Last October, the United Nation’s arts organization UNESCO officially named Seattle a City of Literature, officially making us one of the organization’s nearly 200 members of the Creative Cities network.
After that announcement, Seattle City of Lit, the local organization which put together the winning bid, effectively went dark for a while. I talked with board president Stesha Brandon about what they’ve been up to and what Seattle can expect from our UNESCO status in the months ahead.
“I think the main thing I’d say is we’re still in learning mode,” Brandon says. She recently represented Seattle at the annual City of Literature conference in Iowa City, which allowed her to meet and begin forming relationships with our 27 other sister cities in the literature designation. In June, she’s heading to Krakow to attend with the other 180 or so Creative Cities to “talk about topics like transportation and housing and the arts and how those things can impact each other.”
These conferences are important, Brandon says, because they allow us to see “some of the cool things other cities are doing.” She especially liked Edinburgh’s program of “putting poetry out in the public thoroughfare as something people engage with on their daily commutes.” When cities put poetry “in shop windows and on sidewalks,” she says, “then we’re not expecting people to go out of their way to engage with literature — we’re trying to engage them where they are already.”
Additionally, several of the other cities are hosting residency programs, so we’ll soon have the opportunity to send Seattle writers abroad and hopefully host sister city authors here in town in an effort to share Seattle’s literature with the rest of the world.
Tomorrow night—Tuesday the 22nd — Seattle City of Literature is hosting a party at the Central Library downtown. Brandon calls it a “pretty simple celebration,” an opportunity to “take a minute to celebrate the designation with the folks who make it happen and the community that it’s for.”
Seattle City of Lit will present some information about the designation and some plans for the future, but Brandon is most excited to hear about what you want out of the city’s UNESCO designation. “Folks will have an opportunity to talk to us,” Brandon says, and “hopefully they will share what they’re excited about and what they’re hoping” for Seattle as a City of Literature.
If you can’t make it to the party tomorrow night but you’d like to learn more about Seattle’s City of Literature plans, you should sign up for Seattle City of Lit’s newsletter, or follow them on social media.
But really, if you can, you should come to the party. Seattle City of Lit is just getting started, and people who get involved now can have outsized influence on the future of the organization. If you’ve been looking for a way to make your mark on the future of literature in this city, you won’t get a better chance than this.