Friday, July 6, 2012

On behalf of the University of Iowa, I would like to welcome you to this very special gathering of remarkable talent. I would also like to thank all of you for the wonderful welcome and gracious hospitality that you have offered to us on our visit to your country and city. We very much appreciate the warmth with which you have greeted us. I would especially like to thank Wang Anyi, an alumnus of the International Writing Program and the president of the Shanghai Writers Association, as well as Wu Xinwei from the Chinese Writers Association, as our hosts for this special event.
The University of Iowa is known throughout the world for many areas of excellence, ranging from medicine and health care to physics and astronomy. One of those world-renowned areas of expertise is writing. The University of Iowa originated the idea of offering academic credit for creative work and developed the Master of Fine Arts degree, which is now offered in colleges and universities throughout the United States. Writing and the literary arts have been central to that innovative emphasis on creativity at Iowa since the late nineteenth century.

One of the major figures in Iowa’s literary history is Paul Engle, who directed the renowned Writer’s Workshop at Iowa from 1942 to 1965. Paul Engle was born and raised in Iowa, not far from Iowa City, and is one of our state and region’s most notable authors. But his literary sensibility extended far beyond our region. While he was director of the Writer’s Workshop, Paul Engle made a trip to Asia to research the contemporary literary scene in this part of the world. That is when he met Hualing Nieh, who had already published several books and was a well-known writer in Asia. At Paul Engle’s invitation, Hualing attended the Writers’ Workshop. After she received her degree in 1966, she suggested to Paul, who was then retiring from the Workshop, that they start a writing program solely for international writers—a program where writers from all over the world could develop their craft and create cross-cultural relationships. The two founded the International Writing Program in 1967 (and were eventually married in 1971). Hualing Nieh Engle continued as the director of the International Writing Program after Paul Engle’s retirement in 1977. She retired in 1988 and currently serves as a member of the IWP Advisory Board.

The purposes of the International Writing Program are to introduce talented visiting writers to American and American university life, and to provide writers with time, in a setting congenial to their efforts, for the production of literary work. Since 1967, over 1,400 writers from more than 140 countries have attended the IWP at the University of Iowa.

Chinese writers and writing have played a central role in the IWP’s success since its inception, with some 50 writers from China itself participating over the years. Hualing Nieh Engle, of course, has continued her career as a noted writer, editor, and translator, with a special interest in introducing Chinese literary trends and literary works to the people of the world. In 1976, to honor their role in promoting exchange among international artists, 300 writers advanced the Engles for the Nobel Peace Prize. And in 1979, they coordinated a “Chinese Weekend,” one of the very first encounters between writers from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Chinese writers living in other countries after 1949.

Today, the International Writing Program is as vibrant as ever under the leadership of its current director, Christopher Merrill, who is with us this evening. This past year, three dozen writers were in residence in Iowa City, from countries ranging from Argentina to Australia, including China. The significance of the IWP is one of the major reasons that Iowa City was honored to become the third UNESCO City of Literature in the world a few years ago, and the first in North America. And our IWP director, Chris Merrill, spearheaded that effort that brought this tremendous designation to our community.

The International Writing Program has been central to our long and productive relationship with writers from China over many years, as well as the University of Iowa’s relationship with Chinese culture and the Chinese people overall. Again, we are very honored to join you in person this evening to celebrate this wonderful relationship and to ensure that it continues for many years to come.