Dublin UNESCO City of Literature: Jane Alger

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Sarah Downey

Writing.ie spoke to the director of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Jane Alger about Dublin’s stellar literary tradition, what the prestigious UNESCO City of Literature designation means for the city and learned all about the exciting literary events they have planned for bookworms. Literature is at the heart of Dublin with a flourishing industry of publishers, book stores, book clubs and a host of libraries dotted around the city. Writers from every genre call Dublin their home and this has been the case for centuries. It’s no surprise then that Dublin was named as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2010, joining Edinburgh, Melbourne and Iowa (Reykjavik achieved the designation this year). The Creative Cities Network is a UNESCO project that aims to promote cultural diversity and excellence. There are seven designations that cities can apply for: Literature, Film, Music, Craft and Folk Art, Design, Media Arts, and Gastronomy. Within each of these categories are various conditions that a city must meet in order to be awarded a title. Dublin City Council was at the forefront of applying for the impressive and permanent tag of a City of Literature. ‘You really have to make your case and show an appreciation of literary heritage, a great interest in and a commitment to literary activities.  This involved submitting a 110 page hardback proposal in 2009 which took over a year to be approved and not every application will be successful’ recalls Jane Alger, Director of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature. The much sought-after title benefits Dublin in many ways, ‘It draws worldwide attention to writers past and present.  It also brings cultural tourism, it’s the number one message Tourism Ireland are giving about Ireland this year.  It also implies a certain quality and standards; it gives a great sense of pride to citizens and Dublin writers. Contemporary writers will say that in living in the city of Shaw, Joyce, Wilde, Swift and Beckett, they are the latest in a long line of luminaries.’ ‘Dublin is a writer’s city, writers are appreciated here, and writing is a very acceptable pastime here; creative writing courses are ever popular in the city. Children are also heavily involved in writing initiatives and courses in school. And remember the last three bridges built in Dublin are named after writers not politicians!’ The title also brings numerous literary events to our shores and there’s a jam packed calendar to look forward to over the next year.  Currently running is the Great Writing- Great Places series which brings writers and their readers to unusual venues around the city. Conceived by writing.ie’s Vanessa O’Loughlin, and run in conjunction with writing.ie, ‘The idea is to bring writers to places we wouldn’t expect to find them but places that are connected to their writing. On the 1st of November in the crypt of Christ Church we have a spooky story for children the day after Halloween. A panel of crime writers will be in the Four Courts on the 16th, this has never happened before so we’re very excited!’ Also in the series is So Much More Than Shopping in The Lost Society in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre featuring Sinead Moriarty, Sheila O’Flanagan and Claudia Carroll taking about their work, ‘it’s the perfect break from Christmas shopping and you can enjoy some tasty goodies too!’ There’s also rumours abound that CNN will be coming to Dublin in the next few weeks to film a Future Cities special on Dublin’s status as a  City of Literature, we’ll keep you posted on that! Next January, February and March they’re running a citywide promotion for children encouraging them to read.  Alan Early’s debut Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent will be the featured book with its action taking place all over the city and incorporating a strong Viking flavour. ‘Following on from that in April will be a series of events around the One City, One Book project, Dubliners by James Joyce is the chosen book for 2012.’ Also planned is Literature Night on the 16th of May which will have a focus on European literature and the Dublin Writers Festival will take place at the end of May.’ Did you know the building that Topshop now occupies at Stephen’s Green used to be famed writer Bram Stoker’s residence? Or that playwright Sean O’ Casey was baptised in The Church bar, cafe and restaurant? (Even the great Jonathan Swift also attended services here). Dublin is littered with little known spots of great literary importance and Jane hopes these will places will be highlighted with special UNESCO City of Literature plaques so everyone can trace Dublin’s strong writing tradition. What’s clear is that Dublin’s literary prowess is safe for many more years to come and that readers have plenty of world class events to look forward to.

About the author

(c) Sarah Downey, October 2011.

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