On the other side of the globe lies a City of Literature that has the title since 2008 - and from which Bremen can learn a lot: Melbourne. In an interview with Annika Depping, David Ryding talks about digital and international projects and the Wheeler Centre, the heart of the literary city of Melbourne.
What makes Melbourne a City of Literature and since when does it have the title?
Melbourne joined the network in 2008 when we decided to take up the challenge of being a UNESCO Creative City. Back then it was designation of achievement rather than the network of ambition it is now. Melbourne’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature is acknowledgment of the breadth, depth and vibrancy of the city’s literary culture. Melbowarne supports a diverse range of writers, a prosperous publishing industry, a successful culture of independent bookselling, a wide variety of literary organisations and a healthy culture of reading and engagement in events and festivals.
The designation was made in recognition of the following factors, amongst others:
- The quality, quantity and diversity of publishing and editorial initiatives in Melbourne;
- The quality and quantity of educational programmes in Melbourne;
- Melbourne’s urban environment in which literature is integral;
- Melbourne’s experience at hosting literary events and festivals, and promoting foreign and domestic texts;
- Melbourne’s libraries, bookstores and cultural centres; and
- The use of new media in Melbourne to promote and strengthen the literary market.
But, as Peter Carey said, “Melbourne has always been a city of literature“.
With which projects did your city apply for the title City of Literature?
As the 2nd city to join, the designation process was very different and didn't involve projects. We did though commit to building out Centre of Books, Writing and Ideas– a vibrant new hub for a diverse range of literary- and ideas-based organisations and activities. The aim: to provide a home and important focal point for the conversations that matter to Victoria, and indeed, Australia. As the Centre itself took its physical shape within a newly renovated and dedicated wing of the State Library of Victoria, our position was secured ahead of the official opening with the commitment of our patrons, Maureen and Tony Wheeler of Lonely Planet. From that day, the Centre of Books, Writing and Ideas became the Wheeler Centre.
Since 2009, the Wheeler Centre has been firmly established at the heart of Victoria’s rich cultural life. Based in the Melbourne CBD on Little Lonsdale St, the Centre is also a hub and home for writers and key literary organisations, including the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, Writers’ Victoria, Express Media, Emerging Writers’ Festival, Australian Poetry and Small Press Network.
These areas address the aims of the Creative City Network as well as the needs for Melbourne as a City of Literature:
- Connecting the City of Literature - Melbourne is a well-connected City both locally and internationally
- Reflecting the City of Literature - Melbourne values itself as a leading City of Literature
- Supporting the City of Literature - Melbourne is a sustainable City of Literature
The Office has three streams of activity to work on the above aims:
- Strategic initiatives – One-off programming led by the Office.
- Partnership programs – Initiatives working with partner organisations to support their activities when they are addressing one of our strategy areas.
- International exchanges – Programs that begin here, in partnership with another Creative City, then have the ability to travel and be used around the network.
Which international relations emerged for your city after joining the Creative Cities Network?
Since the Office opened, 173 Melbourne writers and literature workers have had a direct international connection be it a residency, an appearance, a publication or a virtual opportunity. In the same time we have welcomed 128 people to Melbourne and published 326 unique pieces of work.
Which specific international projects could be initiated as a result?
You can explore some of our past international initiatives here!
- 20 minute Cities (with Digital Writers Festival) – 2016
- Crafting a City of Literature (with Melbourne Prize) – 2017
- D-Writers China (with Writers Victoria) – 2013
- Edinburgh Exchange – 2018
- Expedition Poetry (with Heidelberg) – 2022
- International Literary Programmers Roundtable – 2023
- Reading the City of Literature – 2016, 2017, 2023
- Slam-O-Vision – 2017, ongoing
- Sleipnir travels (with Reykjavik City of Literature) – 2016, ongoing
- The Stories We tell Ourselves (with Spread the Word & The Wheeler Centre) – 2021
- Travel Fund – 2015/16
- Virtual Writers in Residence – 2021, ongoing
- Visiting International Literary Programmers (Melbourne Writer’s Festival) – 2017, ongoing
- Writing our Melbourne – 2017
Do you know the city of Bremen? What do you associate with Bremen?
All the Cities of Literature read the application of Bremen to become a city of literature, so we know a little about it. And using the information from the application in this interview would be cheating. But the first thing that comes to mind are of course brothers Grimm.
Did not have a chance to explore the city and its cultural aspects, which I’m really looking forward to experiencing. I have no doubt the city is dedicated fully to furthering its cultural potential and investing its resources to solidify its status as a true city of literature.
And since it’s official, congratulations on becoming a UNESCO City of Literature and joining a great literary family. No doubt you deserve it.