Poet and nonfiction writer Christopher Merrill is the director of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. He sat down for this On the Fly interview in 2011.
Merrill discusses the musical aspect of his poetry, his time in the besieged city of Sarajevo “caught up in the lives of people who were in every possible way trying to live through something unimaginable,” and his “sense as a nonfiction writer that I’m trying to do some of things that fiction writers do.” He also reflects on the tendency of the words “distance” and “until” to crop up in his work, as well as the “deep spiritual component” of writing.
Merrill’s poetry collections include Watch Fire (1995), Necessities (2013), and Boat (2014). His nonfiction work includes, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars (2001), Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain (2005), and The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War (2011). Merrill serves on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. Under the auspices of the U.S. State Department, he has conducted cultural diplomacy missions in more than thirty countries. In 2012, Merrill was appointed to the National Council on the Humanities by President Obama.