Participants of the workshop "Write at The Stanley" meeting in the visual classroom.

Nestled in the heart of Iowa City, a city renowned for its literary prowess and vibrant arts scene, the Stanley Museum of Art is more than just a repository of stunning artworks. It is a community space where creative minds collide, fostering both artistic and literary expression. 

Recognizing the city's deep-rooted love for both art and writing, the museum offers a unique opportunity to combine both passions through Write at the Stanley, co-sponsored by Iowa City Poetry. 

This monthly workshop series explores different approaches to ekphrastic writing, the art of creative writing inspired by visual art. The Stanley, with its stunning collection of art, provides the perfect backdrop for this form of expression. Surrounded by masterpieces, writers can engage with the art, delve into their thoughts, and leave with the beginnings of their very own piece. 

Each workshop is led by a different talented writer, offering fresh prompts and approaches to ekphrastic writing. This format keeps things exciting and encourages writers to explore new styles and perspectives.


Workshop participant Jennifer MacBain-Stephens stands in front of Estuary #2 by Tadashi Sato which inspired her piece.

Inspired Writers

Jennifer MacBain-Stephens, a regular attendee, finds the workshops a source of continuous discovery and inspiration. 

"Every month is different," she says, " Even if I know the art well, I always end up discovering something new and come away with a new poem or idea. For today, Lisa Roberts from Iowa City Poetry had us find inspiration through putting the 'I' into our work. How can we insert ourselves into the art? We read some examples by Frank O'Hara and Grace Bauer ahead of time."

Her poem, inspired by Estuary #2 by Tadashi Sato, captures the subtleties of the artwork.


On Estuary #2, by Tadashi Sato
(revealing how rocks disrupt water)

 I carry my rocks inside.

The way in, too quiet: an end, the lapping of water, a start.

A ghost story and a love story: same difference.

We like to say dead body but we never say live body.

My pressure points, repetitive, no heat; life has left this canvas.

Water sputters, drowns us all, beckons the birds to visit. 

The clouds fall.

I want to flee, seek out the color orange, a dry square room,

wrap this weighted blanket around someone else’s body, so it 

won’t find me. I fail.

I am under the body. I sleep. I wake under the body,

I forget my temples, a gravy of detritus rapping to get in.

The gray water comes, not like a friend.

Twigs, moss, water bugs, plastic, the sheer volume of it all

because: physics.

I have no natural environment.

I am a natural environment.

I am a body.

I am under a body.

I am the body that I am under. 


Christine Norquest appreciates the quiet time the workshop provides for reflection. “I enjoy the whole structure of the workshop,” she shares, “From the presenter's remarks and guidance at the start to hearing other attendees' drafts at the end. I leave feeling very connected to a piece that I might otherwise have glanced at, appreciated in some way, and moved on.”

Her writing, inspired by C13-97, reflects on the artwork's pigments and brushstrokes which evokes a sense of personal connection.

Writing workshop participant Christine Norquest sits in front of C13-97 by Manijeh Yadegar Hall as she writes.


It had an innocuous name, generic, scientific almost, or sterile.

But the canvas was painted fully

Brown to start, a rich shade and red, the colors of primordial life,

Of earth mixed with blood.

At first sight, the movement of white brush strokes

Atop breathing brown

Evokes water catching the light of the sun.

Or perhaps I see planks whitewashed by rote like Aunt Polly’s fence,

Assimilated lumber made more presentable now.

But we all still know that fence is made of wood.

Step into the river and your toes find mud.

Catalog display of "In a Time of Witness"

From Inspiration to Publication

The impact of Write at the Stanley extends beyond individual workshops. The museum's recent publication, In a Time of Witness, showcases original poems and stories inspired by its collection. This catalog features renowned alumni from the University of Iowa's prestigious writing programs, including Pulitzer Prize winners and National Medal recipients, cementing the strong connection between the literary and artistic communities.

Join this thriving community of writers and artists! Write at the Stanley meets every fourth Sunday of the month and welcomes everyone, regardless of genre or experience. Grab your notebook and pen and sign up for the next workshop. Click here to register for the latest workshop.

Estuary #2, Tadashi Sato, 1959, oil on canvas. Gift of Owen and Leone Elliot, 1968.52.
C13-97, Manijeh Yadegar Hall, 1997, oil on canvas. Gift of Nigel Hall. On loan from the University of Iowa College of Nursing.