Nation's sole 'UNESCO' city will stay in program despite United - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Nation's sole 'UNESCO' city will stay in program despite United States withdrawal

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

Iowa City is one of only 20 cities in the world named as an 'UNESCO City of Literature' and the only city in the nation.

The United States announced it would withdraw from UNESCO, a United Nations creative program, citing "anti-Israel bias" and a need for "fundamental reform" as among the reasons. 

The program's main purpose is to promote nations working together through education and culture.

But, problems between the U.S. and UNESCO started back in 2011 when Palestine was recognized as a member state. Following the decision, the United States stopped paying dues to the organization.

Home of the Writer's Workshop and International Writer's Program, Iowa City was named an UNESCO city in 2008. It was the third city in the world to earn the honor. Today, 20 cities make the list, but, Iowa City is the only one in the country.

"It allows us to tell our story international. Anybody who knows anything about literature, they know about Iowa City," says John Kenyon, executive director of the UNESCO City of Literature in Iowa City.

Kenyon said the announcement comes as shock, especially considering it comes in the middle of one of their annual UNESCO events, the Iowa City Book Festival, which runs through Sunday. He said he found the decision disappointing.

"We also interact with those other cities of literature and other members of that network throughout the course of the year so we're constantly getting ideas for ways that we can approve the literary culture here or finding ways to send our writers abroad or to bring other writers here," Kenyon said.

He said it's still unknown how this will effect Iowa City, but he said he doesn't expect much of a change and they will still continue to be considered an UNESCO city. 

"Our designation comes directly from UNESCO. It's a relationship between our city and UNESCO. UNESCO isn't going away," Kenyon said.

Kenyon said he couldn't speak to the decisions of the United States to pull out.

"I let the people in Washington D.C. handle the politics," Kenyon said. "We just handle promoting books and writing and literary things."

Prior, Iowa City was scheduled to be the host of the 2018 annual UNESCO Cities of Literature meeting, in honor of it's 10th anniversary. Kenyon said that meeting will continue as planned.

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