Norwich is England’s First UNESCO City of Literature

Here I am at the Lord Mayor of Norwich’s celebration of the award of UNESCO City of Literature – we’re the first English city to gain this, and one of only six cities worldwide – the others are Edinburgh, Dublin, Melbourne, Reykjavik and Iowa City.

The reception was held at Blackfriars Hall, part of the St Andrew’s complex which consists of two ancient halls, crypt and cloister, and dates from 1270.  Now fully refurbished! It was full of the local great and good in the literary world – a great opportunity for networking! I met many interesting people from members of the Writing Centre (it encourages new writers) to publishers and a re- acquaintance with a fellow teacher from my time in Lowestoft.

So why has Norwich gained this award? Many reasons.  Our history – the first woman writer lived here in the 1300s – Lady Julian, a devout anchoress, much sought out for her good sense as well as her piety.  We have a reputation for dissent and free thinking – in 1549 the local farmer Robert Kett led a revolt against the enclosure of common land and actually captured Norwich, then England’s second city. Elizabeth Fry the prison reformer grew up in Norwich, as did Harriet  Martineau who risked her life protesting against slavery in the States. This reputation has led to our being designated the first UK City of Refuge and a sanctuary for persecuted writers round the world.

Our university – the University of East Anglia – pioneered Britain’s first Creative Writing MA.  Graduates include Ian McEwan, Mohammed Hanif, Kazuo Ishiguro and Andrew Cohen. We’re a world class centre for new media and science writing with the most advanced archive centre in Europe and one of the most used public libraries in the UK.

I could go on!  But basically you get the idea – Norwich is no alsoran, and Norfolk is not a complete backwater – remember Lord Nelson!  We have our own Trafalgar memorial to him in Great Yarmouth.

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