Edinburgh is set to host the UNESCO ‘Cities of Literature’ conference in 2024, marking 20 years since it was named the world’s first City of Literature in 2004 as the founding member. It is a title that was thought up in Edinburgh by members of the City of Literature trust.
Edinburgh was named as a permanent City of Literature to celebrate its role as a literary capital, and the fact that it is a leading member in UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.
Since Edinburgh was named the first City of Literature, the Creative Cities Network, which was also founded in 2004 by UNESCO, has grown to 295 cities, each fitting into a creative category. These include themes such as design, music, and gastronomy, with the network being created to “encourage cooperation among cities that consider creativity to be an important factor in their sustainable urban development.”
An example of this is when Edinburgh collaborated with Melbourne, Australia (also a City of Literature) in 2018, building relationships which have already led to projects working on marketing, diversity and inclusivity, all while working towards this overall goal of sustainable urban development.
The City of Literature Trust is a non-profit organisation in Edinburgh that ensures that “everyone everywhere has opportunities for literature to be part of their lives, creating learning, wonder and joy.”
This trust is involved with occasions such as the “Figures of Speech” event, which is being put on in association with the Scottish Storytelling Centre to celebrate Scotland’s Year of Stories, 2022. The event allows its visitors to take a trip down the road of Scottish literature by showcasing a series of authors and artists. The second season of the festival is being put up from September to November and is covering the themes of Love, Place, and Big Ideas, the first having taken place this spring.
Other events which they are involved with are national events such as World Poetry Day.
At the conference, Edinburgh will host representatives from the other Cities of Literature around the world, which include Prague, Czech Republic and Milan, Italy. Ali Bowden, director of the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, made the following comment:
“We are very much looking forward to welcoming representatives from literary cities around the world to Edinburgh, to show off our beautiful city, our literary heritage, and the thriving contemporary literary scene.
“We want to share ideas, celebrate the achievements of cities across the network and inspire newly designated cities. We want to spark ideas for new cross-artform collaborations and new international projects to support writers and readers across the Creative Cities Network.”
The idea feels fitting, given that 20 years after the idea of a City of Literature was conceived in Edinburgh itself, the conference will celebrate Edinburgh’s own literary identity while still looking into the future with a goal of sustainable improvement.
In fact, Edinburgh is home to the world’s largest book festival of its kind—the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which hosts over 800 authors every August, and the world’s first purpose-built poetry library opened in the city in 1999.
Edinburgh is famous for the writers it has produced both in the past and present. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J. M. Barrie both spent copious amounts of time in the city, and are said to have been inspired by it, but the city has also inspired contemporary authors such as Irvine Welsh, who is known for his honest and at times brutal portrayal of the city.
Edinburgh is also home to huge literary names such as J. K. Rowling and Ian Rankin. In fact, Edinburgh’s very own iconic Waverley Train Station was named after Walter Scott’s novels, and many of the author’s quotes can be found in the station, highlighting the importance of literature to Edinburgh once again.