West of Eden

The Iowa Writers Workshop turns 75 this year, and a number of alumni will be writing about it. You can read all the essays as they come in here. IWW was the first creative writing program offered at an American university. Its alumni boasts three laureates and seventeen Pulitzers, and the program itself won the National Humanities Medal. Former faculty include Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Philip Roth, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell, and past students include Michael Cunningham, Nam Le, and Flannery O'Connor.

Marilynne Robinson (one of those Pulitzers) has been on the faculty for twenty years. In this lecture at Washington U, she gives a wry account of the contest between East and West in the United States:

"I find that the hardest work in the world— it may in fact be impossible—is to persuade easterners that growing up in the West is not intellectually crippling. On learning that I am from Idaho, people have not infrequently asked, 'Then how were you able to write a book?' Once or twice, when I felt cynical or lazy, I have replied, 'I went to Brown,' thinking that might appease them—only to be asked, 'How did you manage to get into Brown?'"

Iowa, being roughly in the middle, but still west of east, defies the preconception. It's a byword for culture, and its capital is a UNESCO City of Literature, rubes and all. I want to go to there.