"There was a Scot, an Australian and a ..."

by Paul Burman

QUESTION: What do Edinburgh and Melbourne have in common?

Well, it’s not the climate, that’s for sure. Nor the penchant for warm ale in one city and cold beer in the other, even if a chaser of whisky might accompany both. And seriously, it’s no joke that although these two cities might be diametrically opposite on the face of the globe they share a common passion for literature.

ANSWER: Whilst UNESCO recognised Edinburgh as the first City of Literature in 2004, Melbourne is hoping to be the second.

But what is a City of Literature? Do we need them, and why?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization launched the Creative Cities Network ‘to promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world. The cities which apply to the network seek to promote their local creative scene ... (and) share interest in UNESCO’s mission towards cultural diversity.’ Edinburgh proudly promotes itself as a city of words where literary events run almost every day, and the City of Literature Trust aims to:

  • ‘Promote book culture in Edinburgh
  • 'Encourage involvement in Scotland’s literature
  • 'Develop literary partnerships around the world’.

Melbourne is culturally well placed to take on a parallel role. According to Victoria’s principle broadsheet The Age, ‘There are more bookshops in Melbourne than in any other Australian city, and there are more books, magazines and newspapers sold in Victoria than in any other state or territory. This city has a proud and honourable tradition of fostering fine publishing, including smaller, independent concerns that might not always aim for the top of the best-seller lists but nevertheless have quality as their byword.’

Also, in a country that loves its festivals and ‘events’, Melbourne annually hosts its fair share. In addition to The International Comedy Festival, Moomba Waterfest, The Grand Prix, The Australian Open, etc, it hosts a Writers’ Festival, an Emerging Writers’ Festival, the Victorian Premier’s Writers’ Awards and the prestigious Melbourne Prize for Literature (worth $60,000). At the moment, as well as waiting to hear news of its application to UNESCO for City of Literature status, which is expected this month, it’s developing a Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas at the State Library.

From a writer’s point of view---and of anyone interested in Literature---it’s heart-warming to see such a significant commitment from the State to supporting this area of the Arts. There may be economic benefits (Edinburgh reportedly derives an additional ₤2.2 million per annum from activities associated with its City of Literature status), but these, it’s to be hoped, will only be a small part of the overall story and, although there’s no joke and no punch-line to this post, a positive response from UNESCO will put a smile on many a face.


Anonymous said...

Having travelled Oz alot, Paul, I'm pleased to hear this news about Melbourne as it's one of the places I've yet to visit, but have every intention of doing so. I've been to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh which I thoroughly enjoyed. If Melbourne were to get Literature status it would add a little extra spice to a future visit. Not to mention, ehem, the good it would do for the city. (me, me, me. must remember there are others on this planet too!:). Nice post.

Unknown said...

The idea that anywhere on the planet cities are vying to be a "City of Literature" sounds awfully sweet to me.

Anonymous said...

Too right, Kathleen. Makes a change to hearing about human rights abuses, civil unrest or wars. Let there be more of it, eh?

I'm happy to avoid most cities, Gary, but I must admit I enjoy visiting Melbourne fairly regularly. It boasts a fantastic range of international restaurants, a great Arts complex, and has a pretty good feel to it on the whole. Adding a stronger focus on Literature and what's good can only get better.

Stella said...

Yet another good reason to visit Edinburgh and Melbourne. So much to do, so little time... Thanks, Paul!

Anonymous said...

One for each hemisphere, Stella, so if you don't like winter ...

Michael J. Kannengieser said...

Hi Paul,
I am heartened to see literature being promoted as opposed to sports of other pursuits. After all, as the old public service announcements here in the USA used to quip:

"Reading is Fundamental."

For myself, I am happy that new bookstores have opened in my area and the folks are sitting down with books and actually reading them, instead of cramming themsleves into video stores to rent movies. Congratualtions for Edinburgh and for Melbourne. -Mike.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, Mike, a well-rounded society needs to have access to the broadest range of cultural, sporting, intellectual and scientific pursuits (and all those other areas that should be mentioned here). Too often it seems as if government puts the funding into promoting sport or business to the exclusion of all else. It's heartening to see the balance being actively redressed, as you note. Thanks for the comment.