International Writing Program launches project to cultivate creative careers for emerging writers

For the next six months, 16 emerging female writers from all over the world will work with IWP alumni to establish their craft and careers through the Women’s Creative Mentorship Project.


Joseph Cress

The Shambaugh House on Clinton Street on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. Merrill is the author of an award winning series of poems. The house is the home to the International Writing Program.

Kinsey Phipps, News Reporter

From Iowa City to Italy to South America to Africa, 16 emerging female writers are on a six-month journey to kick-start their creative careers.

The Women’s Creative Mentorship Project is a collaboration between the University of Iowa International Writing Program and the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to provide a mentorship between established and emerging female writers.

The bureau contacted the IWP to develop the pilot project. Director Christopher Merrill and program-development coordinator Cate Dicharry were excited about the idea. They contacted eight alumnae of the IWP’s fall residency program to become mentors, Merrill said.

“We like to reach out to our alum[s] as much as possible through projects as they arrive,” Merrill said. “We are hoping to cultivate writing at all stations of creation. It’s a part of our effort to not only maintain contact with our alums but develop connections between the IWP and writers all over the world.”

Once they chose the mentors, Merrill and Dicharry asked them to find potential writers from their home countries to be mentees. The IWP also worked with different embassies and had applications to choose the 16 participants, Merrill said.

The women represent Somalia, Italy, Mauritius, Colombia, Argentina, Kenya, South Africa, Mexico, and Botswana. All 24 traveled to Portland, Oregon, on March 27-30 for the 2019 Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference, Dicharry said.

One of two mentees from Colombia is Paula Silva.

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“During the four days of my stay in Portland, I learned how to stop wincing and panicking before answering the question of whether I was a writer and slowly accepting that I am,” she said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “I came back feeling like writing is truly my life’s calling, and I’ve come back with full segments of my book demanding to be written immediately. Being part of this project allowed me to move from avoiding my writing to fully embracing it.”

The conference allowed the cohort to formally meet, listen to authors and publishers speak, and make connections, Dicharry said. Afterward, they traveled home to begin the six-month journey. Right now, participants are focusing on building a successful relationships with their mentors.

In September, when the project ends, the women will have a specific project to show. Dicharry said she appreciates the freedom given to participants to develop their writing in any genre they’re passionate about, whether that is poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or plays.

“I think it’s really important, because it’s really carefully designed to help established careers where there weren’t careers before,” Dicharry said. “We think about the creative craft practice and the business side of writing such as publication and professional ambition.”

Depending on the success of the project, it could continue in future years, Merrill said. For now, the IWP is focused on developing the 16 emerging writers’ craft and careers.

“My dream is to see women who may not have the same access to opportunities, because of this program, the people they meet, the guidance they get, [are] able to pursue a creative career,” Dicharry said. “It’s a program that’s really designed to give voice to writers who may not find themselves always having access to that kind of opportunity. I hope this project will continue to think about groups who don’t have the same access to a voice.”