Monday, August 9, 2010

Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Nov. 13, 2009

Our View - Starting to grow Iowa's Ciudad de al Literatura

Iowa City has well earned its prominent role in the history of American literature. And the city also has served well as a special gathering point where writers from around the globe can inspire one another as they learn more about America in the classrooms and coffeehouses of one over-educated, Midwestern college town.

But Iowa City also has begun to establish itself as a prominent location in la historia de la literatura estadounidense. Alongside the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the International Writing Program, a growing number of Spanish-speaking writers and poets have been coming to town and staying for much longer than a three-month residency.

Whether they are here to teach, to study -- or even for some non-academic purpose -- writers like Ana Merino, Santiago Vaquera-Vasquez and Roberto Ampuero are putting down roots in the community and are helping to establish Iowa City as a more dual-lingual City of Literature.

Local residents can experience a small sampling of this movement at 6 p.m. today when the professors and students in the University of Iowa undergraduate Spanish creative writing classes read from their work at Prairie Lights Books. The classes have been taken and taught by ex-patriots from Spain and Latin America, by American citizens who learned Spanish as their mother tongue as well as by Anglophones who are interested in a more personal and less academic relationship with the language.

"They say the best way to learn a language is to fall in love," said Merino, a UI associate professor of Spanish who moved to Iowa City just a few months ago. "Creative writing is like falling in love. It's a way to develop your skills for the emotional side of the language."

It's not surprising that the work produced by the students is a mezcla of the already fertile mixing of Spanish and English -- moving back and forth from Spanglish, to Espangl├ęs, to more formally precise literary Castilian, to the modismos spoken in Chile, the U.S./Mexican borderlands and other places throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

Tonight's reading also is being advertised as an event "to celebrate the development of a future MFA in Spanish Creative Writing." But given the recent budget crisis in the state, the usually long process of a establishing a new graduate-level program has become even longer. It probably will be quite a while before Hispanophones come to Iowa specifically to earn an MFA in Spanish-language fiction, poetry or nonfiction. But the writers and scholars who are creating the groundswell support for such a program say they aren't going anywhere any time soon.

Instead, they'll be working hard to enhance their small but growing part of our very international -- and yet very Iowan -- Ciudad de la Literatura.

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