University of Iowa Main Library

University of Iowa Main Library

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.


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


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In the University of Iowa archives, Alice Notley’s unpublished 1970 thesis gives relevant insights about Notley’s experience in Iowa City.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


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


W.S. Merwin reads at the University of Iowa Library

Christopher Merrill introduces the poet William S. Merwin who is speaking as part of the annual Paul Engle Day celebration that honors the memory of the IWP’s co-founder. Merwin reads the following poems ‘To the Light of September,’ ‘To the Words,’ ‘To the Grass of Autumn,’ ‘One Called to Ashes,’ and ‘To the Coming Winter.’ Merwin reads the following poems from his work The Pupil: ‘Prophecy,’ ‘The Comet Museum,’ ‘The Hours of Darkness,’ ‘The Marfalites,’ ‘The Summer’ ‘Plan for the Death of Ted Hughes,’ ‘In Time,’ ‘Home Tundra’ and ‘The Name of the Air.’ Merwin then reads the following poems that he has translated: ‘The Glory of Tellius’ and ‘To Friends of His.’



The University of Iowa Libraries, October 12, 2001: http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/vwu/id/455


Yaa Gyasi’s Graduate Thesis at the University of Iowa Libraries

Yaa Gyasi’s Graduate College Master’s Thesis “African America” can be found in the Special Collections at the University of Iowa Libraries. Gyasi’s thesis advisor was Lan Samamtha Chang.

Gyasi, Yaa. “African American.” University of Iowa Graduate College Master’s Thesis, 2014.