Workshop with Dina Nayeri

For this year’s Iowa City Book Festival the IYWP arranged an outstanding workshop with Dina Nayeri for local high school students. Nayeri is an MFA graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and this year’s recipient of the Paul Engle prize which was presented to her by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.


The Paul Engle prize is awarded to individuals who, like Engle, “represent a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing.” Nayeri’s work deals closely with refugee identities and challenges, an issue that is more important than ever. On October 3rd, students gathered at the Iowa City Public Library to meet and work with Nayeri and explore political and refugee identities much like Nayeri does in her work.

We interviewed Madeleine Roberts-Ganim, a high school student, IYWP intern, and participant of Nayeri’s workshop to get a sense of what it was like to work with critically-acclaimed author Dina Nayeri.


Q: What was your biggest takeaway from Nayeri’s workshop? 

Madeleine Roberts-Ganim: I learned the value of using personal stories in order to persuade readers. Dina Nayeri really focused on the importance of humanizing people and their struggles. When making the argument that immigrants and refugees need to be helped instead of shunned, it can be easy for some readers to disregard this claim because the people in question just seem distant. But, if you tell stories about these people that reveals how human they are, readers are more likely to empathize with their situation and be persuaded to help their cause. This can be applied to so many different scenarios, and the use of personal stories when trying to get an argument across is so important in humanizing people who otherwise may be perceived as inhuman.

Q: What was it like to learn from a renowned author like Dina Nayeri?  

MRG: It was amazing! I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from such an incredible writer, teacher, and person. I never would have been able to gain this new perspective or hear from such a critically-acclaimed writer without this workshop.

Q: What impacted you most during your time with Nayeri?  

MRG: Dina talked about her own experiences as a refugee first in England and then the United States. I was shocked by the stories of cruelty that she endured when coming to these new places. In London, some boys at her school picked on her horribly and even slammed her pinky in a door so part of her finger became detached. In the U.S., kids would constantly make fun of her accent and say racist things to her. Obviously, her experiences were incredibly disturbing and difficult, but it was incredibly impactful to see how she overcame them and remained resilient even in the face of this hardship, going on to be so successful.


Q: What did students discuss and work on throughout the workshop?   

MRG: We discussed Dina’s two novels, her graduate work at Harvard, and her experience at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop right here in Iowa City. Dina had us read excerpts from her essay, “The Ungrateful Refugee.” We discussed techniques she used to persuade her audience, like starting out with personal stories and then moving into political arguments to ease readers into being more likely to believe her perspective. Starting with the political would be too abrupt and would turn people off because it would feel attacking and cause readers to be defensive. Starting personal brings readers to Dina’s side, so they are more likely to support her political arguments when she eventually gets there. She then had us write a radical political statement that we believed at the top of the paper. We wrote a fictional scene that related to this statement without ever explicitly stating what it was. For example, if your statement was, “Abortion should be legal in all cases,” you might begin a scene showing the struggles of a woman with an unwanted pregnancy and her hardship in trying to get an abortion, along with the hate she receives. The goal of this exercise was to practice using humanizing and personal stories in order to introduce a political view.


Q: What advice did Dina give you and the group as young readers and writers?

MRG: She gave the advice to always argue for what you believe. She stressed the importance of not letting other people’s discouragement stop you from getting your voice out there. Especially as young people, it can be easy for older people to disregard our opinions and quell our voices. She encouraged us to use good, accurate, and passionate arguments to fight for what is right.

Q: What is something we could all learn from Dina and her experiences as a refugee?

MRG: We could all learn to empathize with people different from us. To open our minds to different points of view and getting out of our own set ways of thinking. This is so important because often times we think that we and only we are right about certain things. However, trying to see things from another perspective can help us become more kind and understanding people.


Art Sparks: A Night to Inspire

On September 25th, The Iowa Youth Writing Project and Prompt Press came together at Iowa City’s Goosetown Cafe to celebrate the collaboration between Iowa artists and young writers from The Iowa Youth Writing Project.

Over the spring and summer, 17 Iowa artists donated their works of art to The Iowa Youth Writing Project and Prompt Press. Throughout the summer months, K-12 students participating in the IYWP’s week-long writing camps responded to the art, cultivating articulate, reflective, witty, and genuine responses.


The evening commenced with a delicious reception provided by Goosetown Cafe and a silent auction where IYWP volunteers, interns, and educators mingled with students, parents, and artists. Those in attendance were able to admire the art and written responses that hung together in the cafe as well as a booth displaying some of the beautiful work from Prompt Press.


Following the reception and silent auction, students bravely read their responses to an encouraging crowd. Bidders who won the silent auction were able to take with them the written responses that were read that evening.


Overall, the proceeds from the art auction were estimated to be at a whopping $2,700. This money will directly benefit the IYWP’s weekly and summer writing workshops, their Junior High Writing Conference, and purchase supplies for over 400-plus student writing kits for over 400-plus aspiring student writers.



