RBMS 2017 blog


City of Literature

In the fall of 2008, just a few months after the massive flood that devastated our arts campus, Iowa City received a singular honor and a great boost to morale: we were named a UNESCO City of Literature—only the third metropolis (after Edinburgh and Melbourne) to receive that coveted designation, and now one of twenty Cities of Literature spread across the globe (and still the only one in the Western Hemisphere). Not only the University of Iowa’s renowned literary programs (the Writers Workshop, the International Writing Program, the Center for the Book, etc.), but also the thriving life of letters outside the university were crucial factors in the designation.

The headquarters for “Iowa City— UNESCO City of Literature” can be found right across from the Hotel Vetro, in the Iowa City Public Library. As you walk around downtown, simply look down to see evidence of the integral part literature plays in our way of life: as you stroll along the Iowa Avenue and Northside Marketplace Literary Walks, you will be treading upon quotations from many of the literary figures past and present who have resided in our town.

Needless to say, we have bookstores. The most celebrated is Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St. (Today’s trivia question: what books did President Obama purchase at the store in 2010?) For a house full of used books, visit The Haunted Bookshop, 219 N. Gilbert St.

Walk farther north on Clinton Street to see Dey House, home of the famed Writers Workshop (507 N. Clinton St.) and  Shambaugh House, home of the International Writing Program (430 N. Clinton St.).

To literally drink in the literary atmosphere, relax with a beverage of your choice at Dave’s Fox Head Tavern, 402 E. Market St.—a venerable writers’ hangout mentioned recently in HBO’s Girls during the lead character’s brief stint at the Writers’ Workshop.

And of course there are libraries!

–Tim Shipe
Curator, International Dada Archive
Liaison for Arts and Literature
University of Iowa Libraries