Award-winning author, UI professor draws inspiration from Iowa City community

Winning the most prestigious literature award for her first novel, Hispanic studies Professor Ana Merino reflects on her love for Iowa City’s culture and its influence on her accomplishments.


Ryan Adams

Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Ana Merino poses for a portrait in her Phillips Hall office on Tuesday. Merino recently won the Premio Nadal for her book, El mapa de los afectos.

Rachel Schilke, News Reporter

University of Iowa Professor Latina Ana Merino was awarded the most prestigious literature award in Spain in honor of her novel El mapa de los afectos, translated to the “map of affections.”

The Premio Nadal is the oldest literary prize that is awarded in Spain, dating back to 1944.

Originally from Spain, Merino said she finds the Midwest distinctive culture from other places she has lived in the U.S. over the last 25 years.

“You think, ‘Oh, it’s just a rural area,’ but Iowa has a special beauty to it,” Merino said. “It has a special sense of place and time, and that makes it very inspiring.”

Iowa City’s “perspective of inspiration” influenced her award-winning novel, providing a universal setting that would reflect how she felt about the Midwest.

“This novel reflects my understanding of my American experience,” Merino said. “The meaning is linked with the Midwest and with Iowa.”

This is not the first award Merino has accepted. She has won awards for various academic and creative achievements. In 1994, Merino was given the Premio Adonais, the most prestigious Spanish poetry award, by Ediciones RIALP, a poetry publication organization founded in Madrid in 1949.

Merino is the only recipient in history to be honored with both awards.

She said her novel is a makeup of human emotions and the meaning of being human, and writing’s societal impact.

“Creative writing is the key to understanding the human condition,” Merino said. “I’ve been very involved with the concept of community, society, education, and literature. These all give meaning to the human condition.”

Merino said her writing is a source of comfort when developing her ideas.

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“I can speak about the world I feel,” Merino said. “I like to read, to write and to share, because I am a teacher as well.”

Merino’s skills extend beyond the creative scene. In 2009, she left Dartmouth College to create the Spanish M.F.A. program at the UI, serving as its director until 2018.

When her term of director ended, Merino said she felt confident the program would live on because of how much work she put into developing the program.

“I was able to pass the torch,” Merino said. “When you develop a program, it’s good that other people also learn and take responsibility. The idea of creating a program is that it lasts forever and goes through new directors and new styles.”

Spanish and Portuguese Departmental Executive Officer Denise Filios said that Merino’s experience and ability to create the program from the ground up was a significant accomplishment.

“She created a very rigorous, yet also attractive and very doable program,” Filios said. “She is so innovative as a teacher and is dedicated to student learning. It is so important to her to create opportunities for students, whether they are undergraduate, graduate, international or not.”

UI International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill said the program is a testament to Merino’s success.

“Our M.F.A. program has become one of the best in the country, and I feel like this is embodied in everything she writes,” Merrill said.

Along with being an accomplished writer, Merino said she is an expert in comics and graphic novels, as well as a professor of Hispanic studies. Balancing an academic and creative career is no small feat, but Filios feels it is an important component of who Merino is.

“What makes Ana really unique is she is both completely a research scholar and a high-profile creative writer,” Filios said. “To have such a high achievement in so many different areas, it really shows a high level of accomplishment.”

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