The Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature office was happily able to continue its work from home while New Zealand was in lockdown. We were pleased to be busy and in close touch with our wonderful writers and the other special Cities of Literature during this time. Events were of course postponed or shifted online, and the focus was on connecting with writers and the community in other ways. The popular Possibilities Project was launched, our key lockdown initiative designed to offer positivity and diversion.

This project was run in partnership with our local poet Liz Breslin, who offered online workshopping to the poets. The initiative was inspired by Wisława Szymborska’s poem ‘Possibilities’, translated from Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Claire Cavanagh. Liz had written a poem in response while on her exciting Cities of Literature residency in Kraków in 2019, so the connection with other Cities of Literature was paramount from the outset. Established and brand-new poets of all ages were invited to send in a video of themselves reading their poem. Each video was shared, one each day, across social media channels and gathered as a permanent lockdown collection on the City of Literature website.

On another lockdown project, the City of Literature teamed up with Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Dunedin Public Libraries for the Land of Granite Teen Writing Competition, inspired by the Gallery’s Colin McCahon exhibition. Students were invited to write a piece of fiction in response, and the competition continued to run during lockdown with digital resources to support students and online submission of their superb entries.

The City of Literature app, dtour, produced in partnership with English and Linguistics at the University of Otago, launched a further fifty remarkable local writers and locations at this time, taking the total to over a hundred. The dtour app is free to download from the App Store or Google Play. Research and writing of the latest entries was already underway prior to lockdown, and work continued from home so that the dtour production team could complete its latest round of audio recording in English and te reo Māori. Users can search dtour via the map and can choose ‘biographical’ sites, based on an author’s connection with a place, or ‘literary’ sites – where a fictional character in a crime novel may have met an untimely end! They can choose to be led by the app on breathtaking walks around the city or to enjoy it by the fire at home.

Now that we are at lockdown ‘level one’, libraries and bookshops can reopen as normal and are experiencing excellent numbers and a vibrant atmosphere. Users are excited to re-engage with physical books and to get their hands on all those titles they’d noted on lockdown must-read lists!

Find out more about Dunedin City of Literature on their website: