The University of Iowa

When the Iowa City Book Festival started eight years ago, it was envisioned as a way to say thank you to the many volunteers who a few months earlier had helped the University of Iowa Main Library as the rising Iowa River moved closer to the building.

Volunteers filled sandbags, while others assembled inside, forming a human chain to pass books up from the library’s basement, moving them out of harm’s way. It’s a memory all too clear for Corridor residents as volunteers again help prepare for flood threats along the Cedar River to the north.

That first-ever Iowa City Book Festival started small. The one-day gathering of book lovers also helped celebrate Iowa City’s designation as an UNESCO City of Literature.

Since then, the festival has grown exponentially. The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature foundation took over administration of the festival four years ago, and it has grown to a six-day festival, with more than 100 presenters at more than 60 events held at venues around Iowa City and Coralville.

“It does seem to grow every year,” Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature Executive Director John Kenyon said. “Particularly this year, it has grown because we’ve taken on stronger partnerships with other entities in town.”

One of those partnerships is with Iowa City Hospice, who is helping bring author Angelo Volandes to discuss his book “The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan for End-of-Life Care.”

“It’s a chance for other entities in town to get authors in front of an audience, and it gets us a greater variety of writers,” Kenyon said. “It’s really a win for everyone.”

That great variety of writers includes producers of non-fiction, novels, poetry and more, with a mix of both local and international authors. Throughout the festival there will be numerous events happening at any one time. Festivalgoers can start the day Oct. 8, for example, by choosing between a children’s art workshop centered on “Don Quixote,” a bookmaking workshop, a live group reading of poetry, three different panel discussions or readings from seven different authors. All events throughout the week except a sold-out visit from young adult author Rick Riordan are free and open to the public.

Kenyon admits choosing what to attend can be hard.

“People will say there’s too much to choose from. Well, go to any amazing big festival and that’s the case. If that’s the problem we have, I can live with that,” Kenyon said.

The schedule and author bios are available at to help attendees narrow down what to attend. Kenyon said even he is having trouble choosing.

“That’s like asking me about a favorite child,” he said, when asked which events he’s especially excited about.

He did identify a few highlights, however: Writer Roxane Gay will receive the Paul Engle Prize at 7 p.m. Oct. 6 and then be interviewed by Iowa City writer Alea Adigweme. At 1 p.m. Oct. 8, Iowa native Nathan Hill, who once worked at The Gazette, will read from his critically acclaimed debut novel “The Nix.” And at 2 p.m. Oct. 9, Suki Kim will discuss “Without You There is No Us,” her memoir of teaching English in North Korea. Her discussion is in partnership with the UI Center for Human Rights that selected her book for this year’s One Community, One Book program.

In short — “We have some majorly talented writers talking about very compelling topics,” Kenyon said.

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