The UNESCO City of Literature designation is awarded to cities that show a fervent interest in literature and publishing. In this round, nine cities received the designation, none of them in the U.S.
The effort to designate Seattle as an International City of Literature by the United Nation’s UNESCO organization has failed — for this year, anyway.
Bob Redmond, president of the board of the Seattle City of Literature organization, said this morning that he had received word from UNESCO that Seattle wouldn’t be receiving the designation. That’s a disappointment for literature lovers city wide — the effort to get the designation had broad support from a range of literary organizations, as well as Mayor Ed Murray’s office and the Seattle City Council.
The UNESCO City of Literature designation is awarded to cities that show a fervent interest in literature, publishing and other forms of written expression.
UNESCO did not offer any explanation for why Seattle’s bid was not successful, Redmond said, and he doesn’t expect to get one. The bid had broad support from other American cities in the UNESCO’s creative cities network. “To be honest, I don’t expect a lot,” of explanation, he said. “It’ll be like chasing smoke.”
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Nine cities did receive the literature designation, though not cities in the U.S. Seattle is the only U.S. city that applied in the literature category. The designated cities are Baghdad (Iraq), Barcelona (Spain), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Lviv (Ukraine), Montevideo (Uruguay), Nottingham (U.K.), Óbidos (Portugal), Tartu (Estonia) and Ulyanovsk (Russian Federation). Three American cities did join the UNESCO Creative Cities’ network, though in other areas of emphasis. Detroit earned a Creative Cities designation in Design; Tucson in Gastronomy, and Austin in Media Arts.
John Kenyon is executive director of the UNESCO City of Literature program in Iowa City, the only city so designated in the United States. He thought Seattle had “an exceptionally strong bid,” and speculated that UNESCO might have looked elsewhere to widen the geographic reach of the program.
Iowa City is already known worldwide as the home of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where writers of the caliber of Flannery O’Connor and John Irving have studied. But Kenyon said the designation has helped the city “tell the world what we have here”. New residents have cited it as a reason for moving to Iowa City, and the city’s economic development group uses it to paint a portrait of a city “young creatives” like to live in.
Launched in 2004 and now comprising 116 member cities, the UNESCO Creative Cities Network “aims to foster international cooperation with and between cities committed to investing in creativity as a driver for sustainable urban development, social inclusion and cultural vibrancy,” according to the program’s website. Forty-seven cities worldwide were added to the network this year.
Will the Seattle group apply again? Redmond said he was up for it, but that his organization needs to regroup and decide what to do. “If it takes more effort, I’m down for that. If the community is, I’m down for trying. I think everyone would love to see us apply again,” but the application process is time-consuming and labor-intensive, he said.
The effort to get the designation started with Seattle writer Ryan Boudinot, who got the idea rolling and campaigned for Seattle for more than two years. Supporters believed that the city’s affection for books, authors and reading, plus local support for literature-related programs, made Seattle an excellent candidate.
Boudinot became executive director of the nonprofit organization Seattle City of Literature (seattlecityoflit.org), cashed in his own frequent-flier miles to visit other cities of literature around the world and solicited local support.
But Boudinot, a sometime writing teacher, created a national fracas when he published a Feb. 27 opinion piece in The Stranger that criticized Master of Fine Arts students in his classes for being narcissistic, among other things. After Boudinot left the organization, its leaders regrouped and submitted a bid in July.