UNESCO’s City of Literature Model: What It Is and What Criteria Interested Cities Need to Fulfill

The City of Literature program by UNESCO is a great way for qualified cities to bolster and promote their cultural assets on an international scale.

Cities actively promoting the literary market through a diverse range of cultural institutions like libraries, bookstores, publishing houses, public-private partnerships furthering literature, regular literary events and festivals and school and college programs dedicated to national and international literature are good candidates for UNESCO’s City of Literature program.

UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network

UNESCO decided to focus on cities because, with more than half the world’s population living in them, they have the potential to further creativity in local communities while at the same time, provide a platform for international markets. As “creative clusters,” cities contain a network of partners involved in publishing, the dissemination of literature and programs strengthening the literary market.

The City of Literature program is part of UNESCO’s other efforts like the Creative Cities Network (CCN) launched in October 2004 that was developed as part of the Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity initiative in 2002. Currently, 20 cities are awaiting approval to join the CCN.

Designed to “promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world,” it focuses on a city’s following areas:

  • literature
  • film
  • music
  • crafts and folk art
  • design
  • media arts
  • gastronomy

List of Criteria for City of Literature Applicants

Cities that are interested in becoming a UNESCO City of Literature need to prove that their whole network of publishers, libraries, schools and bookstores actively promotes reading, literature and literacy.

Here’s a detailed description of areas that would be scrutinized by UNESCO:

  • the quality, quantity and diversity of a city’s editorial initiatives and publishers,
  • the quality and quantity of educational programs in school and universities focusing on domestic and foreign literature,
  • the role that literature, drama or poetry play in the urban environment,
  • the quality and quantity of literary events and festivals hosted in a city to promote foreign and domestic literature,
  • the quality and quantity of libraries, bookstores and cultures centers dedicated to preserving, promoting and distributing literature,
  • publishers’ efforts to translate a diverse range of national and foreign literary works,
  • the involvement of traditional and new media in promoting literature and supporting the literary market.

Currently Appointed Cities of Literature

The following cities became members of the City of Literature network:

  • Angoulême – France (2019)
  • Baghdad – Iraq (2015)
  • Barcelona – Spain (2015)
  • Beirut – Lebanon (2019)
  • Bucheon – Korea Republic (2017)
  • Dublin – Ireland (2010)
  • Dunedin – New Zealand (2014)
  • Durban – South Africa (2017)
  • Edinburgh – United Kingdom (2004)
  • Exeter – United Kingdom (2019)
  • Granada – Spain (2014)
  • Heidelberg – Germany (2014)
  • Iowa City – United States (2008)
  • Kraków – Poland (2013)
  • Kuhmo – Finland (2019)
  • Lahore – Pakistan (2019)
  • Leeuwarden – Netherlands (2019)
  • Lillehammer – Norway (2017)
  • Ljubljana – Slovenia (2015)
  • Lviv – Ukraine (2015)
  • Manchester – United Kingdom (2017)
  • Melbourne – Australia (2008)
  • Milan – Italy (2017)
  • Montevideo – Uruguay (2015)
  • Nanjing – China (2019)
  • Norwich – United Kingdom (2012)
  • Nottingham – United Kingdom (2015)
  • Óbidos – Portugal (2015)
  • Odesa – Ukraine (2019)
  • Prague – Czech Republic (2014)
  • Québec  City –Canada (2017)
  • Reykjavík – Iceland (2011)
  • Seattle – United States (2017)
  • Slemani – Iraq (2019)
  • Tartu Estonia – (2015)
  • Ulyanovsk – Russia (2015)
  • Utrecht – Netherlands (2017)
  • Wonju – South Korea (2019)
  • Wrocław – Poland (2019)

Edinburgh, as the first City of Literature and with one literary event almost every day of the year, generates approximately £2.2 million ($3.3 million) per year for the city and a further £2.1 million ($3.1 million) for the rest of Scotland from festivals, events and conferences dedicated to literature.

So, regardless of where a city is located in the world, as long as all or most of the desired criteria are fulfilled, applying for the City of Literature program comes with quite a few advantages for the city’s cultural and economic standing.

More information about the program can be found on the “How to apply” section of UNESCO’s website.

Readers interested in UNESCO’s City of Literature program might also be interested to learn more about the idea behind World Book and Copyright Day, what an ISBN is or the upcoming World eBook Fair that will enable free e-book downloads of more than 1.5 million titles.

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