Youthquake 2018

After compiling all the awesome writing pieces from all the campers over the summer, we from the IYWP publication team are proud to present YOUTHQUAKE, the IYWP summer camps digital publication. Not does it only contain all the masterpieces our campers have created over their respective camps, we have included group photos of the campers, and videos for the camps that are more animated in their works. Click YOUTHQUAKE 2018 to check out their writings, photos and videos!

The Art of the Comic Medium Camp

By IYWP Intern Rebecca Jefferson

IMG_6768This week at Comics Camp with IYWP workshop leaders Joanne and Calvin, students explored the art of graphic novels, traditional comics, and webtoons alike.

Our class discussed every decision made by comic illustrators from color to style, and how each can impact the reader’s experience of the story. By discussing students’ favorite comics, they were able to pinpoint techniques which could help them in their own comics. On the drawing side of things, they learned different techniques like stippling, hatching, cross-hatching, and shading to add dimension to their work. On the story side of things, students learned how to prepare storyboards and coordinate their illustration style with the overall mood of the work.

But that’s not all, we also discussed the myriad of jobs involved in the comic industry. It takes a village to raise a comic book, as the ideas are bounced around by a writer first. Later, a penciler takes those storyboard ideas and brings them to life through drawings. After that, an inker goes over the lines of the pencil drawings in ink and shades and colors them. Lastly, a letterer adds in the dialogue either digitally or by hand. When all that is finished, the book can finally go to the publishing stage.

Sounds like a ton of work, right? But our students were able to experience it all in one week!

Yesterday, Joanne and Calvin introduced them to the final reality of the comic world: deadlines.

Students got right down to work the minute camp started to finish inking their pencil drawings, so their polished work could be included in the class “zine” (a small comic book, much like a chapbook of poetry) which will serve as our camps anthology. As they all raced toward the finish line, students urged each other on through tough panels (ones that required a mind-numbing amount of inking) while showering praise on each other’s work.

Our class made a variety of comics: comics based off of Calvin and Hobbs or other artists they admire; some silly and some serious, but in the end each student presented an engaging and thought-provoking piece of work!


Summer Camp Blog: Work from Write for Robots and Rewriting the Classics.

For our penultimate blog post of the summer, we are featuring work from two amazing camps: Rewriting the Classics and Write for Robots. In Rewriting the Classics, our teen campers took a look at a few of the classics that have shaped contemporary literature and gave those classics a modern twist. In Write for Robots, our younger campers spent the week building small sets and writing plays that would be acted out by little, glowing robots.

Next, week, we will be featuring work from Sci-Fi Worlds, The Art of the Comic Medium, and The City is Poetry, The City is Yours.

Excerpt from: The American Family, ripenbaum

by Ella R.

Left to do the real work – the work that only an old baby boomer business man could process. So he started gathering important things: food, water, money, the first aid kit, the spare tire (wait, that can go back), the money, the survival stuff, the caviar, the book Frank (the stereotypical & literal middle child) insisted on bringing. Personally, Harold would rather shove it own Frank’s throat. After all, without it, this wouldn’t be happening.

For almost a year now, Frank had picked up a book – ha – more like picked up an obsession. Anyways he loved this book: Switzerlandianese Family Rosenbon or something for his birthday, Viv – Harold’s charming wife decided that they should rent a wooden boat and take him to where they think it happened. THINK. Harold doesn’t use stuff unless it’s at least 94.8% likely Believe me, he knows where “think” can get you.


by Jacqueline

Once upon a time there was 100 rats and she ate all the 100 rats well first she had to use her camouflage if she wanted to eat all the rats she had to use her camouflage to eat them all and hid behind the tree and she had a problem she got fat and she found out that its hard to catch rats and she thought that she wasn’t friendly and when rats came she didn’t eat them.

IYWP Summer Reading at Prairie Lights

July 25th is the Summer Reading!

Summer is ending soon, although the IYWP will have camps through July, we will be putting on a celebratory Summer Reading at Prairie Lights Bookstore this Wednesday for all the participants in any of our summer camps. This is your chance to read your work for your peers and parents in a professional atmosphere!

The night will kick off with a reception from 6pm-7pm and the reading will go from 7pm-8pm, any students are welcome to read their work! As Summer comes to a close, we hope to leave everyone with great memories and great writing, we hope to see you there!

Write Down, Speak Out Performs at the Englert Theater TONIGHT

By IYWP Intern Rebecca Jefferson


Throughout this week I’ve worked alongside my fellow IYWP interns and Negro Artist Caleb Rainey in the Write Down, Speak Out: Slam Poetry workshop, where students were given the chance to explore the art of performing written work.

The camp has been building up to this all week; Today at 3pm-4pm in the Englert Theater the Write Down, Speak Out Crew will be performing the poems they’ve worked on this week!

With engaging prompts like: “write something you’re afraid to write about,” or, “what have you learned most recently that changed your perspective?” Students and volunteers alike found themselves pushing the limits of their writing to it’s boundaries.

Of course, the heart of our workshop was in performing, where students were invited to analyze how they can utilize the qualities of their voice, natural gestures, and movements to elicit emotions from an audience.

So, without further ado, I invite you to spend an afternoon with us at the Englert, see you there!