Have you heard about the UNESCO World Cities of Literature scheme? This was a programme launched in 2004 to promote the “social, economic and cultural development” of cities around the world. Each chosen city has to conform to UNESCO’s goal of promoting diversity, but also arrange local events and promotions. To be selected, the city has to have a diverse publishing industry, a good range of cultural institutions, a literary history and a vibrant literary scene for the present as well, a good number of libraries and bookshops, and a willingness to host literary events and engage local media and a wide range of print mediums. A city can submit a bid to UNESCO to be considered and each chosen city is carefully monitored and reviewed.
The first city selected for the honour was Edinburgh. What a fantastic choice! It has a superb Writers’ Museum (celebrating Burns, Scott and RL Stevenson, plus changing exhibitions on other writers), it has literary quotes set into its pavements, statues of authors in its parks, a railway station named after a novel (Scott’s Waverley) and the tallest monument in the world for any author (Sir Walter Scott). It hosts a huge annual Book Festival, as well as the cultural Edinburgh Festival which is world famous, and it is rich in libraries, museums, galleries and literary heritage.
The network brings together libraries, literary festivals, bookshops, creative writing programmes, film producers, arts and music bodies, and media. Bids are assessed every two years.
There are currently 28 World Cities of Literature, covering 23 countries. They include Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin, Reykjavik, Norwich, Krakow, Heidelberg, Dunedin, Granada, Prague, Baghdad, Barcelona, Llubljana, Lviv, Montevideo, Nottingham, Obidos, Tartu, Ulyanovsk, Bucheon, Durban, Lillehammer, Manchester, Milan, Quebec City, Seattle and Utrecht. I would like to see Sydney included in that list and feel a letter to the NSW Minister for the Arts needs to be written!
Would Sydney be a good choice for a World City of Literature? Do you think we have sufficient literary institutions? I’d love to hear your suggestions so please leave a comment.