Thursday, June 13, 2013

42 Young Writers from the Arab World, Russia, & the U.S. Come Together for Creative Writing & Cultural Exchange

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42 Young Writers from the Arab World, Russia, & the U.S. Come Together for Creative Writing & Cultural Exchange

Tamim Al-Kadasi (18)

Tamim Al-Kadasi (BTL Arab World’s first-ever Yemeni participant)
Favorite books include: The Alchemist, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Iowa City, IOWA—As tensions between the U.S. and Russia rise over the civil war in Syria, young writers from 10 countries in the Arab world, 11 U.S. States, and cities all over Russia will travel to Iowa City, IA (the only UNESCO City of Literature in the United States and an international hub for the study of creative writing) to take part in one of two sessions of Between the Lines (BTL) 2013, a creative writing and cultural exchange program that brings youth ages 16-19 together for two weeks of intensive study. BTL is organized by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP) in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
BTL Arab World, with young writers traveling from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Yemen (the first time BTL has hosted a Yemeni participant since the program began in 2008) will take place from June 22 to July 6, with BTL Russia running from July 13 to July 27. Students will spend two weeks on the University of Iowa campus, participating in intensive writing workshops and seminars, sharing ideas about their respective literatures (Arabic and Russian-speaking students divide their time between craft study in their native language and in English), attending literary events, and even giving public readings of their work at local literary landmark, The Haunted Bookshop.
“There was tremendous interest in the program this year,” says BTL coordinator Kelly Morse. American students submitted their applications to the program directly, while international students had to first be nominated by their respective embassies, with dozens of students competing for the coveted slots. BTL offered a limited number of full and partial scholarships to enable students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to attend the program.
“BTL opens a door to the world for many students,” Morse says. “It’s a kind of cultural diplomacy in miniature; BTLers find common ground and gain greater insight and understanding of each other’s’ cultures and literatures, even when their countries may disagree politically.”
The students, who room together in dorms on the University of Iowa campus, forge friendships that endure even after they return home. “I wish we could all come back to live the experience together again,” says Laura Abaza, a 2012 BTL Arab World alumna, who fled her native Syria for the relative safety of Jordan this spring and remains in contact with BTL friends through Facebook and email.
“Part of what makes BTL unique is that is encourages students to discover and interact with other cultures around a shared interest—writing,” Morse says.
2013 BTL students will hone their craft by working closely with authors. BTL Arab World instructors include award-winning poet John Murillo who teaches creative writing at New York University and bestselling Egyptian novelist, screenwriter, and blogger Ghada Abdel Aal, an alumna of IWP’s Fall ResidencyBTL Russia instructors include poet Kiki Petrosino who teaches at the University of Louisville, and acclaimed Russian novelist Alan Cherchesov, also an IWP alumnus.
“Having passionate instructors who are successful writers themselves is part of what makes BTL a formative experience for students,“ Morse says. “They encourage students to consider writing and literature from new angles and help students bring their own writing to the next level.”
BTL Russia 2012 alumnus Jacob Oet says: “Before I came, I had a ladder to get up that was missing a rung, which BTL gave me. Now I can press my ear to the wood and hear my imagination breathing on the other side.”
“I see the Between the Lines program…as a way to hear other stories. I personally believe the greatest honor you can give someone is a chance for him to tell his story…I want to shed all previous stereotypes and give [people] a chance to tell their stories so that I may complete mine,” says Jonathan Scolare of Green Bay, WI, who will participate inBTL Russia 2013.
Students participating in BTL 2013 began getting to know their peers and instructors this week, using Blackboard technology to connect to a virtual classroom and go over workshop basics before meeting in person in Iowa City starting next week.

“This way, once they arrive, they really hit the ground running,” Morse says.