Showing posts with label UNESCO. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UNESCO. Show all posts

Saturday, December 13, 2008

UNESCO names Iowa City, Iowa a "City of Literature"

My blog usually celebrates Prague. Today I want to celebrate a place I used to live because it just achieved a HUGE honor. I resided in Iowa City, Iowa for two years while I did my M.A. in library and information science. I loved every single minute of living there and regard my time there as two of the most enriching years of my life. Iowa City, Iowa shares a distinction with my hometown Ames, Iowa and another favorite town of Boulder, Colorado as having the most Ph.D.s per capita of any community in the U.S.

UNESCO has named Iowa City, Iowa, with a mere 63,000 people, as the world's third "City of Literature." What other cities have already achieved this distinction? Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia! Pretty good company, I'd say. UNESCO is creating a Creative Cities Network honoring and connecting centers for cinema, music, crafts and folk arts, design, media arts and gastronomy, as well as literature.

Iowa City is renowned for a culture that REVERES writing. It is no surprise to me that daughter #2 is on her way to becoming a journalist because in her kindergarten and first grade classes the Iowa City School System passionately passed on the joy of writing to students.

The whole town is obsessed with writing and book culture because the University of Iowa is home to the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Sooner or later, every famous writer in the world makes their way there to see what the mystique is all about. Lucky citizens are able to hear readings from great thinkers from all over the world, often in small intimate settings.

Like many of Iowa City residents who enjoyed the endless parade of writers through town, I attended more than my fair share of readings at Prairie Lights Bookstore. Prairie Lights' name was known throughout Iowa because each reading was broadcast to all farmers and small town folks across our rural state.

Iowa City took the job of creating new readers as a sacred task. Every child from all over the world in my married student housing courtyard had a wardrobe of three or four t-shirts celebrating the fact they had proudly finished the annual summer reading club. Kids who didn't participate had to ask themselves why they didn't get their free shirt because it sure seemed like everyone else had one for each year they had been in town. When thousands of kids go through the program, finding the funding for something like that takes support from the entire community. Do the math. It's expensive!

The Iowa City Public Library also mounted the first Banned Books Display I had ever seen. The one I remember that shocked me was "Little House on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. An Indian reservation library had found the portrayal of American Indians in the book offensive and attempted to remove it. Very simple displays like that can help show people that a book they consider important offends somebody else. When we protect everyone's right to read, we protect our own.

To continue that commitment to Intellectual Freedom, the local library started an annual Intellectual Freedom lecture and named it after a staff member who constantly prodded her institution on this issue. It's that kind of reaching beyond the day-to-day mission and teaching the community why censorship hurts their marketplace of ideas that brings this kind of recognition.

Congratulations Iowa City, Iowa and all of the important institutions and their staff members for this huge honor. Y'all deserve it! Link to the title to read the press release.
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