The Road to Iowa

Fan Dai
Dec 13th, 2013

As I boarded the small plane in Chicago in December 2012, I looked around suspecting that everyone was a writer. It was my second time to go to Iowa City.

Iowa State is obscure. When I renewed my driver’s license at the motor vehicle department in Albany, New York in the summer of 2013, the clerk’s eyebrow raised for the three times when I had to name Iowa as my home state, looking both amazed and amused that someone actually lived in Iowa. For most people I know, it is at most a state they have driven through, which was what me and my husband did in the summer of 1996 after visiting Yellowstone National Park. We remembered it because of a $40 speeding ticket, which was significantly cheaper than other states.

I didn’t hear about Iowa again until late 2008, when two visitors from Lingnan University of Hong Kong, Richard Freadman, the then Chair of the Department of English and Xu Xi, its then writer-in-residence, introduced themselves as creative writers and teachers.

“How could you do creative writing and still call it work?” I asked almost accusingly. I had published creative work in both Chinese and English, which were dismissed as non-academic work.

“Come to observe a workshop if you’re interested,” said Xu Xi ,who would start her next position as writer-in-residence at University of Iowa, which, she told me, was where creative writing originated. I jumped at the opportunity. Xu Xi and Robin Hemley, the then director of the nonfiction program, picked me up in the evening of Valentine’s Day in 2009. I didn’t in my wildest dream anticipate that they would become my mentors in the MFA in creative writing program at City University of Hong Kong in 2010, and that I would use the same office that Xu Xi did throughout my 11-month Fulbright research period.


“It’s the Mecca of creative writing,” I heard myself volunteer the answer for an unasked question to colleagues and friends, when I chose University of Iowa as my Fulbright host.

By then, I had taught one of the very few creative writing courses in English in China since 2009, completed my training at City University of Hong Kong; I had learned the world wide impact of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop model in higher education in English-speaking countries, that Iowa City is the only American City of Literature, that the bookstore Prairie Lights where I had purchased a dozen craft books in 2009 is where writers want to give a reading, and that the International Writing Program has brought in more than 1400 writers from over 140 countries since 1967...

I simply need to come to Iowa City to bathe in creative writing, a term so new in China that I constantly had to explain it to people, to learn more about its teaching  to nurture my course, to be present in readings which I started at Sun Yat-sen University, a novelty that Chinese and international students have begun to enjoy ...



Fan Dai
Last blog date: Mar 18th, 2014


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