.” It was the unimaginably mysterious life of mothering.


You began teaching at Iowa?


Yes. I had taught elsewhere, but at Iowa I began learning to be the teacher I became. I made some mistakes. But I loved teaching.


In Iowa I still felt very attached as a citizen—a mother scribbling notes on drafts as I waited in the car to get whatever group of kids I was responsible for to their next activity—and God knows I wrote a couple of books sitting in the car waiting for this or that lesson to be done: sports, math, music, Latin.

Gardner, Thomas. “Jorie Graham, The Art of Poetry No. 85.” The Paris Review. N.p., 30 Nov. 2018. Web. 03 Dec. 2018.


Marquis Childs Commencement Speech

Click to View Larger Image

Marquis Childs gave the 1969 commencement speech at The University of Iowa. The picture accompanies a Daily Iowan article about the commencement, printed in June, 1969.

The University of Iowa Special Collections


Notley on Poetry in Iowa City

I started writing poems as soon as I started meeting poets and hearing poets read their work, immediately after I arrived in Iowa.

When I got to Iowa and began to write poems, I think I had finally discovered how to compose on some level; I was composing the poems.  They proceeded harmonically and were both emotional and abstract.  I of course would never have said this at the time.  The second poetry reading I attended was by Bob Creeley, and I was tremendously impressed by his musicality and the fact that I couldn’t understand him and didn’t at all mind that.

Brown, Laynie. “A Conversation with Alice Notley on the Poet’s Novel.” Jacket 2, 15 Mar. 2013, jacket2.org/commentary/conversation-alice-notley-poets-novel.


Philip Levine & Sam Hamill reading, Iowa City, Iowa, 1984

Philip Levine & Sam Hamill reading, Iowa City, Iowa, 1984

Iowa Digital Library, Virtual Writing University Archive


Philip Levine on John Berryman

Philip Levine talks about being taught by Robert Lowell and John Berryman at the University of Iowa, where his classmates included Donald Justice, W.D. Snodgrass and Henri Coulette.

Naomi Jaffa, Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, November 2009


Stephen King on John Cheever and Raymond Carver

Until mid-1977, Raymond Carver was out of control. While teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he and John Cheever became drinking buddies. “He and I did nothing but drink,” Carver said of the fall semester of 1973. “I don’t think either of us ever took the covers off our typewriters.” Because Cheever had no car, Carver provided transportation on their twice-weekly booze runs. They liked to arrive at the liquor store just as the clerk was unlocking for the day. Cheever noted in his journal that Carver was “a very kind man.” He was also an irresponsible boozehound who habitually ran out on the check in restaurants, even though he must have known it was the waitress who had to pay the bill for such dine-and-dash customers. His wife, after all, often waited tables to support him.

– Stephen King

King, Stephen. “Raymond Carver’s Life and Stories.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Nov. 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/books/review/King-t.html?_r=0.


Writers on the Fly: James Tate

Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, Writers on the Fly, Iowa City UNESCO City of LiteratureDec 13, 2010