What is the Iowa City Book Festival?
It’s an annual book festival presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature. The festival began in 2009, a year after Iowa City was named a UNESCO City of Literature. Programming often includes collaborations with community organizations and the University of Iowa.
Partners this year include Prairie Lights, the UI International Writing Program, FilmScene and many more.
How long is the Iowa City Book Festival?
The Iowa City Book Festival is from Sept. 28 to Oct. 13, “considerably longer” than normal, said John Kenyon, Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature director.
Conversations between new and repeat partners for Iowa City Book Festival programming made it evident that one week wasn’t going to be enough to hold everything they wanted. Hosting in-person audiences is especially a treat after the COVID-19 pandemic caused the book festival to hold more virtual programming last year.
For festival-goers, that means more time to check out the events they’re interested in, and possibly take in more of the festival than otherwise possible.
“It's probably going to be unique in the history of the festival to be this long, but we're going to give it a shot this year,” he said.
Who will be at the Iowa City Book Festival?
Dozens of writers, speakers, educators and artists — who are often an amalgamation of the four — will be presenting their works at the Iowa City Book Festival.
Here are just some of the presenters at this year's festival:
Anthony Doerr, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author of “All the Light We Cannot See” and author of “Cloud Cuckoo Land.”
Rebecca Solnit, a writer, historian, activist and columnist at the Guardian who recently launched the climate project Not Too Late.
Randall Munroe worked on robotics at NASA’s Langley Research before creating “xkcd” webcomics. The New York Times bestselling author is known for “Thing Explainer” and “What if?”, which provides scientific answers to bizarre hypothetical questions.
Jim Throgmorton, former Iowa City mayor and author of the new book, “Co-crafting the Just City.”
Beth A. Livingston is an associate professor in management and entrepreneurship at UI's Tippie College of Business, consultant and speaker.
Angie Cruz is an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, author of “Dominicana,” which was shortlisted for The Women’s Prize, longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and more.
María Sánchez is a veterinarian and the author of her memoir “Land of Women,” a bestseller in Spain that has been translated into English by Iowa native Curtis Bauer.
Alex Kotlowitz is the author of “An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago,” journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is a former staff writer at The Wall Street Journal and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, This American Life and more.
Victor Ray is an associate professor in the department of sociology and criminology at UI and the author of “On Critical Race Theory: Why it Matters & Why You Should Care.”
Sarah Kendzior is a journalist whose work has appeared in Politico, The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the The Chicago Tribune, reporting on political and economic problems in America, the 2016 election and the Trump administration.
John Koethe is an award-winning poet and author whose works include “Walking Backwards: Poems 1966-2016,” “Ninety-fifth Street” and “Falling Water.”
Elizabeth Crane is the author of “You Must Be This Happy to Enter,” “Turf” and her debut memoir, “This Story Will Change.” She has taught creative writing at the college and graduate level including at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.
Jennifer L. Knox is a poet whose work has been featured in the New York Times and the New Yorker. She developed and curated the poetry project Iowa Bird of Mouth in 2016.
Don McLeese is an associate professor in the department of journalism and mass communication at UI whose forthcoming memoir is “Slippery Steps: Rolling & Tumbling Toward Sobriety."
Elizabeth McCracken is the author of “The Souvenir House” and the memoir “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination." Her work has been published in The New York Times Magazine and The Best American Short Stories.
Cristalle “Psalm One” Bowen is a hip hop artist, activist and teaching artist from Chicago who has released multiple albums, performed on festival stages including Riot Fest in Chicago and is the author of “Her Word is Bond.”
Elizabeth Weiss has taught for UI, the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her debut novel is “The Sisters Sweet.”
Lori Erickson is an Iowa City writer whose work explores travel and spiritual journeys. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Traveler, USA Today and more.
Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez's work, since 2016, explores faith, traumatic experiences and recovery. She has a background in early care and education and professional music.
Jerald Walker is a professor at Emerson College whose work has been published in Mother Jones, The Harvard Review and The Iowa Review. He is the author of “The World in Flames: A Black Boyhood in a White Supremacist Doomsday Cult” and “How to Make a Slave and Other Essays.”
