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Iowa City welcoming visitors from around the world

UNESCO Cities of Literature, wrestling World Cup converge on city

Shumpei Yamaki of West Branch, who will serve as the Japanese wrestling team’s ambassador during their time in Iowa City, holds up a Japanese flag as the team arrives for the United World Wrestling Freestyle World Cup at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, April 4, 2018. The Japanese team will have their first dual against Georgia on Saturday morning. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Shumpei Yamaki of West Branch, who will serve as the Japanese wrestling team’s ambassador during their time in Iowa City, holds up a Japanese flag as the team arrives for the United World Wrestling Freestyle World Cup at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, April 4, 2018. The Japanese team will have their first dual against Georgia on Saturday morning. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — People from around the world are converging on Iowa City this week for two very different reasons — writing and wrestling.

Iowa City is playing host to both the UNESCO Cities of Literature annual meeting going on through Friday and then the freestyle wrestling World Cup on Saturday and Sunday. More than 30 representatives from cities of literature across the globe are in town, and thousands are expected to attend the World Cup this weekend with seven international teams in addition to U.S. wrestlers competing.

“There’s never going to be a time like this in Iowa City’s history,” said Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s the two things that this community’s most known for internationally, which is our wrestling greatness and our writing heritage.”

In all, Schamberger said he expects about 25 different countries to be represented by people involved in these events this week. He said the bureau hired a company to record the events in Iowa City to produce a documentary short film.

“I want the two stories to run parallel and talk about the themes of acceptance and culture and Iowa,” he said.

The Cities of Literature meeting comes just months after President Donald Trump announced in October that the United Stated would pull out of UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural organization, by the end of 2018. But Iowa City has continued to operate as a UNESCO city, with a media release at the time citing the direct relationship Iowa City has with UNESCO. Seattle was named as this country’s second UNESCO City of Literature shortly after.

John Kenyon, executive director of Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, said he pitched Iowa City as the annual meeting spot to celebrate the city’s 10th anniversary of its designation. He said probably 23 of the world’s 28 Cities of Literature will be in attendance, as well as representatives of several other American UNESCO cities of disciplines like design or music.

None of the world’s Cities of Literature are included in the countries excluded under Trump’s travel ban.

Kenyon said he chose this week because it overlaps with the Mission Creek Festival, so plenty of cultural events would be happening.

“We wanted to have something really vibrant and cool going on so that our guests could see some literary programming going on in Iowa City,” Kenyon said, adding that other than a few logistical challenges like transportation and hotels, the events haven’t been a detriment to one another. “If anything, it’s really just kind of an amazing way to show how international Iowa City really is.”

Nancy Bird, executive director of the Iowa City Downtown District, said her organization has been working to make sure the downtown looks good for visitors.

“Our hotels are full and it’s a lot of visitation to the restaurants and the retailers, and not just downtown but through the larger community,” Bird said. “We’re hoping that the community really participates in some of these events, too, just to understand what a unique place they live in.”

While most of the UNESCO Cities of Literature meetings are closed to the public, one event is open to the community from 5:15 to 6 p.m. Thursday at Hancher Auditorium. As part of the Thursdays at Hancher program, a Cities of Literature panel will discuss innovative literature programming they have in their cities.

Additionally, spectators can attend the wrestling World Cup, which will include an Olympics-style opening ceremony Saturday.

Tickets can be found at worldcupiowacity.com/tickets. Schamberger said he expected 8,000 to 10,000 spectators.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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