Artists Imagine a Post-Pandemic Future through ECA’s International Writing Program

October 14, 2021

When the global pandemic halted in-person interactions, the team at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and the University of Iowa immediately began thinking through creative ideas to engage artists who were eager to participate in the International Writing Program (IWP). Through funding from ECA’s Arts Envoy Program, IWP piloted a series of virtual creative writing courses entitled “Crafting the Future: Writing and Workshopping in Speculative Forms”. 

The virtual course was created for artists to imaginatively construct a better future through creative writing. Participants ages 18-35 from Argentina, Bolivia, Ghana, Guatemala, Iraq, Mexico, Poland, and Russia attended four virtual writing workshops taught in English, Spanish, or bilingual English/Spanish.  The interactive sessions prompted the artists to share their work in a group setting, taking turns reading aloud and receiving feedback from peers and mentors.  They were taught by an all American teaching faculty including award-winning writers José Olivarez, Joyelle McSweeney, Sabrina Orah Mark, Juan Vitulli, Maria Melendez Kelson, Nisi Shawl, and Terese Svoboda.  

Participant Paolita Patino from Bolivia wrote a children’s story in Spanish.  A rough English translation, starting partway through can be found below:  

[… As I read I came to have more questions in a day than coins in my pockets.  Imagine how happy the big fish would be among the small fish and how sad the small fish would be among the big fish.  
Being so, I sighed. Since after that, many more questions arose. What if you are a large fish that looks like a small one, or if you are a small fish that looks like a large one? 

Who would be able to catalog them in a system as large as the ocean, or in this case, the fish tank? How does the fish know where it belongs if there are no mirrors in the ocean to see itself or a ruler to measure itself? 

Mama told me one day, people are not defined by their body size or by how they look, they are defined by their way of being and by what they give to others. 
After drowning in endless unsolved questions for a while, I was eventually able to get something clear: 
I concluded that in this fish tank called life, I could be the fish that I wanted. 

[This piece is] dedicated to all the fish that swim in this ecosystem we call life.] 

Crafting the Future Coordinator Alisa Weinstein said, “The feedback we received from writers in so many countries was very encouraging! The artists found inspiration to write during a time of isolation and way to share their work in a safe space. It also shifted their perspective on how to use their writing for social justice. It was just thrilling to see how well they supported each other.”   

Most importantly, participants also imagined new ways to use their writing: “Honestamente, el curso me ha dado mayor seguridad para escribir lo que deseo expresar, creo que además, me ha proporcionado una luz verde para usar la escritura y los distintos géneros narrativos para militar por la justicia social.” [Honestly, the course has given me more confidence to write what I want to express. I think that it has also given me a green light to marshal writing and the different narrative genres for social justice.] — 2020 Crafting the Future participant from Bolivia 

The mission of the International Writing Program, sponsored by ECA and implemented by the University of Iowa, is to promote mutual understanding by providing writers from every part of the world the necessary space, physical or imaginative, for creative work and collaboration in an intercultural setting. To learn more about the program visit,

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