Manchester celebrates 5 years of being a UNESCO City of Literature

Manchester celebrates 5 years of being a UNESCO City of Literature

Manchester City Council is marking the fifth anniversary of Manchester joining the UNESCO’s worldwide Creative Cities network as a City of Literature.

In 2017, after a successful bid to UNESCO, Manchester became a UNESCO City of Literature and joined other cities such as Dublin, Barcelona, Prague, Melbourne, and Reykjavik in the prestigious global network and shows that Manchester is deserving of international recognition.  

UNESCO designation shows Manchester’s dedication to pursuing excellence in literature locally, nationally and globally.  

Over the past five years, the Council, the city’s universities and literary community have worked together to deliver a rich and vibrant a programme of events, showcasing the talent of Manchester and, giving all of Manchester’s residents the chance to participate in and benefit from the thriving City of Literature.  

Since 2017, the Manchester City of Literature Charity have secured over £200,000 additional investment into the city and has provided paid opportunities for over 100 writers and artists such as local artist, writer, performance artist and CEO of Contact Theatre, Keisha Thompson. Others include Anjum Malik, Michelle Collier and Ella Otomewo who were writers in residence in Greater Manchester Libraries and Jardel Rodriquez and PA Bitez represented Manchester in the global slam competition Slamovision.  

The work of Manchester’s talented literary researchers, authors, poets and writers has been shared in across the world in cities such as Tartu, Melbourne, Utrecht, Slemani and many other UNESCO Cities of Literature- putting Manchester on the international map. 

The funding has been used to support projects such as the Festival of Libraries, the city’s International Mother Language celebrations and the Made in Manchester installation and the designation been a key lever for the creation of the Manchester Poetry Library and for commercial publishers moving to the city.  

Festival of Libraries 

More recently, Manchester’s annual Festival of Libraries, an event that celebrates and showcases the City’s wide range of libraries and the diverse cultural scene of Manchester welcomed over 27,000 people to over 90 events that took place in public and heritage libraries across the city. 

Made in Manchester 

The Poetry Library is home to the famous Made in Manchester poem, created in 2019 by school children and community groups in collaboration with local poet Zahid Hussain. The poem is a live piece of work, written in over 70 languages, with new verses added in new languages each year. The poem appears as a video installation that has been housed at the city’s Central Library, and now at Manchester Poetry Library, with an English translation alongside the many community languages. The Made in Manchester installation, celebrates the diverse communities in the city and rich cultural heritage of Manchester.  

Poetry Library 

Since being recognised as a UNESCO City of Literature, the Manchester Poetry Library has opened – the fourth poetry library in the UK and the first in the Northwest of England.  

The library is located in Manchester Metropolitan University and houses an extensive collection of contemporary poetry from books to recordings, each made available in multiple languages. 

As well as being the first poetry library in the North West, the space aims to a leading poetry research centre, where poetry and its many joys can be experiences by people of all ages and abilities.   

Manchester has cemented its position as a hub of literature excellence in recent years as two of the largest UK commercial publishers have opened offices in the city: Harper North and Hachette UK. 

These publishers work alongside many of the local established independent presses including the world-renowned poetry press Carcanet, Flapjack Press, Comma Press and the academic publisher Manchester University Press. Recently, new independent publishers such as Fly on the Wall Press have opened in the city- showing that Manchester is an active participant in national and international publishing scene.  

The city boasts two of the country’s most highly regarded writing schools – the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing and the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University – plus Manchester Literature Festival, one of the most innovative and popular literary events in the UK.  It is home to a thriving live literature scene, with thousands of people attending book launches, author readings and performances, open mic nights and reading groups across the city. 

Councillor Luthfur Rahman, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council said:  

“Celebrating five years as a UNESCO City of Literature is such a great achievement for the city, we are one of 42 cities in the world that have this prestigious designation and we’re proud to showcase the diverse talent of our city on the international stage.  

“Over the past five years we have built on the strong foundations of Manchester’s rich literary history, and we alongside our partners from the city’s universities and literary community have harnessed their collective creative energies to launch and create events, libraries and spaces where words and literature can be celebrated. 

We have supported over 100 Manchester based creatives accomplish their dreams and secure paid opportunities in the creative industry. This is a fantastic achievement for the city and shows that we are investing in local talent and the cultural future of Manchester.  

“We’re excited for what the next years will bring for Manchester! 

Jess Edwards, Head of English Department Manchester Metropolitan University, said: 

“On behalf of Manchester Met I wish Manchester City of Literature a very happy fifth birthday! The UNESCO designation has been transformative for literary culture in our city in so many ways. It has built capacity and activity in areas like publishing, but just as importantly has created a network to connect writers the organisations that make up our literature ecosystem, helping us to grow and share our audiences and to collaborate on projects which bring the pleasures and benefits of reading and writing to more people.  

“It has allowed Manchester to celebrate the heritage housed in its libraries, cultural centres and universities, but also to discover just how richly diverse literary culture is and long has been in our multilingual, multicultural city.” 

 Professor Jerome de Groot, from the University of Manchester said:  

“The COL (City of Literature) has been transformative to the cultural programme of the city. The team have brought new initiatives (Manchester Festival of Libraries), developed huge and important relationships across the city, driven excellent projects such as International Mother Language Day, and enhanced work in literature and culture all over.  

“In particular they’ve worked with groups and communities that have rarely been thought of for education, literature, or cultural work. They’ve connected publishers, museums, libraries, archives, universities, residents and writers in new, thoughtful, and stimulating ways – and, importantly, added an international perspective to the work that happens in Manchester.” 

Keisha Thompson – Artistic Director and CEO of Contact Theatre said: 

“Speaking as a writer and in my role as the Artistic Director and CEO of Contact, I can say that Manchester UNESCO City of Literature has grown into a pillar of the literature sector in the city. It is an organisation that has worked tirelessly to champion the voices of writers who call the city home. From the collaborative Our City Speaks livestreamed event as part of the United We Stream Covid-19 cultural response to its pioneering work with the Multi-lingual City Poets initiative, Manchester City of Literature continues to demonstrate its importance to writers and communities in the city.” – 

David Hartley, writer, performer and podcaster said:

“I’m completely thrilled to be selected for the Tartu residency. I feel like I’m about to embark on the most thrilling journey of creative discovery in a country I currently know very little about.” – David Hartley – Edge Hill Short Story Prize Longlist Author and current Writer in Residence for Tartu City of Literature to create work to exhibit at their European Capital of Culture 2024 celebration. 

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