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A publication of Humanities Iowa  • Winter 2011


Join other Iowans and support Humanities Iowa!

HI Board of Directors President


Speaker’s Bureau Update


Poet Enhancement Fund


More than Words


The Only One exhibit


Telling: Iowa City

Fiona Valentine, Sioux City





Telling: Iowa City & Grants



Tim Johnson, Washington


Barb O’Hea, Peosta vol. xv no.


Voices from the Prairie

is published three times a year and distributed to the friends of Humanities Iowa and interested Iowans. To subscribe please contact us: ADDRESS: Humanities Iowa

100 LIB Rm 4039 Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1420 phone: (319) 335-4153 fax: (319) 335-4154

Mission Statement

The mission of Humanities Iowa is to promote understanding and appreciation of the people, communities, cultures, and stories of importance to Iowa and the nation.

Humanities Iowa is a nonprofit organization funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Sue Cosner, Panora


Jeff Heland, Burlington

Past President

George Barlow, Grinnell Graciela Caneiro-Livingston, Dubuque Thomas Dean, Iowa City Mark Felderman, Chariton Kate Gronstal, Council Bluffs Ken Lyftogt, Cedar Falls Sam Mulgrew, Peosta Sally Phelps, Spencer Dick Ramsay, Spirit Lake Mariana Sandquist, Johnston Linda Shenk, Ames Steve Siegel, Ottumwa Dorothy Simpson-Taylor, Waterloo Rosemarie Ward, Okoboji

HI Staff Christopher Rossi, Executive Director Heather Plucar, Administrative/ Development Officer Cheryl Walsh, Grants Director Steven Semken, Voices from the Prairie, editor

Join other Iowans and support Humanities Iowa. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Humanities Iowa also accepts gifts of stock or securities. To make a donation or receive more information please contact our office at 319-335-4153, at, or through our website at Humanities Iowa is having an open call for new board nominations. We welcome nominations for board members at any time. Please call or email with nominations. 2


Follow Humanities Iowa like never before! Join us on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. It’s easy: Get tweets on events and news @ View our Facebook page @ Check out our UNESCO City of Literature author interview partnership and other HI events on YouTube @ And of course find news and information on speakers, library programs, and other ways to get involved with Humanities Iowa on our home page @ About the Cover: David Plowden, born October 9, 1932, is an American photographer known for his historical documentary photography of urban cities, steam trains, American farmlands, and small towns. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968. Join other Iowans and support Humanities Iowa!

New Humanities Iowa Speakers Bureau Member David Connon, Earlham, Iowa

is employed by Living History Farms as a historical interpreter. He also works as a substitute teacher. He has a master’s degree in education from Northern Illinois University. His wife is an Iowa native whose great-great-great-grandfather died on Sherman’s March to the Sea. Connon moved to Poweshiek County in 2000. Knowing of Grinnell’s abolitionist history, he was intrigued that their first riot occurred over fugitive slaves in the public school—about a year before Fort Sumter. He next studied Copperheads in strongly Republican and pro-Union Poweshiek County. Some 50 desperate residents vowed in mid-1864 not to submit to a draft. When three of them were actually drafted, homegrown bushwhackers murdered two deputy federal marshals. This event prompted the question: Did any Iowa residents make the ultimate protest and “go South” to serve the Confederacy? Speaker Topic: Iowans who fought against the Union Most Iowans think that Iowa was solidly pro-Union during the Civil War. After all, some 75,000 residents fought for the North. In reality, many Iowa Democrats formed a spectrum of dissent. The majority of Democrats opposed abolishing slavery (and yet favored the Union war effort); the minority sympathized with the Confederacy. Of this group, at least 25 Iowa residents served the Confederacy. This talk will focus on five of them. Connon will explore their motivations and describe their pre-war, war-time, and post-war experiences. He will also explore why their stories have been largely unknown for the past 150 years. h With over forty speakers to choose from, find out more about the Speakers Bureau at Humanities Iowa. Our speakers bring insightful lectures and programs in the humanities to various organizations in Iowa including: senior centers, museums, libraries, businesses, other organizations. The most common topics covered by our humanities speakers include: politics, literature, folklore, and Iowa history. Find out more on our website



