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This article is taken from PN Review 266, Volume 48 Number 6, July - August 2022.

Pioneers: The Iowa Writers' Workshop Tony Roberts
‘We were pioneers, but did not know it’, wrote author James B. Hall of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the early fifties. It offered graduate fiction and poetry writing classes and its visiting faculty included John Berryman, Robert Lowell and Karl Shapiro, with appearances by Randall Jarrell, Dylan Thomas, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate and John Ciardi. These poets–several still building reputations in their late thirties – had in their classes some of the finest of the next generation of poet-teachers: Donald Justice, W. D. Snodgrass, Philip Levine, William Stafford, Jane Cooper, Robert Dana, Henri Coulette, William Dickey and others. The memories of that time and place of this younger generation, entertaining in themselves, are also illustrative of the nature of creative influence.

The founding director of the writers’ programme had been Wilbur Schramm, but its fame resulted from Paul Engle’s tireless efforts between 1941 and 1965. A native of Iowa and an alumnus of the university, Engle explained that it took imagination on the part of the university to invest in creative writing. After all, this was the first postgraduate writing degree on offer in America. In fact according to poet Robert Dana, an M.A. student there, ‘in the 1950s, the writing program played no great role at the university. Kept on a short leash by a skeptical administration, it had at most only two or three assistantships to offer. It was a lean operation in lean times.’ Warren Carrier, who taught there at the time, pointed to conflicts between the ‘scholarly’ members ...


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