1000 Years of Stories

Norwich has been a literary city for over 900 years: a place of ideas where the power of words has changed lives, promoted parliamentary democracy, fomented revolution, fought for the abolition of slavery and transformed literature. Today, it remains the English destination for poets, novelists, biographers, playwrights, translators, literary critics, historians, environmentalists and philosophers: a place for writers as agents of change.

Norwich literary firsts

  • Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), one of Europe’s great mystics wrote Revelations of Divine Love in an anchorite cell in Norwich and was the first woman to be published in English. This cell can be seen today in St Julian’s church opposite WCN’s home, Dragon Hall.
  • The first civic provincial library was established in Norwich in 1608.
  • The first provincial newspaper was established in Norwich in 1701.
  • Norwich was the first city to implement the Public Library Act of 1850.
  • Norwich is home to the oldest city arts festival in the country – Norfolk & Norwich Festival – for which WCN programmes the City of Literature weekend every year.
  • Britain’s first and most famous MA Creative Writing was founded in Norwich at the University of East Anglia in 1970 by Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson. The first student was Ian McEwan, who went on to win the Man Booker Prize, followed by Kazuo Ishiguro and Anne Enright.
  • The British Centre for Literary Translation was founded in Norwich in 1989 by one of Europe’s greatest writers WG (Max) Sebald, who taught at UEA from 1969 until his sudden death in 2001. 
  • In 2006 Norwich became the first (and is still the only) UK city to join the International Cities of Refuge Network which was formed to promote free speech and support persecuted writers 

More literary facts

  • Meir ben Elijah is the only medieval Hebrew poet whose work has survived to this day. Not a great deal is known about him; we know when he wrote and that he lived and wrote in Norwich during the 1290s because one of his poems tells us so. As a witness to some of the most turbulent times in British history, his work is vital to a full understanding of our past. Read more. 
  • Norwich’s Millennium Library has issued the highest number of books of any library in the UK for five years running (according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy).
  • There are 27 independent publishers based in Norwich (and eight more in the county). This represents 5% of the UK’s independent publishing sector and relative to the region’s low population, a higher percentage than anywhere else in the country outside of London.