Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Four American authors traveled to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to give public readings, visit literary institutions, and connect with writers, journalists, students, and other creative types as part of a reading tour organized by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP).

american writers on IWP tour
Christopher Merrill, Chinelo Okparanta, Stephen Kuusisto, and Ann Hood sit in front of the Registan in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The four American authors participated in a reading tour organized by the UI International Writing Program. Photo by Kelly Bedeian.

The tour, which ran May 17-26, aimed to foster greater understanding and stronger creative ties with the Central Asian nations in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. Department of State.

The American writers participating in the tour included best-selling novelist Ann Hood, whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages; acclaimed memoirist and poet Stephen Kuusisto; Nigerian-American fiction writer Chinelo Okparanta, recently short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing, whose book Happiness, Like Water was one of the Huffington Post's picks for best books of 2013; and poet and nonfiction writer Christopher Merrill, who directs the IWP.

In addition to introducing readers in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to the current American literary scene, the tour introduces American writers to the literary landscape—and current affairs—of the region.

Check out the blog...

The International Writing Program blog features entries about both legs of the tour:


Despite air travel to some locations being limited to one flight per week, the American writers ventured outside the capitals of Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) to visit cultural sites and meet with literary personalities few Americans have encountered. Although geographically remote, Uzbekistan has sent four writers to participate in the IWP’s fall residency program since 2004. (Uzbekistan is one of the world’s two “doubly landlocked” countries—a landlocked country surrounded entirely by other landlocked countries. The other one is Liechtenstein.) The most recent is poet, translator, and journalist Alina Dadaeva, who spent 10 weeks in the United States as an IWP resident in 2012.

Unlike its smaller neighbor, Turkmenistan (which is slightly larger than California, but 80 percent desert) has never sent a writer to the IWP. Fewer than 7,000 tourists visit Turkmenistan each year, making it among the least visited countries in the world. (Afghanistan and North Korea host more.) American writers traveling to the region is one way to encourage greater interaction and foster literary relationships with Turkmen and Uzbek writers, making it an ideal destination for an IWP reading tour. Every spring, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, the IWP organizes reading tours to introduce American writers to a country or region with a relatively sparse history of literary liaisons with the United States.

“The aim of these reading tours is two-fold,” says Merrill. “We want American writers to discover the culture and literature of these countries, and to encourage interaction and collaboration. Of course, IWP would love to host a Turkmen writer as part of the fall residency in the future.”