Literature: Better Than Politics at Fostering Cultural Understanding

Apr 25, 2016

Since 1967, over 1,400 writers from more than 140 countries have taken part in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, often referred to as the “United Nations of writers.”

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with several of this year’s writers who attended a welcome party in Iowa City earlier this week. They share poetry, their hopes for their time in the Midwest, and the struggles and inspiration they have brought with them from their home countries.

“People forget that literature is vastly more important than politics in understanding other societies," says former U.S. Congressman Jim Leach. “It’s the writers that carry the ideas, the imagination, and the differences in lifestyles of so many different cultures.”

Ben talks with Leach, as well as International Writing Program director Christopher Merrill, U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack, and interim UI President Jean Robillard.

Harris Khalique
Credit Ben Kieffer

Harris Khalique (poet, nonfiction writer; Pakistan) is the author of eight poetry collections, including Between You and Your Love (2004), Ishq ki taqveem mein (2006) and Melay mein (2012), which won the 2013 UBL Literary Excellence Award for Urdu poetry. His poems have been anthologized internationally. A campaigner for workers’, women’s, and minority rights in Pakistan and abroad, he contributes regularly to national and international news publications.

Samuel Kolawole
Credit Ben Kieffer

Samuel Kolawole (fiction and nonfiction writer; Nigeria) is the author of the story collection The Book of M (2011), and other stories, widely anthologized. He has had grants and fellowships from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, the Norman Mailer Centre and the Edward F. Albee Foundation, among others. Currently working on his second book, he directs a writing school in Ibadan.

Karen Villeda
Credit Ben Kieffer

Karen Villeda (poet, translator, fiction writer; Mexico) is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Dodo (2014). Her work in poetry and multimedia, widely anthologized and translated, has received recognition through several awards, including the 2014 National Fine Arts Prize for Children’s Fiction and the 2013 Elías Nandino National Award for Youth Poetry.

Homeira Qaderi
Credit Ben Kieffer

Homeira Qaderi (fiction writer; Afghanistan) is the author of six books, including the novel Silver Kabul River Girl, published in Iran in 2009 to widespread critical acclaim. An activist for women’s rights and currently a Senior Advisor to the Minister of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, she teaches at the University of Kabul.

Rochelle Potkar
Credit Ben Kieffer

Rochelle Potkar (fiction writer, poet; India) is the author of The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories, and has three works in progress—a novel, a book of prose, and a book of poetry. Widely published online and in print, Rochelle is the co-editor of Neesah magazine, and an active member of Poetry Couture, which hosts poetry readings at cafes across India.

Raed Anis Al-Jishi (poet, translator; Saudi Arabia) has published one novel, seven volumes of poems in Arabic and one, Bleeding Gull: Look, Feel, Fly, in English. Alongside a career as a writer, he teaches high school chemistry in his native city of Qateef. He is a feminist and human rights activist, and works on issues involving children and literacy.

Raed Anis Al-Jishi
Credit Ben Kieffer

For information and biographies for the other International Writing Program participants, you can visist the program's website here:

*This program originally aired on August 27, 2015.