City pitches for world's literary crown
THE UK delegation to UNESCO has introduced Edinburgh’s bid to become the first "world city of literature" at the organisation’s executive meeting in Paris.
Edinburgh has made its case to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in a proposal spelling out the capital’s literary legacy, from Walter Scott to JK Rowling.
It tells how the city aims to make Scotland a literary destination for tourists and literary conferences, as well as attracting major book prize events. It pledges to develop tourist trails along literary themes.
The 15-page document notes that the Scott monument, at 200ft high, is the tallest in the world to a literary figure, and the Edinburgh is the only city to have named its station after a novel: Waverley.
But it also looks beyond the city to make the case that Scotland is a literary nation - citing literary happenings from Orkney to Dumfries, from the Aberdeen Word Festival to the Wigtown ‘Booktown’ Festival.
In order to strengthen its appeal to UNESCO the bid now projects Edinburgh as part of a future "global network of cities connected by literature".
A conference is planned with representatives of four or five other cities in August. "We will identify the sort of cities who also have a strong literary profile," said Jenny Brown, a literary agent and coordinator of the UNESCO bid.
Edinburgh’s effort to earn the title of the first world city of literature received some scorn from its near neighbours when it emerged last summer. London and Dublin have pressed their own case as literary capitals.
But the proposal describes the Scottish public as a "great consumer of books". Every household is estimated to spend 5 a week on books, newspapers and magazines, it says, while 7 per cent of Scottish adults have tried writing stories or poetry.
An Edinburgh design company, Redpath, is working on both a website for the bid and a detailed dossier that will go to UNESCO in November. It will include work from Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson to Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh.
An economic impact assessment is also under way into how far the UNESCO designation could boost local book sales or draw "literary tourists" to the city outside of festival time.
But the main planks are spelled out in the outline proposal. It says that Edinburgh has been home to Scott, Stevenson, Robert Burns, Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith, and JK Rowling, it notes, and has "hundreds of monuments to its literary sons and daughters".
"The city of Edinburgh itself has inspired great literature (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Heart of Midlothian, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Trainspotting, to name a few examples) and remains the chosen home of internationally acclaimed writers, including JK Rowling." Edinburgh University, dating from 1583, educated such luminaries as David Hume, Charles Darwin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan.
The document also makes the case for "the global significance of Edinburgh’s literary heritage". The evidence ranges from international appreciation societies for Scott and Stevenson, Burns celebrations from Colombia to China, and the study of Scottish literature in universities from the Middle East to Scandinavia.
"Today Edinburgh, a city of less than half a million people, is home to 50 publishing houses," it says, noting the 19th-century publishers Chambers, Constable and Nelson, and the rising 21st-century star Canongate. The Edinburgh International Book Festival has played host to a score of Nobel and Booker winners.
The document plays heavily to an international audience, stressing the Pushkin Prize for young writers from Scotland and Russia and translations of Scottish authors from Canongate.
The National Library of Scotland has recorded more than 20,000 Scottish titles translated into over 100 languages, and gets about 1,000 foreign requests a year for material. It is also involved in the foundation of a National Library for Russia.
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