Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Three University of Iowa graduates are finalists for the 2020 National Book Awards.

In the category for translated literature, two finalists are alumnae of the International Writing Program.

cover of high as the waters rise
Cover art by Catapult.

Anja Kampmann, a poet and critic based in Leipzig, Germany, was a Max Kade Fellow in the 2010 International Writing Program (IWP) Fall Residency. High as the Waters Rise, Anne Posten’s translation from the German of Kampmann’s acclaimed debut novel Wie hoch die Wasser steigen, was published in 2020 by Catapult. The book explores the emotional life of an oil rig worker whose bunkmate fell into the sea and drowned, setting off a chain of events that forces his reckoning with the exploitation of natural resources.

the bitch cover
Cover art by World Editions.

Pilar Quintana, a Colombian author of three novels, participated in the 2011 IWP Fall Residency. Her Spanish-language La Perra (2017) won several national awards in Colombia, and Lisa Dillman’s translation, The Bitch, was published in 2020 by World Editions. The book is a portrait of a woman wrestling with abandonment, love, and her need to nurture. Since 2019, Quintana has collaborated with the IWP as a mentor in the program’s Women’s Creative Mentorship project, which seeks to support and promote young female writers in Latin America and Africa.

how to make a slave cover
Cover art by The Ohio State Press.

In the nonfiction category, 1995 Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate Jerald Walker is a finalist for How to Make a Slave and Other Essays, to be published in November by The Ohio State University Press. The collection contains the author’s reflections on his experiences in academia, accounts of discussing race with his children, and contemplations on disability and family. Walker, who also earned a BA and a PhD from Iowa, has written two other books and teaches creative writing at Emerson College. He has been a visiting faculty member in the UI Nonfiction Writing Program.

The University of Iowa’s longtime renown and excellence in creative writing has contributed to Iowa City’s reputation as a writer’s haven.

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IWP Director Christopher Merrill says he is thrilled that two of the five finalists in the translated literature category are IWP alumnae.

“This confirms the wisdom of the idea—first articulated by Paul and Hualing Engle—that bringing together talented writers from around the world for a residency at this university may broaden their sense of literary possibility and inspire them to write books that will stand the test of time,” he says of the program that has hosted some 1,500 writers from more than 150 countries since 1967. “Anja and Pilar exemplify in their different ways the best of what this UNESCO City of Literature stands for.”

IWP writers featured at Iowa City Book Festival

Poet Anja Kampmann and novelist Pilar Quintana, along with their translators, will participate in a free, online panel conversation at 2 p.m. Oct. 10 as part of the Iowa City Book Festival.

Learn more at

The UI is world-renowned for its writing programs, and this year was ranked the No. 1 public institution by U.S. News and World Report for teaching writing and communications in all disciplines.

Winners of the National Book Award competition, which is administered by the National Book Foundation, will be announced Nov. 18.