Iowa Poet Laureate Enhancement Fund Humanities Iowa needs your help to enhance the outreach and programming provided by Iowa’s poet laureate. Humanities Iowa understands how important your donation is and has established the Iowa Poet Laureate Enhancement Fund which will match one dollar for every two donated up to $10,000. At present, the position of Iowa poet laureate is strictly honorary and receives no stipend. This limits the extent of poetry outreach and advocacy that the laureate can perform. Humanities Iowa seeks gifts to support, strengthen, and extend the activities of the poet laureate. Your donation will support programs such as readings, workshops and performances in public libraries, schools, retirement communities, and hospitals, among many others. Humanities Iowa welcomes gifts of all kinds and at all levels to expand the impact of the poet laureate position in the cultural life of the state. By contributing to the Iowa Poet Laureate Enhancement Fund, you’ll be recognized as a donor. You’ll also enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that your generosity is promoting poetry and creative writing throughout the state of Iowa. Your tax deductible donations can be made via check and mailed to Humanities Iowa, 100 Library Room 4039, Iowa City, IA 52242 or via credit card. Iowa publisher Ice Cube Press is contributing to the fund, 50% of all proceeds on sales of An Endless Skyway: Poetry from the State Poets Laureate during the remainder of the year. Find this book at booksellers, or contact Humanities Iowa to get a copy.

A glimpse at what a state poet laureate does What a poet laureate does varies. Poems can be vehicles to engage and interact with all types of people in all sorts of ways. Mary Swander (left) has utilized her position to increase awareness about disabilities in Iowa by creating two “More than Words” performances in collaboration with the Iowa Department of the Blind, Des Moines Art Museum, and Iowa State University students. These events tied education, disabilities, art, community, and poetry together. We explore this event on the following pages. 4

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More than Words: Poetry, Mary Swander, and the Iowa Department for the Blind.

An Interview with Shoshana Hebshi-Holt. Shoshana worked as the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Public Information Officer from 2009-2011. In this role, she was the lead coordinator for the two events with Mary. She acted as the liaison between the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB), Mary, and the Des Moines Art Center, and helped shape the creation and vision of the exhibit. First off, how did Mary contact you about doing an event with the blind? Any reasons she gave? Or did you all contact her? Mary first came to the Department to do a reading of her then-new book The Girls on the Roof for an event put on by the Friends of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. A few of us took her out to dinner before the reading, and a question was posed to Mary, or rather, it became a challenge, “How do you make poetry fully accessible to the blind?” It was an interesting concept to pose, because poetry is not inaccessible in a sense; a blind person can read a poem in Braille or listen to a poem being read aloud. Mary took on the challenge to create a sensory poetry experience. She went back to her undergraduate poetry class at Iowa State and had her students create art to accompany an original poem. It became their class final, and they performed their works in front of an audience at the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in December 2009. In 2010, when we worked together on this project, it morphed a bit, by adding the Des Moines Art Center into the picture. The IDB had worked with the art center previously in training docents to lead tours of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park for blind and visually impaired people, and we had the idea to

Iowa poet laureate Mary Swander (right), and poetry students at Iowa State University kicked off an exhibit of original “accessible” poetry at the Department for the Blind. (Photo reprinted with permission of the Department for the Blind.)

take it up a notch. The Department invited Mary’s class to Des Moines for a Q&A with two of our blind employees about what it’s like to be blind, and then after a quick training with blindfolds and white canes, the students were bused to the sculpture park, where several docents led tours to the blindfolded students. They were able to experience the park completely tactilely, and they went back to Ames and wrote poems describing their experiences. The students then performed their poems in the auditorium at the Des Moines Art Center, which was accompanied by photos of the sculptures and miniature models the Department created of about a dozen of the sculptures to have on display at the Art Center. The poems were also recorded and transcribed into Braille to accompany the mini sculptures (maquettes). They were on display at the Des Moines Art Center for a month and then in the Parks Library at Iowa State for another month. In some ways poetry is a natural choice to share with the blind, or was it? Were there any concerns? Surprises? Well, poetry, like any art form always has surprises. What Mary did was to tap into the creativity of her students, put them in an unfamiliar 5

