Iowa City, Iowa – Iowa Avenue

Main Streets 2016: Iowa

Home to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop since 1936, Iowa City has such a unique place in American literary history that it’s the only U.S. community so far named a UNESCO City of Literature. It joins Edinburgh, Dublin, Prague and others as one of just 20 Cities of Literature worldwide. You can appreciate what led to this honor just by walking along Iowa Avenue.

The Iowa Avenue Literary Walk is a series of bronze relief panels set into the pavement on both sides of this broad, pedestrian-friendly avenue. The panels feature passages from the work of 49 authors who have lived in the city or studied at the Writers’ Workshop. Spotlighting adult and children’s fiction, plays and memoirs, the panels also give brief biographical information. The Literary Walk honors writers as diverse as Robert Frost, Kurt Vonnegut, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor and W.P. Kinsella, whose novel, “Shoeless Joe,” was adapted into “Field of Dreams,” probably the best-known film set in this state.

You’ll find the plaques between Clinton and Gilbert streets just east of the Pentacrest, a park-like square whose broad lawns surround the Old Capitol, a National Historic Landmark. The Old Capitol dominates vistas along the avenue; its dome is the University of Iowa’s logo, and the building today houses a museum of state and university history. Also located on the Pentacrest is the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, the oldest university museum west of the Mississippi.

Iowa Avenue leads both east and west from the Pentacrest, through the heart of downtown. It offers taphouses and taverns, ethnic eateries and nightspots, and shopping, and the downtown district is alive with attractions — art galleries, theaters and music venues. Special events here include sidewalk sales, summer and holiday festivals, food and wine events, FlyOver Fashion Fest in May, Taste of Iowa City in August and a Downtown Gallery Walk that takes place three times a year. October brings the six-day Iowa City Book Festival, when some 100 authors and 4,000 book lovers enjoy readings, discussions and other events in and around downtown.

The city’s economy is healthy, with the university and its hospital system the leading local employer. The quality of life here is high — so much so that in 2004, Forbes rated Iowa City as the third “Best Small Metropolitan Area in the U.S.” Two years later, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance ranked the city tenth among its “Top 50 Smart Places to Live.”

Street photo courtesy of Think Confluence
All other photos courtesy of Justin Torner