A visit from the Iowa International Writing Residency Program


Tehila Hakimi reading from her fiction while the other speakers look on. Photo provided by Erin Langille.

On Thursday, Sept. 27, 10 distinguished writers from the University of Iowa’s International Writers Residency Program came to UNO to speak to students about global literature and their experiences as writers outside of the U.S.

The writers either read from their work or participated in a panel discussion. The event was held at the University Center in the Atchafalaya Room and had over 60 attendees, mostly English and creative writing students.

The mission of the International Writers Program is “to promote mutual understanding by providing writers from every part of the world the necessary space, physical or imaginative, for creative work and collaboration in an intercultural setting.”

Neal Walsh, director of the Creative Writing Workshop at UNO introduced the panelists: Gina Cole of New Zealand; Macedonian writer Rumena Buzarovska; Rasha Khayat of Germany and Saudia Arabia; and Umar Timol, a poet and fiction writer from Mauritius. The hour-long panel discussion focused on their favorite books and how the books have influenced their work. Khayat, author of “For We Are Elsewhere Now,” stressed the importance of children’s literature in the development of writers and said, “Books I read or was read to when I was really young are still important.”

Cole agreed but argued, “I was reading books by white men from Europe, and so I never thought writing had anything to do with me.”

It wasn’t until Cole read a Maori short story collection that she recognized herself in the literature.

“[It was] the first time writing had something to do with me. There are so many indigenous girls and boys who need to see themselves in literature.”

The author from Macedonia, Buzarovska, also spoke to the experience of exclusion.

“The issue of recognition in your writing, or finding yourself in the narrative more and more I realize how frustrated I was as a child. Intimate narrative of women didn’t count. Now I prefer to read to girls; it helps me in my writing. My literature is politically motivated in that, and I don’t care. Writing is political.”

The second session was devoted to readings by five other authors: poet Aušra Kaziliunaite from Lithuania; fiction writer Takiguchi Yusho of Japan; Aram Pachyan, a fiction writer and essayist from Armenia; Nigerian writer Amara Nicole Okolo; and poet, fiction writer and graphic novelist Tehila Hakimi of Israel.

Each read for 10 to 15 minutes from either a piece in progress or a translated section from a recent collection of their work. With English as a second, or sometimes third, language, the writers read portions of their work in the original language and then in English. This prompted a discussion amongst the readers and audience on the difficulties of translation.

Some of the writers had visited classes earlier in the day to share their work with students. Poet Aušra Kaziliunaite from Lithuania attended Assistant Professor Carolyn Hembree’s poetry class and discussed her poetry work with the group.

The comfort between Kaziliunaite, Hembree and the students carried over into Kaziliunaite’s reading, the last of the evening. She bantered and told jokes before launching into her final poems.

Afterward, drinks and food were served on the balcony, and students chatted with the visiting writers.

Neal Walsh sent a thank-you out to all the participants and said, “We had over 60 people in attendance for the panel, and 40 for the readings. I received glowing reviews of our program and hospitality from the writers and IWP administrators.”