Norwich is England's first UNESCO City of Literature
“Literature has deep roots in the beautiful city of Norwich and it was a natural first choice for UNESCO... Writers have known for centuries that Norwich is a dreamy city.” Ian McEwan, May 2012
In 2012 Norwich became England’s first UNESCO City of Literature and one of only six in the world, joining Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin and Reykjavik as part of an elite international network.
The UNESCO City of Literature accreditation is a well deserved acknowledgement of Norwich’s astounding literary heritage, contemporary strengths, and future potential, and unsurprisingly there is a thriving literary scene for you to get involved with. Please see below for a series of handpicked links and recommendations for you to follow.
You can also find out more about the intriguing history of Norwich and read more of the story in our official UNESCO bid document.
Writers’ Centre Norwich led Norwich’s bid for UNESCO City of Literature status. Located just a few short steps away from Elm Hill and the Norwich Cathedral, Writers’ Centre Norwich is a literature development agency, which supports and encourages creative writing in all its guises. Writers’ Centre Norwich has a year round program of literary events
, including book clubs, creative writing workshops and author events.
takes place on the first Tuesday of every month, and invites, writers, translators, literary professionals, and keen literature lovers for an evening of relaxed chat and inspiring readers.
The WCN Book Club
has a year round book club, which is all inclusive and the perfect opportunity to indulge in some bookish chat.
To keep an eye on all of our events, including our creative writing workshops, and author events, visit the Writers’ Centre events page.
The University of East Anglia
, renowned for its excellent creative writing and literature departments, holds a Spring and Autumn Literary Festival
every year. Visit their website
for a full events diary.
British Centre for Literary Translation
Part of the University of East Anglia, the British Centre for Literary Translation
(or BCLT) is Britain’s leading centre dedicated to exploring, developing and promoting the best in literary translation and writing from around the world. BCLT has a wonderful schedule of events which celebrates translation in all its forms. View their events calendar.
Norfolk Library Service
across Norfolk hold events which range from author events, to reading groups, to children’s book groups. The event schedule is regularly updated on the Norfolk Libraries event blog.
Take the time to visit the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library,
which is the most popular library in the UK.
Norfolk Record Office
The Norfolk Record Office
collects and safeguards unique archives, creating a plethora of intriguing information relating to Norfolk. The records are accessible to people in Norfolk, and globally.
Norwich Arts Centre
The Norwich Arts Centre
is host to a wide variety of events, from music to crafts events, to live literature. Take a look at their events calendar
for more information.
The Norwich Playhouse
is a riverside theatre which has a broad range of programmes showing all year round. Visit their events calendar
to view upcoming shows.
Waterstones Castle Street, a large high street bookshop, holds events across the year, within the bookshop and at local libraries. For more details visit the Waterstones website.
The Book Hive
The Book Hive is an independent bookshop located in the heart of Norwich. The Book Hive holds events with established local authors, as well as internationally renowned writers. All events are on The Book Hive website.
is a family run department store which includes an award-winning book department
. Their events schedule
runs year round, and includes the East Anglian Book Awards.
John Jarrold Print Museum
The John Jarrold Print Museum
is dedicated to celebrating and preserving the heritage of printing. The museum is open from 9.30am to 12.30pm every Wednesday.
Cafe Writers meet monthly and welcome established and new writers for an evening of literary entertainment. Open to writers of all genres, Cafe Writers regularly hold Open Mic Nights, as well hosting readings from fantastic writers. View their upcoming events.
Norwich Writers Circle
Norwich Writers Circle was founded in 1943 and has been going strong ever since. The Norwich Writers Circle have a year-round schedule of events
, which new members are welcome to.
East Anglian Writers
This regional writing group stretches across East Anglia and meets regularly. View their diary.
The Literary Norfolk website
presents Norfolk’s literary landmarks.
Local Tourism Websites
provides a guide to all local tourism in the city, advising you on the best activities the city can offer, as well providing an events schedule
If you’re hoping to explore the Norfolk countryside; Visit Norfolk
gives a low-down of activities across Norfolk. There’s also an events calendar
includes a mobile app for those on the go, as well as an events calendar
for the city.
"This is recognition of the world wide reputation of Norwich as a centre for literary excellence, and acknowledgment that literature and literacy are powerful tools which can inspire people and help change lives."
Councillor Brenda Arthur, Leader of Norwich City Council
As celebrated in the bid, Norwich has a sensational literary past, from the first battlefield dispatch (1075) to the first woman published in English (Julian of Norwich – C15th), the first recognisable novel (C16th), the first blank verse (C16th), the first printed plan of an English city (C16th), the first published parliamentary debates (Luke Hansard – C18th), the largest concentration of published dissenters, revolutionaries and social reformers (C18th /19th ) including Tom Paine and the 30 million bestseller, Anna Sewell; the first provincial library (1608), first municipality to adopt the Library Act (1850), first provincial newspaper (1701), first British MA in creative writing (the first student of the first MA was Ian McEwan (1971)), the UK’s first City of Refuge (2006) for persecuted writers and a founding member of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) and to cap it all, the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library (C21st) has the highest number of visitors and users in the UK – by far. And that’s to leave out an extraordinary roll-call of great writers, publishers, printers and innovators – as many today as in the past – where literature really has been a force for positive change.
Click below to read the full bid document:
What is UNESCO City of Literature Status?
“For Norwich to be named England’s first UNESCO City of Literature is a magnificent accolade, which will further enhance both the literary talent we attract and the literary energy we radiate locally, nationally and internationally.”
Professor Edward Acton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia
The City of Literature status is designated through UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network which aims to harness the creativity of cities by sharing ideas and best practice for artistic, social and economic development through culture.
