Photo by JOHN VATER
It will be odd for a community of writers to dwell in a place for weeks without leaving a mark on their place of abode. It is a blessing for writers to willingly put their energies together and to create artistic ‘monuments’ that can commemorate milestones in their progress. That is the idea behind anthologies and journals. I had first raised the possibility of an anthology or a journal for IWP 2016 residents with Kathleen Maris Paltrineri during our conversation on Zoom. That occurred days before I left Nigeria on 19 August, 2016. She did not dismiss the idea but she also made it clear that the program does not require us to undertake such a task. I did not give up. I was sure I would find likeminded writers in Iowa that will embrace the plan. It turned out that a lot of the residents were interested in what we roundly described as ‘a legacy project.’
The first writer to discuss the project with me was Christine Yohannes from Ethiopia. As we arrived in Iowa City on the night of 20 August, we decided to soothe our jetlag with some beer. Andy Axel was a kind guide: he led Christine, koko thett (from Myanmar) and I to George’s, a writerly pub in the city. It was in George’s that Christine and I discussed the prospect of ‘a legacy project.’ We knew it would have to be a volunteer project, driven in-house amongst the residents. We also knew that we would count on the good will of the IWP administration to see it through.
After I raised the subject during my introductory speech in Shambaugh House on 21 August, Ruel Johnson (from Guyana) had joked that I was a pre-emptive plagiarist of his idea: meaning that he had also thought about the idea. Writer after writer committed to the project in their own speeches and for once I assumed that we could pull our materials together in a few days. I must have sounded very positive when I discussed the issue with the amiable professor and IWP’s house editor, Nataša Ďurovičová.
We needed Nataša to be our editor; we were unanimous in our choice of Nataša. Nataša was interested in the project but she wanted to be sure we understood that there should be no compulsion.
Priya Dala (South Africa) drafted the first call for contributions. But we lost momentum too soon. We were too caught up with other activities. It took weeks before we got on track. This time, we discussed the project at the Seattle Airport as we waited for a flight to Dallas on 6 October. Priya, Alice Yousef (Palestine), Hao Guang Tse (Singapore) and I had one conclusion: we were behind time.
Our plan of action was that Priya and Hao should raise the momentum once we returned to Iowa City. They got Christine into the revival plan and they did a great job. Although the response was not as they expected, the good thing was that they got everyone to pay attention to the project again. And it was great that Christine believed that I could leverage on that heated conversation to get the project on track. I am happy I took her advice and I sent out a few messages on WhatsApp and a few emails.
Christine also religiously managed the email account for the project, collated the contributions, and placed the contribution in a single accessible folder. But for her tech-efficiency and commitment, we would likely have been lost in the woods.
This project is a victory for every writer that has contributed to its success. The writers have been kind to contribute poems, stories, essays, drawings, letters, photos, and more to mark our footprints in the city of Hawk-Eyes.
Iowa City, November 2016