Dublin is the fourth city to be honoured with the UNESCO designation as a City of Literature, joining Edinburgh, Melbourne and Iowa in July 2010. The Creative Cities Network connects cities who want to share experiences, ideas and best practices for cultural, social and economic development.
While Dublin tourist guides attempt to coach visitors in the pronunciation of the Dublin greeting, ‘howaya?’ the equally common accompaniment to this – the enquiry, ‘what’s the story?’ reveals the remnants of an oral tradition which is alive and well, while also demonstrating Dubliners’ appetite for the world of books.
Ever eager for stories of themselves and others, Dubliners’ sensitivity to literary matters is acute, reinforced by an awareness of the works of the past as much as it is attuned to contemporary offerings – news of which is spread through the media, and through frequent readings, discussions and debates hosted by publishers, universities, libraries, literary organisations, book shops, pubs and cafes. The appreciation of writing and the richness of all its forms and genres is something that Dubliners display as a matter of course. Literary awareness is a form of currency in the capital, a bonding agent where pride is evident. Scepticism too fosters the famous ‘license with the Queen’s English’, for which the Irish are noted.
Writers in Dublin are not remote figures, out of step with the thrust of 21st century life but are part of the everyday landscape, much valued by Dubliners. The city has officially recognised writers by such diverse means as the conferring of the Freedom of the City, (George Bernard Shaw, Douglas Hyde and most recently, Thomas Kinsella) and through the Lord Mayor’s Awards, which in 2009 honoured the writer, Sebastian Barry. Further underlining the city’s literary credentials, the Man Booker International Prize was presented in Dublin for the first time in June 2009.
No less than four Nobel Prizes for Literature have been awarded to writers associated with the city: George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Other illustrious Dublin writers of international repute include Jonathan Swift, Cardinal Newman, Oscar Wilde, Sean O’Casey, Denis Johnston, Flann O’Brien, Brendan Behan and Jennifer Johnston.
In more recent times, Dublin-based writers continue to receive international acclaim in fiction, drama and poetry. The Man Booker Prize has been conferred on Iris Murdoch, Roddy Doyle, John Banville and Anne Enright, and in 2009 Sebastian Barry received the Costa Book of the Year Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction. In 2009, Colum McCann won the U.S. National Book Award for his novel ‘Let The Great World Spin’. The novelist Anne Enright, has claimed that ‘In other towns, clever people go out and make money. In Dublin, clever people go home and write their books.’
Dublin is home to the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award which was won by Dublin-based writer Colm Tóibín in 2006. Many other Dublin writers, in all genres of literature, enjoy enormous international popularity with their works translated into a host of languages: playwrights Dermot Bolger, Frank McGuinness, Conor McPherson, Marina Carr and Martin McDonagh; poets Harry Clifton (Ireland Professor of Poetry), Eavan Boland, Paula Meehan, Peter Sirr, Pat Boran, Michael O’Loughlin, Paul Durcan and others too numerous to list. Excelling in the genre of popular fiction are novelists Maeve Binchy, John Connolly, Marian Keyes, Cathy Kelly, Patricia Scanlan and Cecilia Ahern, while literary fiction is the preserve of highly successful writers such as Sebastian Barry, Colum McCann, Roddy Doyle, Anne Enright, Joseph O’Connor, Hugo Hamilton, John Banville and Claire Kilroy. Children’s literature is a thriving area where again, Dublin writers and illustrators have achieved international reputations – for example Derek Landy, Conor Kostick, Siobhán Parkinson (appointed Ireland’s first Children’s Laureate in 2010), Marita Conlon-McKenna and P. J. Lynch. Dublin writers also distinguish themselves across the whole range of non-fiction writing and include author and literary critic Declan Kiberd, art historian Anne Crookshank and historian Peter Harbison.
Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, under the directorship of Jane Alger, run a huge range of events and programmes highlighting Dublin’s literary tradition and supporting new and emerging writers – the next generation of Man Booker winners and Nobel Laureates.