Iowa City, IA

Iowa City Park Renamed for Pulitzer Prize-winning Black Author

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The Iowa City Council renamed the Creekside Park after one of Iowa’s renowned authors, the late James Alan McPherson. Mr. McPherson was born on September 16, 1943 in Savannah, Georgia. Being an Iowa City resident and professor at the University of Iowa, he was the first African-American author to receive the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for his short story Elbow Room.

About the Author

He hailed from a low-income family. His father was an alcoholic and he had to forcefully take many hardworking jobs in his childhood days to help his mother. Over time, this famous writer even worked as a doorkeeper or janitor to support his family. He mentioned all of these childhood hard days in his essay, “Going Up To Atlanta”.

In the year 1967, he attended Harvard Law School. While pursuing his LLB degree, he studied fictional writing with Alan Lebowitz and published the short story ”Gold Coast” in the Atlantic Magazine, which brought him a public appreciation for the first time. Apart from holding a degree from Harvard University, Mr. McPherson held degrees from Morris Brown College and Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In the year 1971, he received the Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A) award from the Iowa Writers' Workshop only.

The author received Pulitzer award in 1978. Besides, Mr. McPherson was one of the recipients of the MacArthur Fellows Program (unofficially known as “Genius Grant”) in 1981. Later in 1995, he was a part of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. McPheron was from Georgia. But, he lived for decades in Iowa till his death in 2016. The author died at 72 years of age, majorly due to respiratory complications.

Mr. MacArthur’s writings were mainly based on human sufferings due to poverty, the exploitation of race, class, and community. In his writings, every differentiation of human society based on the human race and skin color is stylistically explained with humor.

When did the Idea to Change the Name Occur?

The idea for changing the name of the park first came when a group of civil right activist, Iowa Freedom Riders suggested renaming Wetherby Park as “Black Lives Matter Park”. After this incident, at least 15 residents of the city suggested the local council to rename Creekside Park as James Alan McPherson Park. Once suggested, both city mayor Bruce Teague and council member Pauline Taylor promptly backed the same.

Simultaneously it was discussed with Mr. McPherson’s daughter Rachel earlier this year during a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission, Iowa City. She was very happy for this honor to his father as in her own words she said, “It was a beautiful moment of community respect”.

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Things You Need to Know About the Park

Located at 1858 7th Avenue Court, the park has amenities like playground, basketball courts, restroom, community orchard, and shelter. Spread on 2.3 acres of land, all of these current amenities were renovated by the commission in 2020 only. Now the question is, why Creekside Park was selected to rename among more than 20 parks within the city limit. This was answered by the Director of Parks & Recreation Commission, Juli Johnson. According to her, the commission evaluated numerous parks while assessing which one to name after the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

Along with Creekside Park, popular city parks like Weatherby Roger’s Green and Riverfront Crossings were considered as well in the final list. In an email of Johnson, she remarks that Wetherby Park was already honored in the name of an artist and early photographer, Issac A. Wetherby. And the reason why Creekside was finalized because Mr. McPheron lived in a neighborhood where the park is located and concurrently, it had a more generic name.

Johnson also added that with the name change process, a new sign will also be placed into the park in the next few months. The name of the famous fictional writer will be scripted on it. Later plans are also there to organize neighborhood residents’ meetings along with family and friends of Mr. McPheron’s, mainly to share ideas of planning illustrative signage boards in the park.

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