Norwich, City of Literature

In support of Libraries, Books, Words & Ideas

IFLA congratulates the city of Norwich (UK) on becoming the sixth UNESCO City of Literature. 

Visit the Norwich UNESCO City of Literature website.

Ten Things To Know about Norwich

A City of Literature – Norwich has been a literary city for 900 years: a place of ideas where the power of words has changed lives. Today, it remains the regional centre for publishing and home to five per cent of the UK’s independent publishing sector. In March 2012 Writers’ Centre Norwich was awarded £3 million to develop the International Centre for Writing which will be a hub for excellence in literature from around the world.

A City of Firsts – The first book written by a woman in the English language came from the pen of Julian of Norwich in 1395. In the 16th century the first poem in blank verse was written by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, here in Norwich. The first English provincial library in 1608 and newspaper in 1701 followed, and Norwich was the first to implement the Public Library Act of 1850. More recently, in 1970 Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson founded the UK’s first Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia, from which Ian McEwan was the first graduate.

A City of Libraries – The Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, housed in the magnificent Forum in the heart of Norwich, has been the most visited public library in the UK for the past six years, and lends more items than any other. Across the City, the Cathedral library is home to more than 20,000 books dating back to 1474, while the John Innes centre hosts a remarkable collection of natural history and rare books.

A City of Independent Bookshops and Publishers  The Jarrold family arrived in the East of England in the 17th century, bringing with them the art of printing and book-binding. Today the Jarrold department store holds one of the foremost independent bookshops in the UK. Norwich's newest bookshop, The Book Hive, opened in 2009, and in 2011 won The Telegraph's 'Best Small Independent Bookshop in Britain'.

A City for Writers and Readers – Formed in 2003 and leading the Norwich UNESCO bid, Writers’ Centre Norwich is a literature development organisation that works locally, nationally, and internationally. It provides professional development for writers through workshops, courses, networking and competitions, reaches thousands of children through innovative schools programmes, connects with readers through a successful summer reading campaign, and hosts a series of high-profile events throughout the year.

A City of Writers  The Creative Writing MA at UEA has established itself as the foremost Creative Writing course in the UK and a global hub of national and international literature. Graduates include three Booker Prize winners (Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, and Anne Enright). The British Centre for Literary Translation at UEA, founded by the renowned author WG Sebald, is Britain's leading centre for the development, promotion and support of literary translation.

A City of Independent Minds – Writers from Norwich have, quite literally, changed the world. Born just south of Norwich, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense treatise influenced the course of the American Revolution while his Rights of Man is one of the most widely read books of all time. Celebrated polymath Thomas Browne, prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, and more recently, Stephen Fry, have all called Norwich their home.

A City of Refuge – Writers’ Centre Norwich established Norwich as the UK’s first City of Refuge for threatened writers and was a founding member of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN).

A City of Performance – Norwich is the focal point for a thriving live literature scene, and home to some of the most vibrant and creative performance poets in the UK. Aisle 16, and its founding member Luke Wright, is at the forefront of this, and in 2009 set up Nasty Little Press, dedicated to publishing poetry from the UK’s best-loved live poets, including Molly Naylor, Martin Figura, Tim Clare, Hannah Walker and John Osborne, all of whom are also Norwich residents.

A City of Festivals – Norwich is home to the University of East Anglia, which hosts the biannual International Literary Festival which celebrated its 21st anniversary in 2011. Within an hour of Norwich are a multitude of other literature festivals including Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, Poetry next the Sea, and Cambridge Wordfest.

UNESCO Cities of Literature

Find out more about the current Cities of Literature: Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin, Reykjavik and Norwich.