An Evening With Paperback Rhino

Two weeks ago, members of the IYWP staff and community came together for a very special reason: to make each other laugh. Yes, you read that right. Led by local improv group Paperback Rhino, an entirely student run group unaffiliated with the University,  IYWP staff and volunteers enjoyed a night of comedy as they participated in various comedic exercises that kept the whole room laughing from start to finish.

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The idea to join these two organizations together came from IYWP intern Grace Moore. Grace also happens to be a member of Paperback Rhino and enjoyed seeing her two organizations come together for a few hours. Grace was kind enough to answer a few questions about the experience afterwards:

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Q: How did it make you feel to see your two organizations come together and collaborate on an event?

Grace: To see two organizations so near and dear to me join together felt really good. I am seriously so grateful that Mal and Lisa took the time to listen and work with Jamie and I to make this happen. They are really the two masterminds behind it all. 

Q: Did anything surprise you about how the event went?

G: How seamless everything turned out was a really welcome surprise. I was so pleased with the turnout from the start, but how engaged and naturally talented all of the IYWP volunteers were was also so amazing to witness. 

Q: What are you hoping people take away from the event and from improv in general?

G: On a surface level, I hope that people find new ways to implement idea generation and ice breaker activities in their classrooms and their sites. But on a much deeper level, I hope everyone who came felt the power that is harnessed when you create something out of absolutely nothing but a word. It is truly amazing to see what can be made from someone who gives you a loving suggestion of “anything at all” and trusts that you can make a whole universe! That principal is where the IYWP and Paperback Rhino fit in perfectly together. And it was an amazing experience to watch that unity unfold on Wednesday night.  

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We at the IYWP  want to sincerely thank all the members of Paperback Rhino for a wonderful evening full of laughs and friendship.

If you would like to learn more about Paperback Rhino, you can visit their Facebook and Instagram pages! @paperbackrhino


Weekend Recap: Comics Workshop

This past Saturday, the IYWP was proud to host its first comic drawing workshop at Public Space One in Iowa City. A unique event that instead of focusing on the written word, celebrated the art of storytelling through the drawing of a series of images.

comics workshop 2Led by local cartoonist and IC Print Co-Op member, Violet Austerlitz, the workshop consisted of various timed drawing exercises for the students and opportunities for question-answer discussions. Even some IYWP members such as Assistant Director Lisa Roberts and Optics intern James Hirsch were present and participated in the workshop.

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From characters to landscapes, the students explored their imaginations and tested their skills in sketching. And as the workshop went on, Violet was sure to continue expressing the importance of patience and confidence when tackling longer projects and sketches. “Finished projects are so much cooler than unfinished ones.”

The students were also invited to share their finished pieces at an upcoming event in April called ICE CREAM. At this event, students will get the chance to share and sell their work alongside national artists of all ages and backgrounds. comics workshop 4

Upset that you missed this event? No problem! The IYWP will be hosting a second comics workshop this Saturday, March 9th, from 10-1pm at Public Space One again! Come and enjoy the fun!

Weekend Recap: Stand Up Speak Out

This past Sunday, the IYWP had the pleasure of hosting a panel & presentation for a group of Iowa City students between the grades of 8th & 12th. The presentation included topics of immigration and identity and what that has meant over the past few decades. Led by IYWP director Mallory Hellman, the students were given the chance to engage in conversations about important race movements throughout America’s history as well as being able to put their feelings towards immigration onto paper.

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Director Mallory Hellman begins lecture on current immigration and refugee debate.

After the initial presentation was over, the students were then joined by a group of esteemed leaders of the Iowa City community –all of which have dealt with issues of race and immigration throughout their lives. The panel consisted of Rachel Torres, a graduate from the University of North Texas who currently researches how certain factors regarding immigration enforcement influence the political and social acculturation of Latinos in the United States; Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz, a Netherlands native who is now the new Rabbi for Congregation Agudas Achim here in Iowa City; Mazahir Salih, community organizer for the Center For Worker Justice and the first Sudanese woman to be elected to a city council in the United States; and finally, IYWP intern Joshua Balicki, a student here at Iowa who is a filed descendant of the Oneida Nation and a lineal descendant of the Mohawk Nation. Joshua’s current academic research interests include Native American boarding and industrial schools and blood quantum laws.

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Members of the panel speaking to the students about their experiences. 

The students were given the chance to listen and ask the members questions about race, immigration, and their experiences combating racial stigma and prejudice here in the United States. Questions such as “How does the current U.S. immigration debate affect your life, work, and study?”, “If someone has a question about your heritage or background, what’s the best way to approach and ask?”, and “Which event (or events) in history do you believe have contributed most to the way members of your cultural group are viewed by dominant American society?”.

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The event was one to remember. The amount of engagement and insightful thinking that came from the students was remarkable. In addition, the panelist members speeches were inspiring and captivated the students with every word.

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If you would like to attend more IYWP events, we have another exciting one this weekend! Join us this Saturday at the Mill from 12-2pm for Junior High Writing Jam! Click the link to for a look at the IYWP event calendar:

Workshop with Dina Nayeri

By Madison Offenburger

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.

Photos by Madison Offenburger

Art Sparks: A Night to Inspire

By Madison Offenburger

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.

Photos by Madison Offenburger