Lan Samantha Chang is the director of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop — the first woman and first Asian American to do so — and author of “The Family Chao,” collection of short fiction “Hunger,” and “All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost."
There's so much to chose from. What should I check out?
Everything, but unless you can be in two places at once, that is impossible.
Kick off your festivities by attending the Paul Engle Award Ceremony at the Coralville Public Library at 7 p.m. Sept. 29.
The Paul Engle Prize is named after the longtime director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop who was a writer, playwright, editor and critic. It is meant to honor someone who "represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts," according to the Iowa City Book Festival.
This year's recipient is Rebecca Solnit, an award-winning writer, historian and activist whose work explores feminism, social change and insurrection, western and urban history, according to her website.
Previous recipients include Roxane Gay, James Alan McPherson and Alexander Chee. The award includes $20,000 and a piece of art made for the winner. She will appear in conversation with Lyz Lenz, author of "Belabored," "God Land" and the newsletter "Men Yell At Me."
Running at the same time of the Iowa City Book Festival is the Refocus Film Festival, which features 26 films and performances Oct. 6-9. The timing of the two festivals was intentional, according to Kenyon, particularly as Refocus Film Festival is presenting adapted works that began as pieces of writing.
Examples of what you'll hear: Two writers preview their discussions
Two other events to check out include discussions with Beth A. Livingston and Elizabeth McCracken.
Livingston and Tina Opie are the authors of “Shared Sisterhood: How to Take Collection Action for Racial and Gender Equity at Work.”
The book utilizes a philosophy the two developed that promotes collective action to address professional growth and equality for women as opposed to individual action, according to Opie's website.
Livingston told the Press-Citizen that Opie, a Black woman in business, had been thinking about race and one question in particular.
“If feminism is supposed to help all women, why aren't women working together across races to achieve these things?” she said.
Their main goal is to bring together different perspectives on diversity and inclusion, and doing that had to go beyond the individual level, she said.
“We focused on how we move from the individual to this collective level. And that's where we got the focus on these relationships, these interpersonal relationships between people who are different from each other,” Livingston said.
The three components to "Shared Sisterhood" reflect that, which include having people ask tough questions about themselves and learning how to form authentic relationships with others.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Livingston and Opie decided they needed to write “Shared Sisterhood” because companies were seeking answers about racial and gender equity, and the two felt they had something to contribute. As they started writing the book, they found many stories of sisterhood promoting change.
Even their own was a story of building a slow, authentic relationship, one where they could talk about things they disagreed about but still have trust for each other. Though they have a friendship, “Shared Sisterhood” isn’t about becoming best friends with everyone in the workplace but rather forming authentic relationships, according to Livingston.
The book is “accessible” for readers, Livingston said, filled with footnotes that folks can use for further learning and stories to better understand what is being presented.
“What we see in the diversity and inclusion spaces (is) so much conversation about how do we actually get to change because we have a lot of people saying a lot of things, but the change is just not coming,” she said.
Livingston and Opie wanted to write a book about that and their diagnosis of it, which boiled down to the fact that people weren’t talking about connections, about how to talk to people at work, she said.
Livingston will be at the Iowa City Public Library at 7 p.m. Oct. 3.
Elizabeth McCracken is the author of “The Souvenir House” and the memoir “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination." She is a 1990 graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
In author Yiyun Li’s essay for Harper Magazine, “Against Aboutness,” Li wrote not to mistake McCracken's forthcoming “The Hero of This Book” as autofiction or memoir.
McCracken told the Press-Citizen she’d define it as a novel.
“The reason I didn't say, ‘Oh, it's a novel,’ but sound slightly cagey is to a large extent, I feel like it's the author's right to define a book, and then other people can decide whether they agree with it or not. So my answer is, ‘Oh, it's definitely a novel.’ If somebody else called it something else, I think I would be OK with that," she said. "Although it's not a memoir, it's not accurate enough to be a memoir.”
McCracken said she began writing the novel in 2019. In the fall of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, McCracken wrote a majority of the first draft in a rented studio she shared with writer and husband Edward Carey.
McCracken’s reading at Prairie Lights is fitting for the author, who said the bookstore was an important part of her education as a writer. The last time she was in Iowa City was 2019.
