July 31, 2008
UI's Hualing Nieh Engle selected to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame
Hualing Nieh Engle, an emeritus professor at the University of Iowa, has been selected to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. She will be inducted at an Aug. 23 ceremony at the State Historical Building in Des Moines. Engle co-founded and directed the International Writing Program (IWP) and co-founded the Master of Fine Arts program in translation.
The nomination documents from the IWP stated, "Over a distinguished literary career that spans the last half-century and two continents, Mrs. Engle has worked with grace and tenacity to make Iowa a crossroads for international writing and exchange. Her efforts have brought dozens of China's most talented writers into contact with fellow artists in Iowa and elsewhere, fostering an ongoing conversation between East and West.
"As an author with more than 20 published books to her credit, Mrs. Engle has been praised in China and the U.S. for the sincere way her work draws strength from two very different literary traditions. The countless discussions and collaborations that her writing and her leadership have engendered comprise a legacy that continues to shape the face of international literature in our time."
Born Nieh Hualing in 1925 in Hubei, China, she grew up in the shadows of the Sino-Japanese and Chinese civil wars. In 1934, she experienced the death of her father, who was executed as an official of Chiang Kai-shek's government. She graduated with a degree in English from the western languages department of the National Central University in 1948.
Following the Communist takeover, her family relocated to Taiwan, where she became a literary editor and member of the editorial board of the fortnightly Free China, a liberal, intellectual magazine. She also taught creative writing courses at Taipei's two major universities, National Taiwan and Tung-hai, where she was the first faculty member to teach creative writing in Chinese.
There she published a novel and several short story collections, translated Henry James and William Faulkner into Chinese, and met her future husband, Paul Engle, then director of the UI Writers' Workshop. Paul Engle, who was on a trip to research the contemporary literary scene in Asia, invited her to attend the Writers' Workshop, and she came to Iowa City in 1964 as the first Chinese writer to attend the program.
After completing her degree in 1966, she suggested to Paul Engle, then retiring from directorship of the workshop, that they start a writing program solely for international writers. Their plan was to invite published writers from all over the world to Iowa City to hone their craft, exchange ideas and create cross-cultural friendships.
With support from the UI and a private grant, the first group of international writers convened in Iowa City in 1967, with Paul Engle as director, and Hualing Nieh as assistant director. Paul and Hualing were married in 1971.
During the Engles' tenure, the IWP grew into a world-class residency for literary artists. In 1976, to honor their role in promoting exchange among international artists, 300 writers advanced the Engles for the Nobel Peace Prize. Averill Harriman, who was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, officially nominated the Engles. Until 1977, the Engles co-directed the IWP, and she continued as its director after his retirement. She retired in 1988, and currently serves as a member of the IWP Advisory Board.
The Engles were the first to translate and edit a collection of Mao Zedong's poems, followed by a two-volume scholarly collection titled "Literature of the Hundred Flowers." In 1979, Iowa City was the first place where an encounter between mainland and Taiwanese writers and intellectuals could occur, after three decades of mutual isolation.
Hualing Engle has traveled extensively in Asia and Europe and has lectured at major universities in the United States as well as many leading universities in China. She has received several honorary doctorates, as well as an award for Distinguished Service to the Arts from the National Association of Governors in 1982. She has also been named among the top 100 Chinese writers of the 20th century by Asia Week magazine.
She arrived at the UI having already published seven books. She now has published more than two dozen, written in Chinese and widely translated, including novels, essay collections, collections of stories, translations and edited works. Her "Two Women of China" won the American Book Award in 1991.
Last year, she published her memoir, "Three Lives," in Chinese, now in its third printing, and the book is currently being translated into English.
She still occasionally returns to East Asia to serve on literary juries, negotiate with cultural agencies on behalf of the UI, and to participate in various cultural gatherings. She has been instrumental in recruiting several new generations of top-flight Chinese-language writers for the benefit of the IWP, bringing them first to the UI community and subsequently to many other top-flight U.S. universities.
The Iowa Women's Hall of Fame was established in 1975 by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women (ICSW), to highlight women's heritage and to highlight the contributions of women to the State of Iowa. Each year the ICSW and the government welcome four women into the Hall of Fame.
Some of the previous inductees with UI ties include alumna Mildred Wirt Benson, who wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries; pharmacy faculty member Mary Jaylene Berg; photographer Joan Liffring-Zug Bourret, an alumna and a former board member of the Friends Development Council of the UI Museum of Art; adjunct law professor Roxanne Conlin; Christine Grant, former UI women's athletics director; alumna Dorothy Houghton, the first female president of the Electoral College Board; alumna Dorothy Schramm, a prominent peace activist; and Jean Montgomery Smith, the first woman physician in the Internal Medicine Department of the UI Hospitals and Clinics.
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