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University of Iowa Main Library

University of Iowa Main Library

ADDRESS
125 West Washington St.

Built in 1971, the Main Library, set on a high platform, makes a statement: the building is both a repository of knowledge and a monument to learning. Visitors approach the south façade via stairs that, along with the scale of the building and its massive slab roof. The Main Library houses Special Collections and The Studio, among other departments and collections.

From City Guide: Iowa City by Jan Weissmiller:

West of the Old Capitol toward the Iowa River is the University of Iowa’s Main Library (100 Main Library). The Special Collections and University Archives are well worth a tour. Special Collections can show you the Writers Archive, which contains the works of some of the great letterpress artists that have printed here. Among them are books from Carroll Coleman’s Prairie Press, founded in the 1930s to publish the work of contemporary writers in well-made volumes. Editions from Kim Merker’s Windhover Press include the first published works of poets Denis Johnson and Mark Levine. After perusing the archive, make your way up to the second floor where the thesis of every MFA recipient of the University of Iowa is shelved. It is a rite of passage for Workshop students to go there to read the student work of Mark Strand, Allan Gurganus, and James Tate.

Stories
Place

Abraham Verghese in the Workshop

In this Washington Post article about Abraham Verghese, they describe his first year in Iowa:

He arrived in Iowa City in 1990 not knowing what to expect. He carried his briefcase to his first workshop meeting, then sat quietly as his work-boots-and-jeans-wearing peers tossed around the names of writers he’d never heard of or didn’t know well. Barth! Babel! Cheever! Verghese wrote down the names and headed for the library, where he would check out armfuls of books “just to find out what the hell they were talking about.”

“Physician Abraham Verghese Combines His Love of Books and Medicine.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 Feb. 2009, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/15/AR2009021501861.html


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Alice Notley’s Masters Thesis at the Main Library

In the University of Iowa archives, Alice Notley’s unpublished 1970 thesis gives relevant insights about Notley’s experience in Iowa City. The thesis, titled “Poems & Stories,” consists of various poems and short stories that Notley wrote while in the workshop, including the first poem (pictured) “courage is the only root of beauty” and a wry piece that mentions the Colonial Inn in neighboring Coralville.

 

Notley, Alice. “Poems & Stories”. University of Iowa Graduate College Master’s Thesis, 1970. Image: Toby Altman


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Flannery O’Connor’s Master Thesis

Flannery O’Connor’s master thesis, “The Geranium: a Collection of Short Stories,” is held in Special Collections at the University of Iowa Main Library. The thesis contains several of Flannery’s now famous stories, including the eponymous “The Geranium,” which was the first story ever published by her. Flannery would go on to rewrite and republish this story four times, finally including it as part of her most famous collection Everything that Rises Must Converge. Flannery submitted this thesis to the Graduate College in June, 1947.

O’Connor, Flannery. The Geranium : a Collection of Short Stories. University of Iowa Graduate College Master’s Thesis, 1947.

Photo by Peggy Hughes, Norwich UNESCO City of Literature


Place

Gail Godwin’s thesis at the UI Main Library

While at the University of Iowa, Godwin’s dissertation became her first novel, The Perfectionists. You can find the copy of this thesis in the University of Iowa Special Collections.

Godwin, G. (1971). The Perfectionists ; an Abstract /.
The University of Iowa Main Library. In “August 1995” Storage. Available at MAIN Circulation Desk.


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Haki R. Madhubuti’s thesis at the UI Main Library

In the University of Iowa Archives, Haki R. Madhubuti’s unpublished 1984 thesis gives relevant insights about his early writing experiences in Iowa City. The thesis, titled “Earthquakes and Sun Rise Missions,” consists of various poems that Madhubuti wrote while in the workshop, including such quotes as:

“Poetry will not stop or delay wars, will not erase rape from the landscape, will not cease murder or eliminate poverty, hunger or excruciating fear. Poems do not command armies, run school systems or manage money. Poetry is not intimately involved in the education of psychologists, physicians or smiling politicians.

In this universe

the magic   the beauty the willful art of explaining the

world & you;

the timeless   the unread the unstoppable fixation with

language & ideas;

the visionary the satisfiable equalizer screaming for

the vitality of dreams interrupting false calm

demanding fairness and a new   world are the

poets & their poems.”

Madhubuti, Haki. “Earthquakes and Sun Rise Missions.” University of Iowa Graduate College Master’s Thesis, 1984.


Place

Juan Philipe Herrera in the Workshop

While a student at the Workshop, Herrera worked as

a part-time UI admissions counselor and a participant in ‘the life-on earth soap bubble brigade – that’s my other activity,’ he says. And Herrera is always willing to share with students, friends and passers-by — even his secret salsa recipe.  

Jackson, Cathy. “‘Akrilica’ shows poet’s vision”. The Daily Iowan. 19 June 1989.