territory, and ask them to create something outside of their comfort zone. Many of the students came away thinking it was one of the most rewarding academic experiences they had had. Some of the poems during the second year were absolutely beautiful and touching. It was a great way to enhance an educational experience about art, creativity, and disabilities, all for which Mary is an advocate. The blind people who were in the audience were impressed by much of what they heard from the students. What was different about the poetry? The poets? What were the responses to reading, hearing, or presenting the poetry? The poems reflected the students’ experiences entering into this “blind world.” Some were funny, some were silly and some were truly emotionally astounding. It was clear that the majority of Mary’s students enjoyed the process and got a lot out of it. The form of poetry lends itself to emotional expression, and this was such a journey for many of the students, that it really was a good form for expression. How did Mary’s role as the state poet change the event? Add value? Influence involvement? Being the Iowa poet laureate adds credibility, of course, on one level. And Mary said from the beginning she wanted to make disability awareness one of her platforms during her time as poet laureate. But she is such an accomplished and wonderful writer and teacher in her own right, that it really would not have mattered if she had not had that title. She brings an incredible amount of creativity, passion, and experience to the table, and it was such a pleasure to work with her and her students. It made my job really fun. However, being poet laureate gives the project a wider audience and platform on which to grow. She


can use her title and influence to spread the word about the benefits of this kind of collaboration and learning process. What do you think are the values of having a state poet laureate in Iowa? Recognizing a poet laureate announces that the state—and therefore the people—regard poetry as an important aspect of our society. Government is not all about budgets, bills, and elections. It has the opportunity to promote the things that cater to our humanity: the arts and letters. Without support of this part of our world—the expressive, creative, and emotional part—it would be so dull and restrictive. Life is a balance between creativity and practicality, and it fuels our human experience to witness or create art in any of its forms. Just like public art—statues, monuments, murals—a poet laureate position is an important part of celebrating and supporting our humanity. Have there been any long-lasting results from this event, anything that you’d like to share about poetry and the blind that you learned or think people may not be aware of? It’s hard to say because I don’t work at the Department any more, but I know that those who participated in the project will carry that experience with them through their lives—especially the students. I know the current head librarian—Randy Landgrebe—has been working to spread the poetry and sculpture exhibit around the state to other public libraries. I believe it was in Newton, Iowa, last. For me, I will always remember it as a very rewarding and enriching experience. It was fantastic to see the students learn so much in such an nontraditional way, and it was such an interesting way to promote awareness about disabilities. I think that the greater public would benefit very much from experiencing the exhibit. h

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The Only One exhibits The Johnson County Historical Society (JCHS) and the African American Museum of Iowa are collaborating on a new exhibit, The Only One, which focuses on the experience of being a minority in Iowa through the use of photographs and oral histories. The exhibits will run through 2012. This exhibit received a grant from Humanities Iowa. Here are a few thoughts on the exhibits with Leigh Ann Randak who has been at JCHS since 1996. She is a native Iowan and grew up in Marshalltown. What inspired The Only One exhibit? The idea of the exhibit actually came from one of the project advisory committee members, James Hicks. Mr. Hicks is an Iowa City collector of African American memorabilia and portions of his collections have been exhibited at different times at the JCHS museum and at the African American Museum of Iowa. He has collected numerous group photos with one African American as a member and he started pondering to himself, what it might be like for the person in the photo. He started looking at body language and facial expressions in the photos to see if there were any clues to what the experience might be like. His suggestion made us think of all the photos in museum collections large and small that document how common this experience was/ is in Iowa. It seemed only natural to partner with the African American Museum on this project. It has developed into what is really two exhibits—one at the African American Museum of Iowa opening January 14 (Cedar Rapids) and one at the JCHS museum which is opening January 19 (Coralville). The displays will be up for most of 2012.

