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Iowa City is the first United States UNESCO City of Literature.

Founded in 1936, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop has housed thousands of outstanding authors. Writers from the Writers’ Workshop have won 17 Pulitzer Prizes, including Paul Harding in 2010. Notable people who graduated from the Writers’ Workshop include Flannery O’Connor, Frank Conroy, James Tate, John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, Marilynne Robinson, and more recently, HBO television series Game of Thrones co-creator D.B. Weiss.


Since 1967, over 1,500 writers from more than 150 countries have been in residence at the University of Iowa through the International Writing Program. Other important programs include the Translation Workshop; the Playwrights Workshop; the Nonfiction Writing Program; the Spanish Language Creative Writing MFA, the Summer Writing Festival (composed of dozens of workshops for the general public); and the Young Writers’ Studio, a summer program for high-school students.


Named after The University of Iowa International Writing Program co-founder, The Paul Engle Prize is an annual literary prize awarded with $10,000 each year to a writer who makes an impact on his or her community and the world through efforts beyond the page. A few notable past recipients of the prize are Roxane Gay, Alexander Chee, and Sara Paretsky. The Iowa City of Literature also hosts a Paul Engle High School Essay Contest where Iowa high school sophomores are asked to enter an essay that focuses on celebrating the rich culture of Iowa by drawing on a specific memory that exceptionally illustrates the senses experienced from that memory. The winner is awarded with a free year of tuition at the University of Iowa. 

Iowa City is home to a Literary Walk that celebrates 91 writers with ties to Iowa. The Literary Walk consists of bronze panels scattered around the sidewalks of downtown Iowa City each featuring the words of a different author, as well as other artistic celebrations of authors and their work on the city’s historic northside.


Iowa City's primary recent collaboration was hosting the UNESCO Cities of Literature annual meeting in April 2018. This meeting brought 26 of the 28 Cities of Literature to Iowa City for several days of meetings and cultural offerings.


The Iowa City Book Festival is a multi-day celebration of books, reading, and writing. The festival includes readings, discussions, and demonstrations by various authors, illustrators, and book-making experts. The festival, which began in 2008, was started by the University of Iowa Main Library as a thank you to community members for helping to save the books of the library from the major floods of that year. After that first festival, it was passed over to the City of Literature organization and has been run by that organization ever since. Every year the festival includes a variety of authors from around the country and the globe and celebrates books and writing through a number of strong partnerships with community groups. The now eight-day festival features many different types of events, from readings at local bookstores and theaters to author panels held around town to a book fair held in the Pedestrian Mall in the heart of the city. Every year the festival features the presentation of the City of Literature’s annual Paul Engle prize to a selected writer. The prize honors an individual who, like Paul Engle, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing, or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts. 

Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature also puts on an annual celebration of children’s literature called ‘One Book Two Book’. The weekend-long celebration features a Children’s Book Fair, where attendees can meet with authors, discover new books, play with storybook characters, watch a play and be inspired by fun programming and writing workshops throughout the day! ‘One Book Two Book’ also celebrates creative writing by outstanding ‘up and coming’ young authors from around the community in grades 1-8. 

Designated: 2008
Population: 74,398

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