The UNESCO Cities of Literature network brings together 39 cities across 6 continents. While the designation marks existing literary excellence within a city, becoming a UNESCO City of Literature also gives cities a place within a supportive network who share and collaborate with each other.
Since the beginning of the Creative Cities network, Cities of Literature around the world would come together at the Annual Conference for cultural exchange. The appointed host city invites network members to immerse themselves in the local literary scene, visiting bookshops and heritage sites, alongside taking part in network discussions to share ideas and practices. This year, travelling to the city of Prague became unfeasible, and the event turned to the digital space.
While an online meeting cannot recreate the joyous coming together of our network members, the cultural exchange and the stimulation of creativity that a gathering of people in our beautiful city would have brought, we hope the spirit of the annual meeting will live on in this new virtual format.
– Kateřina Bajo, Director, Prague UNESCO City of Literature
We’re actively progressing our priority areas: to improve pathways for writers, commit to translation projects and collaborate on future book fairs and festivals, and in particular to conceive solutions to worldwide challenges exacerbated by COVID-19 such as improving literacy and social mobility and promoting equality.
– Sandeep Mahal, Chair of the UNESCO Cities of Literature subgroup and Director of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature
Starting on the 21st of September, Prague City of Literature hosted a digital reinterpretation of the conference. For the first time, all the UNESCO Cities of Literature met virtually to showcase best practice, workshop collaborative projects and launch a shared website.
One of the main challenges of moving the event online was the varied time zones of cities across the network, as the international network spans six continents. Each day of the conference centred around a new topic, being discussed by two groups in two different time zones. For the final day, all international cities met together to create network-wide actions.
Cities agree that the meetings are always vibrant, energising and highly engaging. A focus this time was supporting recovery, resilience and sustainability for writers and the industry as we move together through the pandemic, as well as working to effect positive change in the context of important social movements such as Black Lives Matter and the global climate crisis.
Director of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, Sandeep Mahal said:
“As Chair of the UNESCO Cities of Literature subgroup, I was delighted to see Prague successfully bring the annual conference into the digital space for the first time. In this year of disruption and global isolation, it is essential that the network can connect with each other and share how we’ve been supporting our literary communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also a wonderful opportunity to get to know delegates from newly appointed cities, allowing us to continue to make strong international connections and plan collaborative projects across the network.”
More about Prague
Prague has been a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network since December 2014. Prague’s most longstanding and significant project is the Prague residential programme, which offers 6 residential stays annually for foreign authors and translators. Prague facilitates accommodation, travel, a stipend, and literary events and readings for the visiting authors.
Another special project, Touches of World Literature, is a cycle of author readings taking place in collaboration with Prague City of Literature and the Museum of Czech Literature, aiming to showcase global literature and its creators. The bilingual programme guarantees appeal to both Czech and international audiences. The programme also includes an artistic interpretation of the texts by professional actors.
Delegates at the conference were proud to courier children’s books from their cities to the Prague UNESCO City of Literature Office for donation to the Public Library.
More about the Cities of Literature
As part of the conference, the cities launched their new website and press pack.
We need literature and a good political policy to demonstrate what a cultured, civilised society can do; what a cultured, civilised society can be. It’s what we, the UNESCO Cities of Literature, are about.