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International Writing Program: "Common Ground" for Countries in Conflict

Courtesy of the UI International Writing Program

Just across the street from the University of Iowa’s famed Writer’s Workshop is the Shambaugh House, the hub of the UI International Writing Program.


As part of the program’s 12-week residency, authors from every continent gather in Iowa City to do readings, lectures, translate literature into their native languages, and travel across the United States. Sometimes, Iowans invite residents into their homes to dine with transnational guests, says the director of the International Writing Program, Christopher Merrill.



Of the 28 writers from 27 countries this year, residents hail from Israel and Jordan; Ukraine and Russia; Turkey and Armenia; and Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. By inviting guests from countries currently in conflict with one another, Merrill hopes the program will provide “common ground” across political differences.


“More than anything, they engage in a conversation with their colleagues from all around the world. They find they share common problems as writers,” Merrill says. “How do you get to page two? What do you do with the terror of the blank page? What happens when you write a draft that doesn’t seem to be working?”


“They come together to try to solve those problems," Merrill says. "In the course of that, they end up finding that they’ve created deep friendships. Those friendships can last a lifetime.”

Since its founding in 1967 by Paul and Hualing Engle, the program has hosted more than 1,500 emerging and renowned writers. Its previous participants include Nobel Prize in Literature winners, Mo Yan and Orhan Pamuk, and Man Booker Prize winner Han Kang.


Host Ben Kieffer chats with this year's participants in these segments of River to River.

This page will be updated as interviews air.


An interview with Eman Alyousuf

Credit Ben Kieffer
Eman Alyousuf

Eman ALYOUSUF  م. إيمان اليوسف  (fiction writer, journalist; United Arab Emirates) A chemical engineer by training, Eman is the author of three short story anthologies and three novels; Haris al-Shams [The Sun’s Guardian] won the 2016 Emirates Novel Awards. Her short film Ghafa was screened at the 2017 Dubai International Film Festival. A columnist and editor at AlRoeya newspaper, she participates courtesy of the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department.

An interview with Kateryna Babkina

Credit Ben Kieffer
Kateryna Babkina

Kateryna BABKINA Катерина Бабкіна (fiction writer, poet, playwright; Ukraine) published her first book at age 17. Since then, she has authored three story collections, four volumes of poetry and two novels, with translations into 12 languages. Sonia was shortlisted for the 2013 BBC Book of the Year; three of her screenplays have been made into films, including Зло [Evil] and Жовта коробочка [The Yellow Box]. Her children’s book Шапочка і кит [Cappy and the Whale], a commercial success, raised funds for pediatric cancer. She participates courtesy of the Paul and Hualing Engle Fund.

An interview with Rumena Buzarovska

Rumena Buzarovska

Rumena BUŽAROVSKA (fiction writer, editor, translator; Macedonia) has three books of fiction published and translated into several languages. Her story collection Mojot Maž, which won the Edo Budiša Award for Best Short Story Collection in 2016, will appear from Dalkey Press as My Husband in 2019. A scholar, she is also an activist on behalf of marginalized populations in Macedonia. In 2016, Literary Europe Live named her one of Ten New Voices from Europe. She participates courtesy of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

An interview with Rasha Khayat

Credit Ben Kieffer
Rasha Khayat

Rasha KHAYAT (fiction writer, translator; Germany) is the author of the novel Weil wir längst woanders sind  [For We Are Elsewhere Now] which has been nominated for the 2016 Klaus Michael Kühne Prize for best first novel, and translated into French and Arabic. A recipient of the Jürgen Ponto Foundation Fellowship, the Robert Bosch Foundation’s Research Fellowship, and the Siegfried-Lenz Fellowship, she also writes for the theater and newspapers, mainly on multiculturalism. Her blog serves as a window into the Arab world for native Germans. She participates courtesy of the Max Kade Foundation.  

An interview with Aušra Kaziliūnaitė

Credit Ben Kieffer
Aušra Kaziliūnaitė

Aušra KAZILIŪNAITĖ (poet, performance artist, journalist; Lithuania) is the author of four volumes of poetry: in 2018, The Moon is a Pill appeared in English. Kaziliūnaitė's poems appeared in How the Earth Carries Us: New Lithuanian Poets (2017) and New Baltic Poetry Anthology (2018), and have been translated into many other languages. She is the recipient of several national awards, including, in 2016, the Young Artist Prize from Lithuania’s Ministry of Culture. She participates courtesy of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.