University High School Varsity Basketball team, Iowa City, 1927, Johnson County Historical Society Collection.

has been positive and sometimes not so much. The exhibit invites visitors to think about their only one experiences in order to help them relate to some of the experiences and challenges of African Americans and other minority groups in Iowa. We hope the exhibits will help to illustrate for visitors the complex history of race relations in Iowa communities. In addition, race and ethnicity are not the sole characteristics that create only one experiences so we hope that the exhibits may also provide references, frameworks, and inspiration for the future of striving to be a more inclusive society. What will surprise people about this exhibit? There are a lot of photos in these exhibits and they span a large part of Iowa’s history. The newest photo in the exhibit is 2011. The Only One experience continues to be a common one for African Americans in Iowa. We will also have excerpts in the exhibit of oral histories collected as part of the project and people may be surprised by some of the experiences that they read/hear about. h

What does the exhibit teach Iowans? We have likely all had the experience in our life of The exhibits are being curated by Leigh Ann Randak, JCHS being “the only one.” Sometimes that experience Curator, and Lynn Koos, African American Museum of Iowa Curator.


telling 2 pages

Photo by Martin Andrews, reprinted by permission

For the most part our veterans are largely unseen and unheard in today’s society. Telling: Iowa City changes this. Funded in part with a major grant from Humanities

Iowa this project is a collection of stories told directly by veterans and their families, as well as performed by the vets and family members themselves. (Veterans pictured above from left to right: Randy Miller, Joe Gasperetti, Debra Shattuck, Amanda Irish, Charles Lynch, Scott Lyon, Ted John, Christopher Deyo.

Questions and Answers with Jennifer Fawcett, Project Director of Telling: Iowa City, Associate Artistic Director at Working Group Theatre and winner of the 2008 National Science Playwriting Award from the Kennedy Center, and a 2010 Creation Fund Award winner from the National Performance Network. Can you tell a little about why Iowa City was picked to perform Telling? John Mikelson of the University of Iowa Veterans Association learned about the Telling Project and wanted to bring it to the UI community. He initially approached the University of Iowa Theatre Department and when they were unable to do it, they forwarded the information along to my company, Working Group Theatre. We’re all graduates of the department and were thrilled to be able to premiere the show there.


Why is theatre used for Telling? What are the advantages of doing this in a theater versus radio, or print? Theatre is a visceral experience. It is intimate; we’re all sharing the same space and literally the same air. It is immediate; there is something incredibly powerful about being in the same room as someone while they are telling their story to you. It is as close to a first hand experience as you can get. This immediacy also works in the other direction so the performers are hearing the response of the audience in the moment. For many of the vets, these stories have been private for years—sometimes because they didn’t think anyone cared enough to listen. There are many plays based on true stories from veterans but they are performed by actors. What is unique about Telling: Iowa City, and the other Telling shows is that the stories are told by the people Join other Iowans and support Humanities Iowa!

who experienced them. Theatre also demands more active listening by the audience. The minimal stage picture (in this case very minimal: just a row of chairs and some slides on the back wall) demands the audience use their imaginations, requiring more active listening than film or television.

I see there are veterans from different time periods in the performance: Vietnam to Afghanistan? What common themes run through all the stories? What’s different? How does everyone work together? The show is structured the same way the interviews are: enlistment, basic training, deployment, return to civilian life, and finally reflection on how the military has changed them. There are some obvious differences: the style of conflict was markedly different between the jungle of Vietnam, the burning oil fields of Kuwait, and the constant threat of mortars and IED’s in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of course the way the Vietnam veterans were treated versus the way current veterans are treated upon return home. Despite this, there are more similarities than differences. The culture of the military is something that on a deeper level (and this is only my outside observation) doesn’t seem to have changed that much in fifty years. The physical, mental, and emotional strains that training and combat place on a person gives our cast a shared vocabulary that we on the outside cannot ever really understand.