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Margaret Walker’s “Jubilee” Thesis at the Main Library

In the early 1960s, Walker returned to Iowa City, this time to pursue a doctorate. Her acclaimed novel Jubilee, published in 1966 under her married name Margaret Walker Alexander, was set in the Civil War South and drew from manuscript collections in a dozen repositories, including UI Special Collections in the Main Library. Her Iowa mentors at this time included Vance Bourjaily and R. Verlin Cassill, both members of the faculty of the Writers’ Workshop, and Alma Hovey, assistant professor emerita of English, who shared her home with Walker during her doctoral research …

… the original, unpublished forms of two of her most highly acclaimed works are at the University of Iowa Main Library’s Department of Special Collections.

UIowa. “Old Gold: Iowa Alumna Key in Chicago’s African American Literary Movement.” Iowa Now. N.p., 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 14 Oct. 2019.


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Marquis Childs collected work at the UI Special Collections

The University of Iowa’s Special Collections and Archives is located on the third floor of the Main Library. Here, you can find the papers of Marquis Childs, which include correspondence, transcripts, manuscripts, clippings and original work from the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

A sampling from the collection:

A lunch invitation from the President of the United States for Marquis Childs, 1959.

A lunch invitation from the President of the United States for Marquis Childs, 1961.

University of Iowa Special Collections


Audio

Mo Yan reading, Iowa City, Iowa, September 13, 2004

In this reading archive, Christopher Merrill introduces Hualing Nieh Engle who then introduces Mo Yan. Mo Yan speaks only in Chinese and so a translator repeats what he is saying in English. It is difficult to hear what the translator is saying because he is further away from the microphone than Mo Yan, which makes it seem like Mo Yan is speaking very loudly.

Mo Yan reads an excerpt from his novel which is then repeated in English by the translator, and this particular part of the story is set in 1947 during the time when the conflict between the Nationalists and the Communist leaders was coming to an end. Questions are taken from the audience at the end, but we are unable to clearly hear what the audience members are asking/saying, which makes the last part of the recording very difficult to understand.

“Mo Yan Reading, Iowa City, Iowa, September 13, 2004.” Virtual Writing University Archive, digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/vwu/id/467/rec/1.


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Philip Levine reads at the University of Iowa

Philip Levine reading his poetry at the University of Iowa Main Library, in 2012.

Image Credit: By Feddacheenee – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19168002


Literary Reference

Rita Dove on Writing at the Main Library

“When I was in graduate school at Iowa, I made it a habit every two weeks to go to the library. I would just walk into the stacks — someplace where I had never been before. […]Regardless of what books could be there — I would take out the titles that looked interesting to me […] it was fascinating, and I did get poems.”

Dove, Rita; Ingersoll,  Earl G. Conversations with Rita Dove. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2003.


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Robert Lowell’s correspondence with Paul Engle

A number of Robert Lowell and Paul Engle’s correspondences and handwritten letters are housed in the Special Collection at the University of Iowa Main Library. These letters discuss a wide range of topics, including Lowell’s teaching offers at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, discussions on John Berryman and Allen Tate, and Lowell’s Guggenheim.

All of these letters can be requested to view at the Special Collections on the 3rd floor at the Main Library on campus. Plan your Visit

Records of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, 1965-. Iowa Writers’ Workshop. University of Iowa. Libraries. Special Collections Department. 1965


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Robert Penn Warren Correspondence at UI Special Collections

In a letter to Paul Engle, held in the University of Iowa Special Collections, Robert Penn Warren writes on November 22, 1948:

“I might be able to get down for the Workshop meeting on Thursday, but to be absolutely sure we had better make the meeting on Friday if you can arrange that without too much difficulty.”

Later he describes the visit as a “pleasure trip” and writes “Your description of the situation at Iowa could not fail to be attractive to anyone.”

Penn Warren signs the letter Red, (his nickname after his auburn hair.)

Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and University of Iowa. Libraries. Special Collections Department. Records of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, 1965-., 1965.


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Robert Penn Warren Letter in UI Special Collections

In a letter to Paul Engle on December 3rd, 1944, Robert Penn Warren discusses visiting the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to teach as a visiting professor:

I shall be delighted to come to Iowa, on all counts. As to the business of the date and what is expected of my once I am there, I don’t have any very clear idea.

Later in the letter, he mentions how he reads Coleridge on “breaks” from his novel:

I have been working on a study of ‘The Ancient Mariner,’ but it is yet in a very confused condition, and it might be months before I finish it. (You see, I am on the down grade of a novel, and I simply put a little work in on the Coleridge in the moments when I’m bored or stale on the novel.)

This letter, along with additional Penn Warren papers, is held at the University of Iowa Special Collections in the Main Library.

Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and University of Iowa. Libraries. Special Collections Department. Records of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, 1965-., 1965.


Audio

Tomaž Šalamun reads for the Paul Engle memorial reading, IWP 40th anniversary

Slovenian poet and Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor Tomaž Šalamun (IWP ’71) delivers the Paul Engle Memorial Reading, October 12th, 2007 at Shambaugh Auditorium in the UI Main Library.

Šalamun, Tomaž. “Paul Engle Memorial Reading, IWP 40th Anniversary, The University of Iowa, October 12, 2007.” Virtual Writing University Archive, Full Archive.