Walk the James Alan McPherson Park

Yesterday, Sena and I visited the James Alan McPherson Park. The Iowa City Council renamed it in his honor last month; it was formerly called Creekside Park. There were compelling reasons for the name change. He was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his collection of short stories, Elbow Room in 1978, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968, was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995, and was a permanent faculty member for thirty years at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, among other notable career achievements. He was 72 when he died in 2016 of complications of pneumonia.

McPherson was a longtime resident of Iowa City and was revered by his students. Colleagues described him as the “moral center of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop” and even the “moral center of the world.” Despite his stunning achievements, he was shy and often barely spoke above a whisper in the classroom. He lived in the general neighborhood where the park is located. We never got a chance to meet him.

We are reading his books, though.

The park is located at 1878 Seventh Ave Ct and sits on a little over 2 acres. It was empty except for the occasional walker on the trail. People were friendly. It seems hardly distinguishable from the neighborhood surrounding it and blends into the homes, hugs the meandering creek and adjoining trail, and seems held in a protective embrace by the homes bordering it. A new park sign and a memorial plaque will be installed later this summer.

We saw a rich variety of birds, in fact more than we’ve seen in a while.

We get a sense that everyone is welcome there. There are 6 parking spaces. You can imagine that limited parking makes the place a treasured possession of the immediate neighborhood. But people we encounter there make us feel that it belongs to all of us. Even a sign leaning against a house alongside the trail made that clear. We’ll be back.

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