Do you have a feel for what other veterans who attend Telling think after they experience the performance? At the time of writing, we have performed three times and have three more performances (Dec 2-4). The responses I saw after the shows were very powerful, very emotional. A number of people approached the performers afterwards to thank them for their service and share their own stories. We also had a lot of people who are family members of people currently serving overseas and they also had a strong response and said the show was a very accurate reflection of what they are hearing (and

Joe Gasperetti on stage at Telling: Iowa City, with his Vietnam days in the image behind him. (Photo by Martin Andrews, used with permission)

not hearing) from their loved ones. We conducted a brief post-show survey and responses have been very positive.

What are the biggest struggles for veterans? Both in this production and in real life? These are very big questions with complex answers that I am in no way qualified to answer. In terms of challenges posed to the veterans in this production, I think the first was a concern that the audience would not want to hear their stories, that they might even provoke ridicule or worse by expressing their opinions and being open about their experiences. For many, revisiting these events left them feeling very raw and vulnerable. We had been working together for a month when we presented them with the script (woven from transcripts of the interviews) and had our first read through. Several of them thought about leaving the project and the entire cast was told that they were always allowed to leave with no judgment. We did lose one of our performers but that was due to health concerns. The rest stayed and in a talkback, each expressed how glad they were that they had stuck with it. Being a part of Telling: Iowa City has changed their lives. continued on page 11 9

Humanities Iowa Events For up-to-date event information check the calendar on our website.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Liz Garst presents “Peace Through Corn” Jester Park Lodge 11407 NW Jester Park Dr Granger, IA 11:00 AM Tuesday, January 10, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Rich Tyler presents “If Barns Could Talk” Sanford Museum 117 E. Willow St Cherokee, IA 7:30 PM Thursday, January 12, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Larry Stone presents “Whitetail: Treasure, Trophy, or Trouble?” Oelwein Public Library 201 E. Charles St Oelwein, IA 6:30 PM Saturday, January 28, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Scott Cawelti presents “Landscape Iowa: Poems of James Hearst, Sung” Washington Free Public Library 115 West Washington St Washington, IA 2:00 PM Tuesday, January 31, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Hal Chase presents “Outside In: African American History in Iowa” Ames City Auditorium, 520 6th St Ames, IA 7:00 PM 10


Thursday, February 9, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Hal Chase presents “Outside In: African American History in Iowa” Johnson County Senior Center 28 S. Linn St Iowa City, IA 2:00 PM

March 27, 2012 Speakers Bureau: David Connon presents “Iowans Who Fought Against the Union” Ottumwa Public Library 102 West 4th St Ottumwa, IA 10:00 AM

Saturday, February 18, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Darrel Draper presents “Theodore Roosevelt: Rough Rider President: Sanford Museum 117 E. Willow St Cherokee, IA 7:30 PM


Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Speakers Bureau: OJ Fargo presents “Greyhounds and Hawkeyes: Iowa in the Civil War” Ames City Auditorium, 520 6th St Ames, IA 7:00 PM Wednesday, February 29, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Darrel Draper presents “Theodore Roosevelt: Rough Rider President” Des Moines Women’s Club 1501 Woodland Ave Hoyt Sherman Place Des Moines, IA 1:00 PM


Tuesday, March 27, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Rudy Daniels presents: “Trains Across Iowa” Ames City Auditorium 520 6th St Ames, IA 7:00 PM

Sunday, April 1, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Bill Koch presents “Walt Whitman Live!” Ames Public Library 515 Douglas Ave Ames, IA 2:00 PM Saturday, April 14, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Martin Kelly presents “Hollywood Cowboys” Sanford Museum 117 E. Willow St Cherokee, IA 7:30 PM Monday, April 23, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Tom Milligan presents “Grant Wood: Prairie Rebel” Elmwood Country Club, 1734 Country Club Ln Marshalltown, IA 12:30 PM Friday, April 27, 2012 Speakers Bureau: Darrel Draper presents “Theodore Roosevelt: Rough Rider President” Story County Conservation 56461 180th St Ames, IA 11:00 AM Join other Iowans and support Humanities Iowa!

