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Norwich announced as England's first UNESCO City of Literature

Thu, 10 May 2012

Norwich has been named England's first UNESCO City of Literature - thanks to a bid led by Writers' Centre Norwich with partners including the University of East Anglia.

The city joins an elite international network comprising Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin and Reykjavik.

The accreditation recognises Norwich's literary heritage, contemporary strengths and future potential in the field of literature, creative writing, reading and the literary arts.

The status is permanent and was won after a bidding process involving Writers' Centre Norwich, UEA, Arts Council England, Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council, and the British Centre for Literary Translation at UEA.

Vice Chancellor Prof Edward Acton said: "I am delighted that Norwich is to be recognised at this very highest level. It is tremendous news for the city, the university and the region.

"Thanks are due to the Writers' Centre Norwich for its dynamic leadership and to the City and County for their strong support. They have built upon and added lustre to the extraordinary literary vitality generated by the university since its foundation in 1963.

"This international honour will reinforce UEA's world-renown as a centre for literary excellence.

"Our Creative Writing MA, which has helped to develop the careers of many contemporary authors, was awarded a Queen's Anniversary Prize earlier this year. Our bi-annual literary festivals regularly attract authors of the very highest calibre. And the British Centre for Literary Translation puts us at the forefront of developments in literary translation.

"For Norwich to be named England's first UNESCO City of Literature is a magnificent accolade, which will further enhance both the literary talent we attract and the literary energy we radiate locally, nationally and internationally."

As celebrated in the bid, Norwich has a literary tradition going back more than 900 years. It includes being home to the first book published in English by a woman (Julian of Norwich), the first recognisable novel, the first blank verse, the first provincial library and newspaper, and the busiest and most used public library.

The university has also put Norwich firmly on the literary map - thanks to its prestigious MA in creative writing, which was the first of its kind in the UK. The internationally renowned course celebrated its 40th anniversary last year and counts Booker Prize-winners Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Anne Enright among its alumni.

Ian McEwan said: "I'm delighted by the news. Literature has deep roots in the beautiful city of Norwich and it was a natural first choice for UNESCO. I'm happy too for personal reasons - Norwich is where my own writing life began. Writers have known for centuries that Norwich is a dreamy city."

Course director Andrew Cowan said: "As the home of the UK's first and still most prestigious programme in creative writing, as well as the groundbreaking British Centre for Literary Translation, the school of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA is proud of its contribution to the city's literary heritage.

"New and established writers, commentators, critics and translators continue to enrich the city's literary scene, and we are delighted that this culture of reading and writing in Norwich has been recognised by our designation as a UNESCO City of Literature."

Prof Giles Foden, who teaches creative writing at UEA, added: "Coming to Norwich to take up my post was like coming home. It is truly one of the homes of literature in Britain. And not at all just on account of the 40-year history of creative writing at UEA. There are hundreds of writers living in the city, fabulous bookshops and, more importantly, thousands of readers. It's great that this honour from UNESCO will put Norwich on the world stage."

The news comes after a flagship project to develop an International Centre for Writing was given a £3 million boost from Arts Council England's Capital Investment Programme.

The centre will be based in St Giles Street, and blueprints reveal a 120-capacity conference and events area, cafe, teaching areas and office space. An underground performance space will also be created, as well as two apartments for writers and translators in residence.

Writers' Centre Norwich chief executive Chris Gribble said: "The UNESCO status and the International Centre for Writing will put the city on the world's literary map for generations to come and enable us to continue Norwich's proud literary tradition. Writers' Centre Norwich and all our partners will work hard to ensure the UNESCO accreditation brings real and lasting benefits to all those who live in, work in and visit our city and region."

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