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IAS Professor Jonathan Stalling Leads UNESCO Writing Workshop

IAS Professor Jonathan Stalling
International & Area Studies Professor Jonathan Stalling

In summer 2022, Jonathan Stalling, IAS Professor and Co-Director of the Institute for US-China Issues, led a month-long UNESCO writing workshop, “Creative Writing and East-West Ecologies.” The workshop was co-sponsored by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program and was the first ever UNESCO workshop held between the first cities of literature in China (Nanjing) and Iowa (Iowa City). The opening ceremony was hosted at the Global Nanjing Literature Hall on August 5, 2022, and the workshop continued to the end of the month. Watch the video of highlights here.

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague speaks at the Opening Ceremony
Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague speaks at the Opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony included speeches by Bruce Teague, mayor of Iowa City, and Executive Director John Kenyon of the UNESCO City of Literature program. Kenyon welcomed participants and expressed his congratulations for the inaugural partnership, encouraging workshop participants to take advantage of the month ahead. "I'm so pleased to see so many people coming together from China and from the United States to study and learn together," Kenyon said.

Next, Christopher Merrill, Director of International Writing Program of the University of Iowa, expressed his expectation with a metaphor central to Stalling's ecology-based pedagogy: that seeds planted would sprout in the near future. He also brought regards from Nie Hualing, who founded the International Writing Program and opened a window of east-west communication in literature. Finally, Yuan Shuang, Director of Nanjing City of Literature, emphasized that this collaborative project would bring many great opportunities, and urged all participants to shape their minds with the perspective of poetry.

Workshop Students in Nanjing
Workshop Students in Nanjing

Stalling's four-week intensive workshop began with a tea ceremony and included book making sessions, hiking and natural observation, the creation of “seed books” to collect words from nature, and four short books of ecological poetry based on Classical Chinese poetic forms entitled “Book of Nature,” Book of Mind,”“Book of Rhyme/Resonance”and “Book of Unity.”

Professor Stalling describes this effort by UNESCO and IWP: “We are living on the precipice of climate catastrophe and no geopolitical relationship is more important to address these challenges than the one between the US and China. At the heart of building the kind of resilient proximity we need between our nations lies a need to recognize and lift up what is best, most generative and good about each other’s values. We need to embrace a strategy of ‘Good + Good’ to create a ‘super-position of positive values’ from the East and West. Classical Chinese poetry is the loadstone of the traditional Chinese cosmological and ethical worldview and by learning to write these forms in English, we can and do create a ‘superposition of the good.’ Poetry, especially the ecological poetics undergirding Classical Chinese poetic forms, can be a bridge between our languages and help us forge the good-faith relationality that the world needs at this time.”


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