Manchester confirmed as UNESCO Creative City of Literature

Manchester has recently been confirmed as UNESCO Creative City of Literature; an honour that has got many local Mancunians celebrating and one that has been keenly anticipated for a long time now. What does being a UNESCO creative city mean though, and why has Manchester been awarded this honour?

Credit: MLF

Manchester has just been confirmed as a UNESCO creative city!… but, what does that actually mean?

Well, “The UNESCO Global Creative Cities Network is a global network of cities working towards the joint mission of placing creativity and cultural industries at the core of their urban development to make their cities safe, resilient and sustainable. Made up of 180 members globally, UNESCO Creative Cities specialise in seven fields: Crafts & Folk, Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Music, and Media Arts.” UNESCO

The announcement was made on the last night of the Manchester October Literary Festival, and made a perfect finale to an amazing month celebrating literature in Manchester. The city is such a vibrant cultural hive, has so many iconic literary authors (& characters!) and I have no doubt will go on to produce many more in the future. This recognition from UNESCO is such an honour and one that people across Manchester will be celebrating.


I heard the news at the closing event of the Manchester Literature Festival listening to Rebecca Solnit in conversation with Jeanette Winterson. It was an incredible moment for the news to be announced, and so special to be at the first literary event in the newly named UNESCO city. From Elizabeth Gaskell to Anthony Burgess, we have much to be proud of, and it will be exciting to see what the next generation of Mancunians produce in this global creative city.

To celebrate Manchester being made a UNESCO city of literature I’ve selected three authors defined by Manchester and who have, in turn, defined the city.

The first is, of course, the poet Laurette- Carol Ann Duffy. Love her or hate her she has done much for the genre and for engaging people with poetry in new ways. As a lecturer at MMU, she has inspired young people across the country but remains grounded in her home city of Manchester and roots herself in the local politics. We are the home of the suffragette movement and Duffy has written some of the greatest feminist poetry of the time. Always full of surprises her work encapsulates modernity, confusion and wrestles with many of the key issues of the day. She may have been inspired by the city, but she also inspires in her turn- giving voice to women who have so long been silenced, and creating space for new waves of feminist activists to come forward.

Another living inspiration in Manchester is Lemn Sissay, an author, broadcaster and Chancellor of Manchester University.  Sissay is a brutally honest writer, and his works contain much of the cynicism and dark humour typical of Mancunians. He is known mainly for his poetry and plays, which often touch on childhood, and he works with many charities to ensure children have the best start in life. There is an autobiographical element to much of his work; and with a difficult start if life, Sissay speaks with a raw honesty about his experiences and uses his platform to share other people’s stories also. As with many writers from Manchester, Sissay is concerned with social justice and using writing as a way to express himself and ideas for reform.

Finally, I have chosen one of the greatest novelists of all time: Elizabeth Gaskell. Gaskell was not originally from Manchester, but spend most of her adult life here and her work was shaped by the industrial scene at the time. She is one of the first writers to discuss the industrial revolution and delve into the world of the workers, showing multiple sides of many arguments. Her work is iconic and could not have been written anywhere other than Manchester. It is perhaps because of this that she has inspired so many other Mancunian authors and continues to be a household name, both for her writing and her activism.