With London’s Southbank Centre planning to recreate its Saison Poetry Library as a National Centre for Literature, and Edinburgh already established as a UNESCO City of Literature, England’s Norwich is now taking its turn to put forward its claim as a key literary center for the British Isles.
The Writers’ Centre Norwich and the University of East Anglia have just unveiled joint plans to turn the Centre’s existing facilities at Norwich’s Gladstone House into an ambitious National Centre for Writing.
The plans, commissioned from the London architectural firm of Ash Sakula, involve the conversion and expansion of the existing 18th-century building and its connected annex, with an auditorium, apartments for writers in residence, and working areas.
The cost will be £8.5 million ($12.9 million), according to the reports in the Norwich Evening News, and the Writers’ Centre is reportedly already two thirds of the way towards reaching this target, after a fundraising program lasting well over a year, with the National Centre for Writing scheduled to open in 2016. The plans are now to be put to Norwich City Council for approval.
The East Anglian capital became a UNESCO City of Literature in May 2012. Intriguingly, Norwich is the third city in the British Isles to be made a UNESCO City of Literature, along with Edinburgh and Dublin: an honor it also shares with Melbourne, Iowa City, and Reykjavik. The UNESCO criteria are:
• Quality, quantity and diversity of editorial initiatives and publishing houses;
• Quality and quantity of educational programmes focusing on domestic or foreign literature in primary and secondary schools as well as universities;
• Urban environment in which literature, drama and/or poetry play an integral role;
• Experience in hosting literary events and festivals aiming at promoting domestic and foreign literature;
• Libraries, bookstores and public or private cultural centres dedicated to the preservation, promotion and dissemination of domestic and foreign literature;
• Active effort by the publishing sector to translate literary works from diverse national languages and foreign literature;
• Active involvement of media, including new media, in promoting literature and strengthening the market for literary products.
The Writers’ Centre Norwich and the University of East Anglia are two key components of Norwich’s case for the UNESCO City of Literature status. Norwich’s Galley Beggar Press, meanwhile, typifies both independent local publishing and bookstores.
Last year, playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker and Whitbread-winning novelist Ali Smith became the University of East Anglia’s first UNESCO City of Literature visiting professors. “The first book written by a woman in the English language came from the pen of Julian of Norwich in 1395, and it is the first city to implement the Public Library Act of 1850,” reads the UNESCO testimonial. “Today, it remains the regional centre for publishing and home to five per cent of the UK’s independent publishing sector.”