CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
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Iowa City IA 52242
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Release: Sept. 29, 2000
UI launches annual Paul Engle Literary Festival with Oct. 11 reading by
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa will inaugurate the annual Paul
Engle Literary Festival, honoring the long-time director of the Iowa Writers
Workshop and co-founder of the International Writing Program (IWP), with a
free reading by two prominent IWP veterans, Mexican fiction writer David Toscana
and Czech fiction writer/screenwriter Arnost Lustig, at 8 p.m. Wednesday,
Oct. 11 in the Richey Ballroom of the Iowa Memorial Union.
The Engle Festival reading was scheduled on the eve of the sixth International
Conference on the Short Story in English, which will be hosted by the UI Oct.
Lustig, who attended the IWP in 1970, is an exuberant elder statesman of
Czech and Jewish literature; while Toscana, who attended the IWP in 1994,
has emerged as one of the major younger voices of Mexican letters.
Toscanas fourth book, "Tula Station," was released in English
translation last spring. His work has been compared to the writing of Julio
Cortazar, the young Carlos Fuentes and Umberto Eco. El Observador called him
"the most original and enjoyable writer of his generation."
Lustig, a charismatic survivor of Nazi concentration camps, now teaches
at American University in Washington, D.C. He has written more than 20 novels,
short story collections, novellas and film scripts, and he was one of the
leading figures of the Czech New Wave Cinema of the 1950s and 1960s. He won
the Karel Capek Book Award, was nominated for the American National Book Award
and twice received the American National Jewish Book Award. He says of himself,
"I still have the soul of a boy and I am proud of it."
The Paul Engle Literary Festival will annually honor one of Iowas
most accomplished native sons. It will feature some of the dynamic and engaging
literature worldwide, and in future years the festival will host outreach
programs to all corners of the state. Christopher Merrill, the director of
the IWP, hopes that it will become a major literary event, "building
the kinds of cultural bridges dear to Paul Engles heart."
From humble Iowa roots, Paul Engle became one of the worlds leading
cultural figures. Clark Blaise, the Writers Workshop alumnus who directed
the IWP through most of the 90s, described Engle as "the most influential
American writer of the century," for how he transformed the life of the
writer in the United States. "He virtually created the literary community
of America, and he was writers' ambassador-at-large to the rest of the world.
. . He made the word Iowa synonymous with writing and turned Iowa
City into the narrative capitol of the world."
Engle (1908-1991) attended Coe College in his hometown of Cedar Rapids before
enrolling at the UI, where he became the first student anywhere to obtain
a graduate degree on the basis of a book of poems. That book, "Worn Earth,"
won the 1932 Yale Younger Poets award, marking Engle as one of the most promising
poets on the American literary scene. A New York Times review of his second
book hailed him as "a new voice of American poetry."
Soon after he returned to Iowa from study at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship,
Engle took over the UI graduate seminar in creative writing. Engles
vision, enthusiasm and persistence built that course of study into the Iowa
Writers Workshop, the most prestigious and influential writing program
in the world -- the blueprint for the many creative writing degree programs
that now thrive on U.S. campuses.
In 1966 Engle retired from the Writers Workshop, but the following
year he and his wife, Chinese novelist Hualing Nieh Engle, founded the International
Writing Program, a unique residency program for prominent foreign writers.
In more than 30 years, nearly 1,000 writers from 115 countries have completed
residencies at the UI.
The importance of the IWP to international understanding was recognized
in 1976 when the Engles were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Colman McCarthy
wrote in the Washington Post, "Engle was doing what such groups as the
United Nations and Amnesty International only dreamed of."
In 1995 the program was honored with the Governors Award for distinguished
service to the State of Iowa.
Engles contributions were not confined to his work at the UI. He served
on the National Council for the Arts 1965-71, and was a member of the Planning
Committee for the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Although Engle devoted most of his energy to the UI writing programs, he
managed to write 20 books, winning Guggenheim, Ford and Rockefeller Foundation
fellowships, and the Lamont Award of the Academy of American Poets.
In 1990 Engles career was recognized with the Award for Distinguished
Service to the Arts from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
In 1999 the Iowa magazine "Stand Alone" selected Engle as Iowas
poet of the century.
Paul and Hualing Engle were on their way to Poland to receive that countrys
highest honor to non-citizens, one in a series of awards they received from
countries represented in the IWP, when he collapsed and died in Chicagos
In response to his death, Philip Roth said, "I think its accurate
to say that with his Writers Workshop that Paul did as much for serious
writing in America as anybody in American history." And Kurt Vonnegut
added, "This man did more for other artists than anybody I can think
UI alumnus and faculty poet Marvin Bell, now Iowas Poet Laureate,
said, "He made a place in the universities for writing. He was a man
of stamina and commitment to writing. No one told him to do it. He just went
and did it."
At his UI memorial, the tributes paid to him by former IWP participants
illuminated the IWPs ongoing importance in world affairs. Prominent
writers from Eastern Europe and China spoke of the central role the IWP has
played in democracy movements on both sides of the globe.
When Blaise visited Eastern Europe during the summer of 1991, Polish writers
told him the IWP had played the galvanizing role for Polish intellectuals
that Solidarity had played for the workers. And many former IWP participants
assumed prominent governmental and diplomatic posts in several Eastern European
countries in the wake of Communisms collapse.
This fall, under the leadership of new director Christopher Merrill, the
IWP is hosting 18 writers from 15 countries.
To learn more about the IWP, visit the programs site on the World
Wide Web: <http://www.uiowa.edu/~iwp>.
The Writer Workshop site is <http://www.uiowa.edu/~iww>.
For UI arts information, visit this new address -- www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa
-- on the World Wide Web. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <firstname.lastname@example.org>.