The color of identity for Muslims


The Butterfly Mosque has been selected as the UI Center for Human Rights 2017 One Community, One Book selection. Wilson will speak at Hancher Auditorium on Oct. 8. Public book discussions will be scheduled around the community throughout the fall. Photo Illustration by James Year/The Daily Iowan

One Community, One Book brings discussions of Muslim identities to Iowa City.

By Denise Cheeseman

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G. Willow Wilson will soon be a household name in Iowa City.

The Ms. Marvel author’s memoir The Butterfly Mosque is the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights’ One Community, One Book selection for 2017.

The program, which envisions the majority of Johnson County reading the same book at the same time, has been running since 2001 and bringing the selected authors to campus since 2002, said UI Center for Human Rights programs coordinator Kathrina Litchfield.

Wilson will speak at Hancher on Oct. 8 as part of the Embracing Complexities Initiative. Her talk, “Superheroes for Generation Y,” will discuss “how the new generation of comic-book readers and writers are looking at identity and the way that they look at themselves in the context of greater society,” Hancher public engagement coordinator Chuy Renteria said. The event also overlaps with the beginning of the Iowa City Book Festival.

Litchfield said that The Butterfly Mosque was selected because of its quality and relevance to issues in today’s society.

“The Muslim identity is under attack right now in this country, and I think it’s really important that we provide as many opportunities for our community to consider a different story than the one the media’s trying to tell us about what it means to be Muslim, what it means to be brown, what it means to be different,” she said. “This memoir is the antiterrorism. It is a beautiful, peaceful story of a woman coming to her own conclusions about who she is and how she fits in the world.”

For much the same reasons, Hancher will host a range of Muslim artists over the next year for its Embracing Complexities series.

Renteria said Muslim identity in America and around the world is a complex conversation.

“It is really aptly titled with Embracing Complexity, because even in this community alone … there are all these different groups,” he said. “Even if you just identify as Muslim, within that are you somebody who’s a devout practitioner? Are you somebody who’s younger who’s trying to find their identity?”

Wilson converted to Islam later in life, Renteria said, which is inherently a different experience from some of the other artists coming to Hancher, who may have grown up around a mosque.

Micah James, the Hancher education manager, said these conversations lend themselves perfectly to the One Community One Book program.

“Being the book that everyone could be or should be reading at that time, gives the opportunity for conversation, for people to have a shared experience,” she said. “In a lot of ways that’s what it is to go to the performing arts: you’re sitting in this space, and you’re taking in this artist and this performance, at the same time you and whoever you’re with or whoever’s around you are bringing different things to it, but you’re all in the same place at the same time.”

The Butterfly Mosque is currently available at Prairie Lights, Iowa Book, the Hawk Shop, and the Iowa City, North Liberty, and Coralville Public Libraries.

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