Thursday, April 25, 2024

Iowa Writers’ Workshop Director Lan Samantha Chang will have a lot to celebrate next month. 

Chang, who also is a Writers’ Workshop alumna, is one of eight individuals who received an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an achievement that will be celebrated at a ceremony in New York City in late May. But before the ceremony, she will head to New Hampshire to begin a residency as one of the most recent MacDowell Fellows. 

“I’m really proud to be part of the Workshop,” she says. “I’m proud to be among the many Workshop graduates who have been honored this year by so many institutions.” 

In addition to Chang, two Writers’ Workshop alumnae, Michelle Huneven and Elizabeth McCracken, also received Arts and Letters Awards. Awardees are given $10,000 to honor and encourage their creative work.

“For me, it’s a tremendous honor to be granted one of those prizes, because it’s a sign of confidence from the American writing establishment,” Chang says. “I spend a lot of my job trying to encourage people’s creative work, and there’s something kind of wonderful being on the receiving end of encouragement at this point. I feel lucky at this time in my life to have that encouragement to produce more work.”

Chang also is among the 155 artists—including writers, composers, architects, and filmmakers—selected from a pool of 2,417 applications for the spring-summer 2024 fellowship at MacDowell, one of the nation’s leading contemporary arts organizations. Fellows will have residencies at the MacDowell campus in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where they will have time and space to create in more than 30 artists’ studios.

“Because my job at Iowa is time-consuming and absorbing, it has been essential for me to go to residencies in order to get writing done,” Chang says. “I can say I’ve always done a lot of strong work at MacDowell. They make it possible for people to focus in a way that is unusual, even for a residency. For example, in the studios, Wi-Fi is not available. The story everyone says is, ‘Being there for a month, you get six months’ worth of work done.’ So, I’m extremely grateful to MacDowell. I’ll be starting something brand new, which is exciting.”

Chang’s previous work includes a collection of short stories, Hunger, and three novels: Inheritance; All Is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost; and The Family Chao. She has received creative writing fellowships from Stanford University, Princeton University, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Chang has directed the Iowa Writers’ Workshop since January 2006, and says she came to Iowa because the workshop changed her life. 

“I felt that I could be a part of it in a meaningful way,” Chang says. “I’ve been very lucky that my job has been at a place that means a lot to me. I think it’s very rare and lucky when a person can spend so much of their adult life doing work that they find meaningful.”

Chang also finds inspiration in the students who come to Iowa for the workshop, which is known worldwide as the premier program of its kind.

“They are the best students in the world,” she says. “To have such a high concentration of gifted emerging writers is a very rare thing. I don’t know of anywhere else where it exists, the size and talent of the Workshop student body.”

Chang says she also thinks the university and Iowa City communities are unique in the value placed on writing. 

“This is one of the few places in the country where writing is at the center of the conversation,” she says. “There’s something affirming to be able to walk into a restaurant and be in a room with poets and essayists and novelists, all those people living the lives of writers.”