We just got maybe the most welcome press release in the history of press releases. It begins, "The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced it designated Seattle as a City of Literature in the Creative Cities Network." As a City of Literature, Seattle joins more than 20 other cities around the world in the network, including Baghdad, Dublin, Reykjavík, Prague, and Montevideo.
This is the culmination of a years-long process; the bid for Seattle as a City of Literature began in 2013 and it has seen wholesale staffing changes, survived four different mayors, and the US's withdrawal from UNESCO in the intervening years. (I wrote earlier this month that this last development "effectively stall[ed]" our bid; I've rarely been more relieved to be wrong.)
Through the whole process, Seattle City of Literature has been promoting the bid. I just got off the phone with City of Literature Board President Bob Redmond to discuss UNESCO's announcement. Redmond, who just learned that the bid was successful "about an hour ago," sounds like he's still processing the news.
Why should Seattleites care that we're now a UNESCO-recognized City of Literature? What does this mean for the city? “We all know that Seattle is a world-class city," Redmond explains, "but this underlines it in a new way — especially for people who care about the arts, or books, or words. It matters to everybody here that the world is looking at Seattle as a cultural leader. That should make us feel good."
How does Redmond feel about this? "I feel a mixture of justification and joy," he says. "I feel justification because I don’t think that the mission of UNESCO and this organization could be more relevant than it is right now: to build understanding through the literary arts."
In the world of 2017, Redmond says, "we can see how fraught and disturbing things can get when the battle lines are drawn. I have a great faith in the arts as the way that people can imagine something different." He says the designation is "just extremely timely."
"And then I feel happy," Redmond says, "because so many people have put hundreds of hours of effort into this over the years that it feels really earned. Finally, I’d say Seattle is such a deserving city." He says our tradition of literature extends "all the way back to the oral traditions of the indigenous peoples here," and "to be recognized for this is a tremendous honor."
So what's next for Seattle now that we're officially a City of Literature? "We just wrapped up our Indigenous Writers Exchange" at Lit Crawl this year, Redmond says, "and what’s next is our programs for 2018. Also, we have to do a lot of communicating with all the other cities in the network and catch up with the lay of the land in the Creative Cities Network."
This is where the real joyous work begins. Seattle is now officially a member of a continuum of international cities, and we will be invited to participate in cultural exchange programs with other cities in the network. I expect to see collaboration with other UNESCO cities begin in earnest very soon.
So what can readers of the Seattle Review of Books do to help? Redmond explains, "we are looking for additional board members" of the Seattle City of Literature organization. The current board, he says, "was put together to get to this point and we are looking for the next group of leaders to lead the organization" onto the international stage. (Interested parties can contact Seattle City of Literature through their website.) The city of Seattle has officially, finally, been recognized as a leader in world literature. Now it's time to show the world why we deserve the designation.