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Release: Immediate

Blaise will leave University of Iowa International Writing Program

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Clark Blaise, director of the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa since 1990, will leave the UI at the end of the current academic year to devote his full time to writing. Blaise announced his decision at a joint reading with his wife, Bharati Mukherjee, Nov. 20 at the UI.

Blaise will relocate to San Francisco, where Mukherjee is a faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley. Mukherjee is currently at the UI as a visiting faculty member in the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Both Blaise and Mukherjee are graduates of the workshop.

He is currently under contract for two books and is planning a third book. "The mountain of minutes that a writer is given in his life seems immense at one time, but you begin to see the sands running out, and you feel as though you've got to get the books out that you were destined to write," he says.

Linda Maxson, dean of the UI College of Liberal Arts, stated, "Although I am relatively new to UI, I have quickly come to appreciate the enormous contribution Clark has made to the IWP, to the UI and to the larger writing community here in Iowa and around the world. We will miss his talent and his enormous and unselfish energies, but we understand his decision and wish him nothing but success and fulfillment in the next phase of his writing career."

Despite the demands of the IWP directorship, Blaise has been able to add to a critically acclaimed body of work including novels, short stories and non-fiction by writing three books -- a short novel, a collection of short stories and an award-winning autobiography -- during his IWP tenure. "None are the substantial, large works I had hoped for," he explains. "Instead I've written thousands of pages of letters, speeches and panel discussions. That's where the time and energy has gone, and I personally just need to reverse it."

Blaise says that he understood the commitment the IWP would require when he accepted the position: "We are what the rest of the world knows about Iowa. I realized it would be the most important job of my life, and the closest to a number of things that are very deeply imbedded in my heart and my brain -- being of service to writers; being of service to the international community of writers; to be able to exercise some of the experiences and talents and language skills I've accumulated over the years."

And now, he says, he will leave the UI with a sense of gratitude and fulfillment. "These have been wonderful years here in Iowa City," he says. "I leave here with no regrets. It has given me the opportunity to know more than 250 authors, whom I've gotten to know very well, whom I have had the opportunity to visit in their own countries, and with whom I have been able to forge permanent friendships. Very few writers in this country are given that opportunity.

"For that opportunity I will be eternally grateful. I've tried to return that gratitude to the UI by enlarging the pool of donors that give dollars to the program, and arts agencies abroad who contribute their writers and their money to this program to make it work."

Blaise has also expanded the connections of IWP writers with other UI departments and programs, and next year's residency will see the beginning of an exchange program that will send a Writers' Workshop student to Germany while a German writer is in residence at the IWP, and a film series co-sponsored by the IWP and the UI program in broadcast and film.

Founded in 1967, the IWP is the largest international writers residency program in the world. Each fall, the IWP organizes a community of approximately 35 prominent writers from all parts of the world.

During three months at the UI in Iowa City, the writers not only work on their current writing and research projects, but also interact formally and informally with each other and with the many poets, fiction writers, playwright and non-fiction writers in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and the English department's program in literary non-fiction. The Interactive Translation Program, which pairs UI translators with IWP writers, was founded during Blaise's tenure.

At the UI the IWP writers give readings, serve on discussion panels, initiate translation projects, view cultural and artistic events and contribute to a mini-course, "International Literature Today." The IWP becomes the facilitator of first American publication for many of the writers.

Many of the writers travel from Iowa City to locations throughout the country to present readings and lectures, to participate in conferences and symposia, and to visit sites of cultural and literary interest. Under Blaise's leadership, the national impact of the IWP writers has expanded significantly.

Over the course of three decades, more than 1,100 writers from more than 110 countries have completed residencies in the IWP. This fall 31 writers from 26 countries have been in residence at the UI.

IWP writers have been financed by the United States Information Agency, through bilateral agreements with numerous countries; by grants given by cultural institutions and governments abroad; and by private funds that are donated by a variety of American corporations, foundations and individuals. Blaise forged bi-lateral agreements with several countries, and the IWP is on the verge of signing agreements with Venezuela and Singapore.

After graduating from the Writers' Workshop, Blaise has lived in Germany, India, Canada, France and the United States. He holds joint American/Canadian citizenship.

His literary output includes the novels "Lunar Attractions," "Lusts" and, most recently "If I Were Me"; the short story collections "Tribal Justice," "A North American Education," "Resident Alien" and "Man and His World"; the autobiography "I Had a Father," which was non-fiction book of the year; and, with Mukherjee the non-fiction works "Days and Nights in Calcutta" and "The Sorrow and the Terror." Blaise's life as a world-traveler for the IWP is one of the recurring themes of "I Had a Father."

11/21/97