After nearly three years of research and planning, A Hub, a Network, an Archive: 55 Years of International Writers in Iowa City is now open in the Main Library Gallery. The exhibition tells the story of the International Writing Program’s genesis, its role in cultural diplomacy, and Iowa City as a site of literary significance and global networking. It celebrates the creativity of more than 1,600 writers in residence who have come to Iowa since the program began in 1967, and how their time in Iowa City inspired their work.
Curated by Nataša Ďurovičová and Lisa Gardinier, the exhibition includes University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections & Archives materials such as the Paul Engle Papers, the International Writing Program Records, the Toothpaste/Coffee House Press Records, and more. Items from the University of Iowa Libraries circulating collection, IWP’s Shambaugh House, and friends of IWP also make an appearance, in addition to a selection of large portraits of writers by photographer Thomas Langdon.
Nataša Ďurovičová, senior editor at the International Writing Program and adjunct faculty for the MFA in Literary Translation, submitted an initial proposal to the University of Iowa Libraries in fall 2019. Not long after the exhibition was approved, Lisa Gardinier signed on as a co-curator.
Gardinier, curator of international literature for the University of Iowa Libraries, began sifting through Special Collections & Archives materials in earnest the following autumn. A key contributing collection for this exhibition was the Paul Engle Papers, which contains correspondence and so much more from founders Paul Engle and Hualing Nieh Engle.
“I spent a lot of the first year or so of the pandemic with Paul Engle,” said Gardinier. “Or, rather, his archival ghost. When our proposal for this exhibit was approved in early 2020, I planned on starting archival research that summer. Thankfully the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t delay preparation by much. Special Collections reopened for the Fall 2020 semester with limited appointments. While most of my coworkers were still entirely working from home, I was coming in two to four afternoons per week that academic year to look through the Paul Engle Papers (msc 514) and then the International Writing Program Records (RG06.0012.009) and a few archival tangents as they presented themselves.”
The curators examined box after box, working to assemble a history told through photographs, cables and letters, campus publications, books and book art, artifacts, and articles.
“Considering the amazing size of IWP-related holdings in the University of Iowa Libraries, the amount of historic documentation stored in Special Collections & Archives, and the two decades-plus of administrative materials in digital form so far generally not available as open source, another ten objects could have been chosen for each item that made it into the show,” said Ďurovičová.
The exhibition is an introduction to the International Writing Program for those who are unaware of its history, and a visual celebration of the writers – both visiting and local – who have made the program what it is today.
“If this exhibit piques your curiosity, please know that this is truly the tip of the iceberg,” said Gardinier.
A Hub, a Network, an Archive: 55 Years of International Writers in Iowa City will be on display in the Main Library Gallery until December 16, 2022. Admission to the Gallery is always free. Visit lib.uiowa.edu/gallery for information about open hours and upcoming exhibit-related events.
The International Writing Program, now celebrating its 55th anniversary year, offers a robust schedule of programming both for its visiting writers and for the public during the Fall Residency. Learn more about the 2022 Fall Residency on the IWP website, and subscribe to the IWP mailing list to find out about public events such as readings, film screenings, panels, and more. Plus, keep up with IWP on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.