(Telling continued)

What are the most surprising things an audience member might learn at a performance of Telling: Iowa City? Our audiences have been a wonderfully diverse group; veterans of all ages, spouses, parents and friends of service members, students, faculty, media, members of the general public. Given such a diverse group, I don’t want to assume, so I’ll speak for myself. One thing I am starting to understand is how many different jobs there are within the military, and many of them do not include holding a gun. The other surprise is the complexity of the veterans’ responses to the military. Some of them had extremely negative (damaging) experiences during their service and for others it was a highlight in their life but for all, there is this incredible pride. Their sense of service is as strong now as it was when they enlisted—I’d dare to say stronger. Debra Shattuck, an Air Force veteran, says in the show, “The military isn’t this amorphous they… it’s people.” Sounds obvious, but with movies, tv, and media sound bytes, it is sometimes hard to remember. This show is a strong reminder of this. I did not know many veterans prior to this project and it has been a real shock for me to see how lasting the effects of combat are. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a complicated response that sometimes doesn’t come out for years. Many of the veterans in Telling: Iowa City would not have been able to participate a few years ago, and I’m sure there were many others who wanted to participate but knew they couldn’t yet. There has been a lot of laughter and joy in the process of creating this play but there has also been sadness, anxiety, depression, fear… . And most of all there has been a tremendous amount of courage. A number of our audience members have also commented on this.

How has Humanities Iowa helped with this project? Humanities Iowa has supported Telling: Iowa City with a major grant that is the equivalent of one third of our budget. Quite frankly, this project would not be happening without their help and we are very grateful. h Grants continued from pg. 12

Recipient: UI Libraries Amount: $7,500 Project: Iowa City Book Festival 2012 Recipient: UI Hancher Auditorium Amount: $500 Project: Iowa and Invisible Man: Making Blackness Visible Marshalltown Recipient: Historical Society of Marshall County Amount: $12,000 Project: Movie Star: The Secret Lives of Jean Seberg

Pella Recipient: Central College Geisler Library Amount: $3,500 Project: Central College Writers Reading Series

Recipient: Siouxland Human Investment Partnership Amount: $2,500 Project: The Great Hurt: Boarding Schools and the American Indian

Rock Island, IL Recipient: CommUniversity, Inc. Amount: $4,000 Project: CommUniversity 2012

Tipton Recipient: Cedar County Historical Society and Museum Amount: $750 Project: A Day on the Prairie at the Prairie Village

Sioux City Recipient: Sioux City Public Museum Amount: $2,000 Project: Three Tribes, Many Stories

Waterloo Recipient: North End Cultural Center Amount: $5,025 Project: North End Girls’ Film Project 11


Humanities Iowa 100 LIB RM 4039 Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1420

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On the Fly is a series of video interviews with nationally known authors who travel to Iowa City. It is a joint project of Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature and Humanities Iowa. Recent authors have included: Mary Swander, Jennifer Fawcett, Bruce Hopkins, Connie Mutel, Harley McIlrath, and Christopher Merrill. Watch at

Grants Awarded Since October 2011 Cedar Falls Recipient: UNI Museum Amount: $10,000 Project: Race: Are We So Different? Davenport Recipient: Storytellers International Amount: $7,000 Project: Skew You — Development Phase

Des Moines Recipient: Des Moines Public Library Foundation Amount: $7,500 Project: AViD 2012 Recipient: Community Legacy Matters, Inc. Amount: $15,000 Project: The Center Street Story: An Urban Renewal Retrospective

Dubuque Recipient: Julien International Film Festival Amount: $950 Project: Sixteen Forty-Nine Film Screening Recipient: Dubuque Museum of Art Amount: $750 Project: Edward S. Curtis Exhibition Programming

Recipient: Loras College Center for Dubuque History Amount: $7,500 Project: Images of a City at Work: 1912 and 2012 Elk Horn Recipient: Danish Immigrant Museum Amount: $9,269 Project: Jens Jensen: Celebrating the Native Prairie

Fairfield Recipient: Fairfield Convention and Visitors Bureau Amount: $3,000 Project: Remembering Our Fallen Exhibit Iowa City Recipient: UI Digital Studio for the Public Humanities Amount: $3,000 Project: David Plowden’s Iowa Online (grants continued pg. 11)

December 2011  

Voices from the Prairie December 2011

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