Manchester has been at it again. This time it has secured the grand title UNESCO City of Literature. And these awards are not given away. Manchester is in good company – including Baghdad, Dublin, Barcelona, Prague, Melbourne, and Reykjavík. Is Manchester that literary? It built the UK’s first public lending library. It gave the world novelists like Elizabeth Gaskell, Jeanette Winterson and Anthony Burgess, plays host to the current Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and has two poets as University Chancellors, namely Lemn Sissay at the University of Manchester and Jackie Kay at the University of Salford.
And accessing the rich literary heritage doesn’t mean waiting for the Manchester Literature Festival to come around for another year either – they increasingly programme events across the year and the weekly live-literature scene is buzzing.
Events aside there are writerly riches to be found tucked away (and in plain sight) in a seemingly impossible wealth of stunning libraries and archives. The International Anthony Burgess Foundation does what it says on the tin in a gem of a venue. First call for most international visitors is the stunning John Rylands Library, closely followed by the medieval Chetham’s with holdings from alchemist Dr John Dee and stories of Marx and Engels, and the recently reopened Central Library with its amazing domed reading room. There are lesser known gems too, all with specialist collections: Salford’s Working Class Movement Library is a homage to Ruth and Eddie Frow’s passion for working-class politics, The Portico to Victorian novels and the Special Collections Library at MMU to the art of the children’s book.
So next time you see a plaque denoting Manchester as the newest member of UNESCO’s worldwide Creative Cities network, you’ll know why. Not that this is about a sign – it will encourage more literary exploration, expression and celebration, starting with a programme of cultural events and community writing projects across the city and its campuses (where you’ll find a Centre for New Writing, and the Manchester Writing School).
“Manchester’s an alchemical city – it has always transformed things… Manchester has got energy that nowhere else in the British Isles has, and it brings that to its creativity. This is a place where you can write, you can make music, you can sing, you can be an entrepreneur. There’s no separation between arts and science… This is the right city at the right time for a UNESCO [Creative] City.”
Jeanette Winterson, writer, Professor of Creative Writing, University of Manchester