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Release: May 22, 2000

University of Iowa appoints Christopher Merrill director of International Writing Program

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Christopher Merrill, distinguished writer-in-residence and holder of the William H. Jenks Chair in Contemporary Letters at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., has been appointed director of the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa. He also will have a faculty appointment as professor in the UI department of English.

Merrill, 43, will begin his duties as director of the IWP Aug. 1 at an annual salary of $88,000.

"This is a great time for the IWP," said David J. Skorton, UI vice president for research, who has overseen the program for the past academic year and who announced Merrill’s appointment today. "The program has received tremendous support this year from the university and the surrounding community, we have a variety of writers from several different countries already nominated for the coming fall, and now, most importantly, we have an outstanding new leader to continue the proud tradition of the program.

"I am especially grateful to Professor Garrett Stewart and the search committee for their excellent work in the selection process," he said.

"It’s a great honor as well as a challenge to lead the IWP into the new millennium," Merrill said of his appointment. "In the post-cold-war, dot-com era we have many new and constantly changing opportunities and challenges. The United States is the only super power, and we have the challenge of making ourselves better understood around the world. The opportunity for our students to learn how we are viewed in other countries from the most articulate members of those societies is very exciting."

Merrill has taught at Holy Cross since 1995 and has published in a wide variety of literary forms. He is the author of three collections of poems, including "Watch Fire," for which he received the Peter I.B. Lavan Award for younger poets from the Academy of American Poets; four book-length works of translation; several edited volumes; and three volumes of non-fiction, with a fourth volume forthcoming, all of which concern his travels through foreign lands.

UI President Mary Sue Coleman said, "I was extremely impressed with all the candidates for this important position, and I am delighted that Professor Merrill will be joining us and providing leadership for the International Writing Program."

Brooks Landon, chair of the English department, added "The English department is very excited at the prospect of having a poet/critic/non-fiction writer of the stature of Christopher Merrill join the faculty."

Merrill’s poetry, fiction, essays, articles and translations have appeared in many books, magazines and literary journals, ranging from the anthologies "Poems for a Small Planet" and "The Pushcart Prize XV: The Best of the Small Presses" to periodicals including The Antioch Review, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, The Fiction Review and Sports Illustrated. He has also had articles, reviews and commentaries in the Albuquerque Journal, Houston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Orion Magazine, Quarterly West, Salt Lake City Deseret News, San Francisco Chronicle, Santa Fe New Mexican and National Public Radio’s "All Things Considered."

"I like to think that working in a variety of genres enables me to understand the particular challenges writers face in every discipline," Merrill has written.

His most recent book, "Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars," has received extensive critical praise. A starred review in Publisher’s Weekly stated, "this book might very well become a modern classic about what once again seems a painful and incomprehensible corner of Europe." National Book Award winner and UI Writers’ Workshop graduate Bob Shacochis wrote, "There’s no finer, more eloquent book written about the Balkans -- its literature and cultures, its blood-soaked history and deluded politics, and certainly its fascinating people -- than Christopher Merrill’s ‘Only The Nails Remain.’"

Merrill once said, "I view all writing as a journey through the language and often through physical space." Living that belief, he has traveled extensively in Central and Eastern Europe over the past decade and taught at the Open Society Institute/University of Sarajevo, once giving a series of lectures on English literature in an unheated building on "Sniper’s Alley."

He has translated two books by the leading young Slovenian poet Ales Debeljak and a large portion of the poems in "Feast," a new book by Tomaz Salamun, a Yugoslavian writer who attended the International Writing Program in the1970s. He has also translated works by Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, Rene Char, Paul Celan and Bosnian writer Ferida Durakovic. In 1997, Merrill received the Translation Award from the Slovenian Ministry of Culture.

He has participated in activities of the Flying Cafe Europa, a group of artists and writers from Eastern and Central Europe. He was founder and director of the Santa Fe (New Mexico) Literary Center, and director of both the Santa Fe Writers’ Conference and the Taos Conference on Writing and the Natural World. He originated the Orion Society’s Forgotten Language Tour, which over the past eight years has brought scores of nature writers to more than 30 states around the country.

At Holy Cross, Merrill has created an international reading series and an annual Literary Octoberfest.

Merrill received a bachelor’s degree with honors from Middlebury College in Vermont and a master's from the University of Washington.

Founded in 1967, the IWP was the first international writers residency at a university, and it remains unique in world literature. The IWP brings established writers of the world to the University of Iowa, where they become part of the lively literary community on campus. Over the years, more than a thousand writers from more than 100 countries have completed residencies in the program.

For the coming year, nominations have been received for writers from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America to fill 20 available spaces in the IWP’s fall residency.