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Release: March 8, 2001

Merrill, head of UI International Writing Program, receives award

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Christopher Merrill, director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, has been selected as the 2001 recipient of the Annual Literary Award of the Writers Association of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The award will be presented during International Sarajevo Poetry Days 2001, which will take place in September.

In a letter to Merrill, Zlatko Topcic, secretary-general of the writers association, wrote: "The award is not only a sign of gratitude for your visit to our association during the siege of Sarajevo, or just a recognition to your contribution of spreading the truth about what was happening here in the hardest years for our country, but it is above all a praise to your poetry which we had a chance to read in our literary supplement Slovo (Oslobodjenje Daily) and literary magazine Lica."

Merrill traveled to the Bosnian capital several times during the three-and-a-half-year siege of the city. His experiences in the former Yugoslavia were chronicled in "Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars," which 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 says, "What I experienced in Sarajevo was just a fraction of what the citizens endured during the longest siege in modern history. Most writers felt, and still feel, the utter inadequacy of their words. But I was grateful for the opportunity to write about this war waged against civilians in full view of the entire world.

"If you survive being a witness to history, you walk away with a sense of how lucky you are. Still it’s a little strange to receive an award for writing that did so little to change what was happening."

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, the Paris Review, the 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."

He recently became a regular commentator on international literature for Public Radio International, airing on 120 stations, including every major radio market in the United States

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 UI, where they become part of the lively literary community on campus. Over the years writers from 115 countries have completed residencies in the program. Merrill became director of the program and joined the UI faculty in the English department last fall.

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 <deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu>. To learn more about Merrill’s radio commentaries, visit <http://www.theworld.org/books.htm> on the World Wide Web. The site includes links to download features from recent broadcasts.