2019: A Year in Review

Thu 19 Dec, 2019

2019 has been a big and busy year for Nottingham City of Literature. Our Director, Sandeep Mahal shares her reflections.

The end of another year always prompts reflection; a time for state-of-the-nation analysis, endless 'best of' lists and a taking stock of what has happened, where we are and where we want to be. For us at Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, 2019 has been an important year as we co-hosted the global gathering of the UNESCO Cities of Literature with Norwich - the first time that the prestigious international forum has taken place in England. The two-stage gathering - Nottwich 2019 - was a fantastic opportunity for the Cities of Literature Network to re-connect, meet with local creators and producers, talk about what we are doing in our cities and how we will collaborate on future projects.

2019 was also a period of immense growth both in terms of what we offer and the audiences we engaged with through our Young City Reads, Eastwood Comics and MyVoice programmes and events. It is amazing to be able to say that we have engaged with over 3,000 young people this year and that our Young City of Literature Ambassadors are having an incredibly positive impact on the city and sector.

None of these achievements would have been possible without our partners, funders, supporters and friends. From myself and the whole team at Nottingham City of Literature, a big festive thank you for your support and enthusiasm this year.

The next year and subsequently the next decade brings change. Change in the way we work as a team, change in what we offer and change in how we mark the impact of our work. We are very excited to share these developments with you in the New Year and launch ourselves into the 2020s.

In the meantime, while munching on mince pies and opening presents, read on for ten breathtaking literary moments, collaborations, events and books that really stood out for the City of Literature team.

Becky's favourite cultural highlights of 2019

My favourite thing was doing the poetry reading in Granada City of Literature with Greg Woods and Rory Waterman in a 21th Century Moorish Palace in the middle of a rose garden. Our poems were translated into Spanish and given to the audience, who followed every line - there was a ruffle of paper as people turned the pages.

I loved the series Pose and what it taught me about mothers and their children; brilliant dialogue and characterisation, fabulous soundtrack, courageous TV.

My favourite book of the year is The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus - it’s outstanding and truly deserves all the prizes it has won and I can't wait to see what he does next.

Leanne’s favourite cultural moments of the year:

Hosting the Heritage Learning Day, supporting schools to engage with historical and literary organisations, and hearing teachers and students talking so enthusiastically about history, literature and heritage!

Slam-O-Vision – a fun spoken word version of Eurovision, where ten local poets competed as part of Nottingham Poetry Festival for a place in the international grand final, hosted by the brilliant team at Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature. View the entries and winner here:

Matt's two memorable moments:

One, Robert Macfarlane giving the UNESCO Annual Lecture in front of an international audience. The theme of connectivity through networks was so fitting and having our own network all sitting together watching felt very special. I felt our network flex and strengthen with his words.

In a year of great books, it was Darren Simpson’s Scavengers that meant most to me. I’d met Darren when he was a struggling writer, close to quitting during a time when the City of Literature was still an aspiration, as yet unrecognized by UNESCO. The manuscript he asked me to read was terrific, and I urged him to keep writing. His next effort was snapped up by Usborne and is being talked of as a children’s classic. The parallels of his career with the development and blossoming of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature are strong, but even leaving that aside it’s a read like no other.

Richard's favourite event:

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Alice Oseman, Natália Gomes, Catherine Johnson, and Ayisha Malik at Nottingham's Big City Readers' Day. The campaign itself saw countless copies distributed across the city, but the event itself allowed me to ask questions beyond their books. Social justice was a key concern, and Catherine Johnson spoke boldly about the need for the greater representation of class and race in the publishing industry and the books that it publishes. My favourite moment of the event, however, was when a young person begged me for a copy of Oseman's Heartstopper - a graphic novel about a young gay romance; her delight at finally getting her hands on one is etched in my mind.

In October, the American political theorist Jodi Dean published Comrade: An Essay on Political Belonging. This short treatise examines the largely abandoned term and claims it needs a revival. It implies the soldier - rather than the nation state that 'ally' indicates - and works through the idea with care.

Sandeep’s book of the year is American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Thos story is about a black couple in the south and a terrible miscarriage of justice with the main character, Roy, left to serve a prison sentence for a crime he did not commit. Celestial, his wife of 18-months, finds herself alone and torn between continuing to live her life and her duty to Roy. The couple are young, vibrant and in love, yet the aftermath of the injustice totally reshapes their lives and eventually dooms their marriage. We explore male influence, power, masculinity and the tendency to destroy the things that a man can’t have. You wouldn’t call it a happy ending because they’ve been through so much, but it’s utterly fantastic and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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