Like most university towns, Iowa City has some well-worn sidewalks in front of their bars. Downtown, which is really at the top of the hill, is lined with sandwich shops, sports bars, book stores and trendy clothing boutiques, all connected by one very traveled sidewalk. While sidewalks themselves don’t usually catch the attention of walkers unless they trip, the concrete slabs of Iowa City do. They’re lined with literary quotes and bronze bas relief art celebrating 49 authors with ties to the city.
I don’t think I noticed them the first time I attended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, an offshoot of the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But by my third time taking one of the famous summer classes, I was hooked. I walked up and down the sidewalks, photographing, reading and wishing I had a crayon and a big sheet of paper to make a rubbing.
The Literary Walk was dreamed up by the Iowa City Public Art Advisory Committee in 1999. After selecting the 49 authors to feature and artwork creation by New York City artist, Greg LeFevre, the literary walk was installed in 2001, making Iowa Avenue in Iowa City one great place for readers to take a stroll. Each of the 49 bronze panels are different, art meeting quote in a style only Iowa City can create. There are quotes from plays, memoirs, short stories and novels of authors with ties to the city.
Hamlin Garland‘s plaque has a night moon with eyes looking in from the dark. “The silence of the prairie at night was well-nigh terrible,” he wrote. W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, which was later made into the movie Field of Dreams has a plaque featuring a baseball field surrounded by corn. “Three years ago at dusk on a spring evening, when the sky was a robin’s-egg blue and the wind as soft as a day-old chick, I was sitting on the verandah of my farm home in eastern Iowa when a voice very clearly said to me, ‘If you build it, he will come.'”
Kurt Vonnegut, who taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, has a large round plaque. “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Flannery O’Connorconsidered herself a cartoonist before she was accepted as a student at Iowa City. Her plaque quotes Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. “Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.”
Whimsical curves stamped into the concrete between the plaques provide even more literary quotes, but those near higher traffic areas have word down, creating light shadows of words in the footpath.
I travel because I love the written word and the places, spaces and friends found in books. Iowa City’s impressions on me are as deep as the words carved into their sidewalks.
Learn more about Iowa City’s Literary Walk here.