1 March 2019 Susannah

UNESCO Worldwide Cities of Literature

Edinburgh Writers Museum

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.

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Featured image credit- Edinburgh Writers Museum by Nicola Horscroft, https://www.flickr.com/photos/117729207@N08/15517799435

Comments (6)

  1. Lindy Bonham

    I stumbled upon The Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh and was amazed at the well displayed informative pieces on display. Well worth a visit. To top off my excitement, the building was owned by a lady with my maiden name Gray, as the history written on the wall will testify.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it a fabulous museum. I go there every time I am in Edinburgh as it always has changing exhibitions and new things in the shop.

  2. Melody

    I’ve just finished reading Christina Stead’s For Love Alone and totally enjoyed her evocative descriptions of Sydney in the 1930s. Wasn’t there a recent campaign to save Stead’s former home? I do think that there are plenty of literary landmarks around the city (May Gibbs’ house, for one), but more could be done to celebrate them and make people aware of them. Then perhaps Sydney will deserve a place on the list.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I’m not sure about a campaign to save her home, but I know that Patrick White’s was NOT saved, in spite of public pressure. It was sold into private hands and the same happened with the house where Ethel Turner wrote ‘Seven Little Australians’. Such a pity. However, Melbourne doesn’t have any more literary homes than Sydney, and its literary societies are much smaller and a lot less vibrant, so surely Sydney has a good chance?

  3. Ruth Williamson

    You should not omit Dunedin NZ from your list, Susannah! I’ve been amazed by the range of activities, sites and events directly stemming from the City of Literature status in my new home town.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Dunedin is on my list! I would never forget the NZ city that has made it onto the list.

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