The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Reading beyond sushi into the world of Japan

The City of Literature will celebrate Japanese literature this week in a series of events.

By Levi Wright

[email protected]

This week marks the largest Japanese literary event to take place at the University of Iowa and in Lit City. “A Half-Century of Japanese Writers in Iowa,” funded by a Japan Foundation Institutional Support Grant, kicks off today with an opening reception and lectures on Kenji Nakagami, an influential Japanese writer. It will end on Thursday with a translation workshop.

Throughout the week, seven writers will get a chance to perform, read, and have roundtable discussions about their work.
The event is the beginning of a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the International Writing Program.

“[The International Writing Program] expands literary horizons,” IWP Director Christopher Merrill said. “It gives us a chance to find out about places we only occasionally read about, it makes the world at once more familiar and more strange.”

IWP has brought writers from all over the world to Iowa City, spreading cultural awareness on both sides. Iowa writers learn from foreign writers, while foreign writers learn from Iowans and take what they pick up with them when they leave.

“Our cultures aren’t actually separate, they’re related to each other, they’re next to each other, they’re integrating into one another,” IWP Associate Director Hugh Ferrer said. “So we have to do our best to comprehend how others comprehend.”

The week’s headliner is Gozo Yoshimasu, a Japanese poet who came to the IWP in 1971. His work spans generations of writers throughout half a century, and he is still active today.

“He writes about marginalized people in Japan who are marginalized by the Japanese, he writes about Native Americans who have been marginalized by North Americans in contemporary American culture, and he writes a lot about the dead,” said Forrest Gander, a translator for Yoshimasu’s work and a writer himself.

On Tuesday at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., Yoshimasu will read, along with his translators, from the English version of Alice Iris Red Horse. The book comprises a collection of poems spanning Yoshimasu’s half a century of poetry. It’s specially translated in order to not only convey the words but the feelings that they provoke. There are notes in the margins, depictions of sounds in the text, and some words that have no translation to English and remain in Japanese.

“It’s one thing to read a book, but it’s a glorious experience when you have the chance to see the writer in person, hear them tell their stories about how they composed a novel, or poem, or story, or a essay,” Merrill said. “It gives you insight to who they are and the nature of what the creative process is. So that tangible connection, I think, makes all the richer the experience of literary life.”

Those who are moved by the reading at Prairie lights can also see Yoshimasu perform at the Theater Building’s Theater B at 7 p.m. Wednesday. He will place a sheet on the ground and paint, accompanied by the Laptop Orchestra. Because Yoshimasu’s performances are continually changing, no one is sure what will happen, but the mystery is part of the fun in Yoshimasu’s work.

“What Gozo does is the instant, what’s going on right now, right here with the human beings who are here,” said Jean-Francois-Charles, the director of the Laptop Orchestra. “It’s another approach where you think about what’s going on with the artist and what the artist wishes.”

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