New documentary explores Iowa City's literary legacy
Thursday, July 12, 2012

So, how did a modest Midwestern college town become a locus of the literary world? City of Literature, a new documentary produced at the University of Iowa, tells the tale.

The film will premiere Saturday, July 14, at 3 p.m. in Macbride Auditorium on the UI Pentacrest as part of the Iowa City Book Festival. A panel discussion will immediately follow the free screening.

Trailer for City of Literature, which premieres July 14 at the Iowa City Book Festival.

“It’s an unlikely story that involves literary ambition, academic innovation, and a promising young poet who became a cultural entrepreneur,” says Ben Hill, the film’s writer and director and a video producer with University Communication and Marketing.

While the film traces the rise of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the International Writing Program, and acclaimed initiatives that helped earn Iowa City designation as a UNESCO City of Literature, it also digs much deeper.

“Decades before the start of the Writers’ Workshop, writers like Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oscar Wilde were stopping in town, and a magazine called The Midland had put Iowa City in the literary spotlight,” Hill says. “By the early 20th century, the university was emphasizing the arts across the board in some really original ways.”

Interspersed throughout the history are reflections by contemporary writers like Allan Gurganus, Alison Bechdel, Paul Harding, and Robert Pinsky on writing itself—where they do their best work, what they first cut from their drafts, and more.

Hill’s partners on the project included director of photography John Richard, researchers Rachael Carlson and Mary Bennett, and UI colleagues. Sponsors included the university, the State Historical Society, Humanities Iowa, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Iowa Arts Council.