The status is permanent and was won after a bidding process led by Writers’ Centre Norwich that involved writers, readers and key partners including Arts Council England, Norwich City Council, University of East Anglia, Norfolk County Council, the British Centre for Literary Translation and others.
The accreditation is permanent and non-competitive. It does not come with any financial reward, but the international network of creative cities will support us to develop the accreditation to deliver very real benefits to the residents of and visitors to Norwich over the coming years.
Edinburgh, the first City of Literature, has information and links to all six Cities of Literature.
Read our UNESCO City of Literature press release.
View some photos relating to the Norwich bid.
What Does City of UNESCO City of Literature Status Mean For Norwich and Norfolk?
“Writers’ Centre Norwich and all our partners will work hard to ensure the UNESCO accreditation brings real and lasting benefits to all those who live in, work in and visit our city and region.”
Chris Gribble, Chief Executive, Writers’ Centre Norwich
The International Centre for Writing
The flagship project of Norwich’s UNESCO City of Literature programme is the International Centre for Writing, a partnership between WCN, the University of East Anglia and others in a building granted by Norwich City Council. In April 2012 the project, designed to become a world leading centre for creative writing, won a development grant of £340,000 to allow WCN to develop its proposal for the creation of an international centre for writing. Once successfully completed, this will enable them to make a further bid for up to £2,660,000.
The ICW’s physical realisation will result from the renovation and development of Gladstone House, a C18th Grade II Georgian house, granted to WCN by Norwich City Council on a 25 year lease. Our proposals create teaching, conference, event, office and writers’ spaces in the main house, two Writers in Residence apartments in the upper floors of the annexe, a café, and a 120 seat events space in a new structure in the garden. Arts Council England, University of East Anglia and Norfolk County Council are partners in the project that is due to open to the public in April 2016.
Leading the way for literature in the UK, the International Centre for Writing supports inspiration, enjoyment, understanding and transformation through creative writing, reading, translation and education in a world class literary city.
For a visualisation of the completed building please see:
Find out more about the International Centre for Writing
Other UNESCO Projects
Norwich UNESCO City of Literature accreditation will also enable WCN and its partners to increase economic investment in the region through an innovative and popular tourism offer based on Norwich’s literary heritage; promote international connections, development and collaboration and engage young people with reading and writing in new and exciting ways.
One of the first UNESCO projects will be the publication of new translations of England’s only mediaeval Hebrew poet, Meir ben Elijah, whose work lay lost in the Vatican Archives for many centuries and whose voice speaks to us directly and remarkably from 13th century Norwich.
Celebrating the Award
Writers’ Centre Norwich will celebrate the UNESCO accreditation in June 2012 this year when it welcomes Nobel Laureate Professor J.M. Coetzee, Michael Ondaatje, Jeanette Winterson and many other outstanding writers from around the world to its Worlds Literature festival.
Who Runs Norwich UNESCO City of Literature?
‘This is an exceptional and thoroughly merited accolade for Norwich, reflecting both the city’s literary history and its vibrant and unique literary scene. UNESCO’s endorsement will allow Norwich to consolidate its international reputation as a city of literature, and forms a cornerstone of the proposals for the new International Centre for Writing.'
Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England.
The Norwich UNESCO City of Literature accreditation is owned by Norwich City Council and the agreement is signed by Norwich’s Lord Mayor. As the organisation behind the bid, Writers’ Centre Norwich is in charge of how the accreditation is used and the programmes developed under the UNESCO umbrella.
WCN (and the International Centre for Writing) will develop a programme of UNESCO City of Literature events and activities that are badged with and backed by the accreditation.
How do people get involved with Norwich UNESCO City of Literature?
If people have ideas of their own, or would like their organisations to be involved in UNESCO City of Literature activities, they should, in the first instance, send an e-mail to Chris Gribble – Writers’ Centre Norwich’s CEO at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Writers’ Centre Norwich and UNESCO City of Literature
Writers’ Centre Norwich led the bid for UNESCO City of Literature status. We are an agency interested in the artistic and social power of creative writing, and the work we do reflects this:
• We help aspiring and emerging writers through successful workshop and professional development schemes
• International writers find new audiences through us and readers are introduced to new works and ideas
• Major events with writers including Ian McEwan, J.M. Coetzee and Martin Amis inspire, whilst the Worlds roundtable Salon allows a rare space for writers to think and reflect together
• In June 2007 Norwich became the UK’s first City of Refuge, and the programme runs through Writers’ Centre Norwich. The International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) is an international association which exists to support writers at risk of physical and economic persecution and to offer them a place of safety and support, as well as time to write
• We are developing the plans for a new International Centre for Writing in Norwich
Keep in touch and sign up for timely news and updates from Writers' Centre Norwich.
"This is absolutely brilliant; a fantastic achievement and an incredible honour for Norwich and Norfolk. Our writers have made enormous contributions to literature, politics and social reform over the course of hundreds of years; contributions that have gone on to change the world. This international award not only recognises their outstanding efforts but also puts Norwich and Norfolk on the global stage, and gives us great hope for the future in that we can inspire, encourage and do everything possible to help our writers of tomorrow."
Barry Stone, Cabinet Member for Cultural Services at Norfolk County Council
“Coming to Norwich to take up my post as Professor of Creative Writing was like coming home [...]It is truly one of the homes of literature in Britain. And not at all just on account of the 40-year history of creative writing at the University of East Anglia where I teach. There are hundreds of writers living in the city, fabulous bookshops and, more importantly, thousands of readers. It’s great that this honour from UNESCO will put Norwich on the world stage.”
Giles Foden, Writer and Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and author of The Last King of Scotland
With thanks to all of our bid partners, including our stakeholders: