Our City of Literature: Melbourne

State Library of Victoria in Melbourne
State Library of Victoria by animm on Flickr

Last month, my favourite city Dublin, was appointed the fourth UNESCO City of Literature. Dublin joins Edinburgh, Iowa City and my hometown Melbourne, in UNESCO’s growing creative cities network.

To become a City of Literature, cities must make an application to UNESCO based on criteria that demonstrate their diversity in creating and promoting literary works.

Melbourne is considered by many to be the ‘cultural capital’ of Australia, and was appointed the second UNESCO City of Literature in August 2008.

Our City of Literature is built upon land that traditionally belongs to the Indigenous people of the Kulin Nation; they have been writing their stories for over 40,000 years. These stories are expressed through bark paintings, rock carvings and possum skin drawings, that are part of a local indigenous literature providing a voice to Melbourne’s indigenous culture.

Here are 5 literary facts you may not know about Melbourne:

1. The State Library of Victoria is the state’s oldest publicly funded cultural institution and the oldest free public library in the country. It’s visited by around 1.1 million people each year and the front steps and grassy slopes of the library make a popular lunch spot for Melbournians.

2. Melbourne has more bookshops per head of population than anywhere else in Australia. One of my favourites is the quirky, Minotaur, which specialises in pop culture and sells comics, magazines, music, television and movies from around the world.

3. Melbournians borrow more books from their local libraries than readers in any other Australian city. There are also a number of established book groups including a few that operate as part of the Fed Square book club. They meet on the second Saturday of every month and meetings often coincide with the Saturday book market.

4. Many successful novelists and poets have called Melbourne home, including Booker prize-winner Peter Carey. Today a third of Australia’s writers live in Melbourne (approximately 1,300) and many more enjoy writing as a hobby (97,600).

5. Melbourne holds a range of literary festivals including the Overload Poetry Festival, the Alfred Deakin Innovation Lectures, the Emerging Writers’ Festival and the upcoming Melbourne Writers’ Festival.

Resource: UNESCO

Which city would you nominate to be the next UNESCO City of Literature? Why?

Read more:
The end of Australian writing?
An Australian’s pilgrimage to Gallipoli
Bloomsday in Dublin – it’s all about Joyce

About the author

Rebecca Kinsella
After two years overseas discovering Irish family and foreign cultures, Rebecca has recently returned home to Melbourne. She was inspired to share Australian culture after getting exposure to how others live through her travels.
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  • I’d love to visit Melbourne one day (sigh)

    If I had to nominate a city, it would have to be my own, Buenos Aires. It produced lots of great writers, including internationally renowned Jorge Luis Borges. But you could say I’m biased!

  • Thanks for sharing this Rebecca. Didn’t know Melbourne had such an affinity with books and libraries. Like Ana, I would want to experience it all first hand!

  • I wish I knew more about Australian literature! It’s good to learn more about how Melbourne gets its ‘cultural capital’ reputation though.

  • rebecca

    Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts -I’d love to see all you in Melbourne! Liz, I think a piece on Australian literature would make a great follow up post, so thanks for the idea :)

  • Looking forward to it!

  • Hey! I just found out that Buenos Aires was declared UNESCO World Book Capital 2011!

  • Cool! I always mean to read Borges, but his books don’t look very accessible so I’ve been putting it off. I’d love to know more about Argentinian literature too. Can you recommend any other writers Ana?

  • @Liz, before I recommend any writer, I need to know which genre you’re interested in.

    You’re right, Borges can be difficult to understand. Fortunately, he wrote a few short stories, mainly set in the suburbs and rural areas, which are very accessible.

    Dr. Brodie’s Report, 1971 is a collection of such stories and one that I’ve read many times. Here’s a link to one of the stories from that book: http://anagrammatically.com/2008/03/09/borges-gospel-according-to-mark/

    And here’s a link to a Wikipedia article (I know…) about Borges that may shed some light :)

  • Thanks Ana! I might try the short stories. Seems like a good place to start.

    I’m not confined to any particular genre. That’s not very helpful is it? Here is the full extent of my Latin American reading (probably also not very helpful since none of them is Argentinian)

    Roberto Bolaño – 2666 (liked)
    Daniel Alarcon – Lost city radio (liked)
    Isabelle Allende – Daughter of Fortune (ok)
    One hundred years of solitude (a bit heavy)

    Sorry for hijacking your comments Rebecca! We’ve gone off the topic a bit haven’t we?

  • rebecca

    no worries, Liz. I’ve enjoyed following your discussion on Argentinian literature & i’ll have to check out the links too!

    Ana – great news that Buenos Aires is UNESCO World Book Capital 2011…maybe UNESCO read my post and took your nomination on board ;)

  • Ms. Rebecca I love your discussions here. I have the time to let myself aware form different culture. I love Argentinian culture and I want to explore more in the future