Come, and bring a pen: Applications are open for the International Writing Program, Iowa City

A call to young Indian writers from Iowa City’s Summer Institute

January 18, 2020 04:00 pm | Updated 04:00 pm IST

You’re invited: Students at the inaugural session of the SI, July 2019.

You’re invited: Students at the inaugural session of the SI, July 2019.

Last summer, 30 literary-minded young people from India, Pakistan and the U.S. met in the heart of the American Midwest, in Iowa City, the birthplace of the creative writing workshop, to participate in a unique cultural experiment. This was the International Writing Program’s (IWP) Summer Institute (SI), a fully-funded, immersive two-week creative writing and cultural exchange programme at the University of Iowa for university-age aspiring authors, designed to improve their craft and broaden their understandings of the worlds in which they write.

Focus on South Asia

All 30 of them had worked hard to be here, meeting a winter deadline for a sample of creative writing and a personal statement that formed the basis for selection. On this side of the Atlantic, we’d worked hard too, often staying up nights to read through the 1,000+ applications. SI’s goal is not simply to bring together individuals from the three countries who have exceptional creative writing prowess or potential. While a facility with words is high among the criteria for admission, SI is equally committed to convening a group of participants diverse in their backgrounds, personalities and life experiences.

Now, we’re looking for new applicants for the 2020 SI cohort — and we want to reach out to an even wider range of young people in India than last time. Here is a short overview of what makes the programme so exciting and unique — a glimpse, in other words, of what awaits you should you make it.

Ensuring SI is the place for dynamic literary learning and collaboration means organisers — in particular, the programme’s faculty — must provide ample space for the exploration of each individual’s identity as a writer.

This starts in the classroom, where attendees take part in master classes in the craft of writing, in collaborative workshops focussed on their creative work, and in discussions about Partition and its legacies.

These discussions naturally spill out into mealtimes, into walks by the river, and into friendships, conversations, and debates that we hope will last a lifetime. That’s because SI, unlike other summer writing camps and programmes, explicitly explores South Asian literature, culture, and history. Classroom discussions give focus to the complicated and challenging realities in and between Pakistan and India, past and present — and to the specific qualities of writing in the Subcontinent.

Critical thinking

When you come to Iowa, you join the ranks of a rich history in modern creative writing. The The program’s unique location on the University of Iowa campus means that those selected will quickly find themselves immersed in the literary community of Iowa City — a UNESCO City of Literature. Authors like Ann Patchett, Mo Yan, Orhan Pamuk, Kurt Vonnegut, Bharati Mukherjee, Abraham Verghese, and John Irving have studied and taught in Iowa City. SI attendees benefit from the workshop method developed at The University of Iowa, in which writers take turns sharing and reading, and then discussing their work critically with classmates.

Absorbing the merits of this method and practising it for two weeks with SI’s talented instructors, participants will depart the programme with new ways of thinking about their individual writing processes.

Much of the energy of the programme comes from our incredible mentors. In 2020, Chandrahas Choudhury (India), Anam Zakaria (Pakistan), and Dini Parayitam (U.S.) will lend their talents to the programme.

In addition to teaching lessons on craft and working one-on-one with attendees on their creative work, the mentors will devote time and attention to the SI participant’s writing development once they leave Iowa City. Attendees will engage in fruitful discussions about how they can begin pitching and publishing their writing within and beyond their respective countries.

The IWP provides a space for two equally very important things to have happen. First, attendees will come to see writing as a form of action, a personally empowering skill that can be employed for social change. Second, through time spent together and a shared love for writing, they will find deeper lines of understanding and empathy for one another and for those like and unlike themselves.

The IWP is looking for 30 more promising young writers who are over 17 and under 23 to be a part of SI 2020. Together, we can create the place for dynamic literary learning and collaboration between promising young writers from India, Pakistan, and the US. Applications are due March 1, 2020 at 12:00 midnight, Iowa time.

The writer is Summer Institute Coordinator at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.For more information, visit If you have any questions, feel free to send an email

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