Monday, August 21, 2023

At last! On Friday, September 22, the NWP will hold a formal dedication of its brand-new building. The ceremony will feature speeches by the University of Iowa President, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a student representative, and the Nonfiction Writing Program’s Director. The dedication will be followed by a reception hosted in the President’s home.

The following morning, in a more intimate event featuring current students, faculty, and local alum, the building’s Carl Klaus Garden will be dedicated with the help of NWP alum John T. Price and Carl’s longtime partner, Jackie Blank. NWP alum Ryan Van Meter will also be on hand to help dedicate the program’s new handmade podium, a collaborative art project designed by a local blacksmith and woodcarver, and made to honor Emeritus Professor Susan Lohafer, who will also be on hand for the celebration.

So, how did the NWP House project begin? What is the building’s origin story? Read on!

A (Brief) History of the (very new) NWP House

Little known fact: the NWP was slated to secure its own building back in 2008. But in May of that year, Iowa City and the University’s campus were hit by a historic flood, which devastated the entire arts campus on the west side of the river, forcing the University to condemn Hancher Auditorium, the Museum of Art, the School of Music, and the School of Art.

Consequently, housing those hundreds of displaced students and faculty became the University’s top priority, thus putting the NWP’s dream of securing a building of its own on hold until four new academic facilities could be constructed. It wasn’t until ground broke on the University’s new Stanley Museum of Art that the NWP could remind University officials about its need for a building.

By that point, ten years had passed, and many of the houses that had been in consideration for the NWP had either been sold or become unviable in other ways.

So the NWP’s director spearheaded a massive fundraising campaign in 2018, hoping to raise enough money to allow the program to build a new facility from scratch. This involved a complex series of events—a tale that involves a Broadway play, Daniel Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale, and other plot twists.

And in the end, the NWP raised 100% of what it needed to build and furnish the new house, making it the first structure on the University of Iowa campus to be funded entirely by private donations. Most proudly however, the NWP’s new building attracted the financial support of close to 70% of all alum, an incredible level of participation by any standards.

Its Design

In terms of the building’s design, the architect (who is married to a writer) wanted to pay tribute to what he called “the hard facts” of nonfiction, which is why the building’s materials are stone and steel.

But despite those hard facts, you’ll notice that the whole structure is also cantilevered, north to south, as if those "hard facts" have been taken and twisted slightly out of whack.

Featuring a large bright lounge housing the NWP alumni book archive, two high-tech seminar rooms, a start-of-the-art digital storytelling lab, and graduate student office space, the building’s features can be seen in greater depth online. Or, join us at its opening on Friday, September 22 so you can see it yourself!