I’m delighted to announce that novelist-playwright-screenwriter Whiti Hereaka has been accepted into the highly prestigious International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa. As you may recall, this is the same program to which we sent poet Hinemoana Baker in 2010.
Each autumn for the past 46 years IWP has brought just over two dozen dynamic, highly promising writers from around the world to the University of Iowa to give readings and lectures, work on individual projects, collaborate with each other, and engage American audiences.
The program lasts 10 weeks and provides an intensive opportunity for the writers to share their literary cultures, learn from peers with diverse backgrounds and experiences, and establish relationships within American literary and publishing circles, which can be very valuable.
As the program’s website explains, “The goal of the IWP is to provide authors with time and space – to write, read, translate, study, conduct research, travel, give readings, stage work, and become part of the creative community” in Iowa City, which has been designated by UNESCO as a world “City of Literature” in recognition of its “quality, quantity, and diversity” of publishing. UNESCO has recognized only six such world “Cities of Literature” — Dublin, Edinburgh, Iowa City, Norwich, Melbourne, and Reykjavik — so an extraordinary environment awaits Whiti.
Since its founding in 1967, the IWP has hosted approximately 1,300 writers from 120 nations. My research indicates that Whiti will be the 17th Kiwi to be selected. Besides Hinemoana, prior Kiwi participants have included Stevan Eldred-Grigg (1992), Sherryl Jordan (1993), Gordon McLauchlan (2002), and Brian Falkner (2008). I’m delighted that we were able to include Whiti so soon after Hinemoana, despite the stiff competition. I believe that seven writers from Australia have also participated in the program thus far.
As you would expect, not much of the IWP occurs inside a formal classroom setting. Instead, there is extensive time to write, to collaborate with other participants, and to share and discuss one’s work-in-progress with peers. There are also weekly international film screenings; nightly readings by local and international writers on campus and in Iowa City’s many coffeehouses, restaurants, and art houses; and ample opportunities to showcase one’s own work on local public stages. (I have written before about the State and University of Iowa precisely because so much goes on there.)
The IWP also encourages attendees to stimulate their creative juices by exploring the great diversity and complexity of the American people, culture, and landscape. During her time at the IWP, for example, Hinemoana journeyed across the great open spaces of Wyoming and Montana on horseback, braved the bison herds and boiling geysers of Yellowstone Park, visited Native American tribal sites, attended gridiron football and female roller derby matches, museum-hopped in Chicago, learned Afro-Cuban dance, trawled Amish farmers markets, roadtripped to iconic heartland diners, and performed in concert as far afield as Pittsburgh.
Recognizing the importance of cultivating and empowering diverse literary voices, each year the State Department funds several slots at IWP. Given the power and uniqueness of Whiti’s voice, we considered her to be a natural and obvious choice. We are pleased that the University of Iowa agreed.
Although still in the early years of her writing career, Whiti has won numerous awards, including the prestigious 2012 Bruce Mason Playwriting Award, which recognizes early success by a playwright. She also won the prize for Best New Play by a Maori Playwright at the Adam Play Awards in 2010 and 2011.
Whiti has had several plays produced in Wellington and Auckland. Her first novel, The Graphologist’s Apprentice, was published in 2011 and shortlisted for Best First Book in the Commonwealth Writers Prizes in 2012. I understand that her second novel, Bugs, will be coming out later this year.
Whiti leaves for Iowa shortly, and we wish her all the best and great success in the adventure ahead. Given Hinemoana’s experiences, I am confident that Whiti will return with many new friends, a wealth of new ideas and fresh perspectives, and a greatly expanded professional network of peers and admirers. I very much look forward to hearing all about her experiences when she gets home.