“The Hero of This Book” explores mother-daughter relationships, grief and the act of writing.
“I feel as though, to a huge extent, I write to figure out what I think and feel about things,” she said.
The “factual clarity” she gets in writing about something helps her with the “emotional clarity.”
“I feel like I’m never frightened of things if I manage to put them down,” McCracken said.
McCracken will be at Prairie Lights at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 8.
How much does the Iowa City Book Festival cost?
A majority of events are free to attend, but some do have a cost. Visit https://www.iowacityofliterature.org/icbf/ to see which events you’ll need to pay for. Prices range from $12 to $30.
Want a quick look at the full Iowa City Book Festival Schedule? Here it is:
Sept. 28: Anthony Doerr at the Englert Theatre at 7 p.m.
Sept. 29: The Paul Engle Award Ceremony featuring Rebecca Solnit in conversation with Lyz Lenz at the Coralville Public Library at 7 p.m.
Sept. 30: International Writing Program: Panel Discussion at the Iowa City Public Library at noon
Sept. 30: Randall Munroe at First united Methodist Church at 7 p.m.
Sept. 30: “Beowulf” with John Heimbuch at the James Theater at 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 1: “Beowulf” with John Heimbuch at the James Theater at 2 p.m.
Oct. 2: Co-Crafting the Just City: A panel with Jim Throgmorton at the Iowa City Public Library at 2 p.m.
Oct. 3: “Les Misérables” with talkback with Anna Barker and Ben Delgado at FilmScene at 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 3: Beth A. Livingston at the Iowa City Public Library at 7 p.m.
Oct. 6: Angie Cruz at Prairie Lights at 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 7: International Writing Program: Panel discussion at the Iowa City Public Library at noon
Oct. 7: Anna Barker: Teaching Classics on Facebook, “Les Misérables” at 160 at the Iowa City Public Library at 4 p.m.
Oct. 7: Curtis Bauer and Maria Sanchez at the Iowa City Public Library at 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 7: Alex Kotlowitz at the Pappajohn Business Building at 7 p.m.
Oct. 8: Book fair at MERGE from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Oct. 8: Victor Ray at the Iowa City Public Library at 10 a.m.
Oct. 8: Sarah Kendzior at the Iowa City Public Library at 11:30 a.m.
Oct. 8: John Koethe at Prairie Lights at 11:30 a.m.
Oct. 8: Elizabeth Crane at the Iowa City Public Library at 1 p.m.
Oct. 8: Jennifer L. Knox at Prairie Lights at 1 p.m.
Oct. 8: Curated guided tour of “A Hub, A Network, An Archive: 55 Years of International Writers in Iowa City” at the University of Iowa Main Library Gallery at 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 8: Don McLeese in Conversation with Kyle Munson at the Iowa City Public Library at 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 8: Elizabeth McCracken at Prairie Lights at 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 8: Cristalle “Psalm One” Bowen at the Iowa City Public Library at 4 p.m.
Oct. 8: Elizabeth Weiss at Prairie Lights at 4 p.m.
Oct. 9: Local author book fair at MERGE from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Oct. 9: Poetry in Public reading at the Iowa City Public Library at noon
Oct. 9: Johnnie Each and Debra Marquart at the Iowa City Public Library at 1 p.m.
Oct. 9: “Iowa Intersections” Interview screening at the Iowa City Public Library at 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 9: “Les Mis in Concert” at Riverside Theatre from 7:30-8:30 p.m.
Oct. 10: Morbid Curiosities & Mabbott Poe at the University of Iowa Main Library Gallery at 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 10: Lori Erickson and Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez: The Art, Craft and Call to be a Spiritual Writer at the Coralville Public Library at 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 11: Jerald Walker: James Alan McPherson and His Making of a Dragon Slayer at University of Iowa Main Library at 7 p.m.
Oct. 12: Lan Samantha Chang at the Englert Theatre at 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 13: Simon & Schuster author festival featuring John Irving and Jason Reynolds, a virtual event at 6 p.m.
(Information from the Iowa City Book Festival's website and presenters' personal websites was used for this article.)
Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Reach her at PBarraza@press-citizen.com or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.
This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: What to know about the two-week Iowa City Book Festival this year