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Iowa Writers’ Workshop Turns 75

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop — the nation’s oldest and most prestigious graduate writing program — celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Over those years, some of the biggest names in modern literature have studied and taught there, including Wallace Stegner, Flannery O’Connor, John Irving, Jane Smiley, Robert Penn Warren and Rita Dove. Some 28 workshop writers have won Pulitzer Prizes and four have gone on to become U.S. poet laureate.

Jeffrey Brown reports on this remarkable program in Iowa City on Thursday’s NewsHour:

Read the transcript here.

We’ve posted some extended interviews below, as well as two videos from student poets in the program…

Five years ago, Samantha Chang — a 1993 graduate of the workshop — became the first woman to direct the program. Chang has published a collection of short stories and two novels, most recently “All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost,” a book about a fictional creative writing program in a small Midwestern city. Jeffrey Brown spoke to Chang about her book and raised the question about whether writing is really something that can be taught.

Allan Gurganus is perhaps best known for his 1989 novel, “The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.” He attended the Iowa Writers’ workshop in the 1970s and studied with John Cheever. Since then, he’s returned to give readings and teach master classes. Here’s a short excerpt from his current project, “The Erotic History of a Southern Baptist Church”:

Jessica Laser and Alex Walton are students and poets at the Iowa Writers Workshop. We asked each of them to share a poem…


Was attending with help
To change what is unchangeable into that which is unlike itself
The garden I’d imagined in opposition anyway
Declined with thanks in natural uniform and hung my whites
Flown to the throne? Muse in search of a book…

Life. Fix it. But with waiting. Days, as day before
Ran out into the sun to feel interior
Came more quietly than the world’s quiet
Approval — “I am not very well mended stockings”
“Very well.” Angels say “Man”
But there are adequate hands and thunder and lightning

—Jessica Laser

The subject’s lacking. Think of it as love
where the subject’s lacking. Think of it as love
ice collects downstream. Upstream
the music fades into its announcement

where the subject’s lacking, think of it as love
for a little while, a variation
the music fades in. To its announcement
the sun — wait — the sun rises

for a little while, a variation
woke me up at night:
“The sun, wait, the sun rises
for a little while” was later on “the air

woke me up at night”
sweating amid the upright pines, and a song
for a little while was later on the air
I turned in. To who I was, I pale

sweating amid the upright. Pines and a song
men whistle while they work become the paper
I turned in to who I was. I pale
following, following

men whistle, while they work become the paper
the subject’s lacking. Think of it as love
following, following
ice collects upstream downstream.

— Alex Walton
Special thanks to Ben Hill at the University of Iowa’s Center for Media Production for filming these poems.

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