The UNESCO Cities of Literature network brings together 39 cities across 6 continents. The designation recognises excellence, calling upon cities to nurture creativity, support freedom of speech, and ensure literature reaches as wide and diverse an audience as possible. Cultural leaders from 39 cities met digitally for the network’s first online meeting (21-25 September), hosted via Zoom by Prague City of Literature.
The Cities of Literature showcased best practice and workshopped a range of collaborative projects, as well as launching their shared website: https://www.citiesoflit.com/. 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).
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. 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 – said Sandeep Mahal, Chair of the UNESCO Cities of Literature subgroup and Director of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. 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.
Prague, originally scheduled to host the conference face-to-face, 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.
Photo by Edyta Dufaj (UNESCO Cities of Literature conference held in Kraków, 2018)