After five long years, Seattle City of Literature has achieved its goal of making Seattle an official UNESCO City of Literature. The designation lives under the UNESCO Creative Cities umbrella, which strives to increase conversation and collaboration between artists and thinkers from all over the world.
Emerald City joins the likes of Iowa City; Reykjavík, Iceland; and Dublin, Ireland as municipalities where writing and publishing hold a place prominence. Other cities in the UNESCO CoL class of 2017 include Milan, Italy; Québec City, Canada; Utrecht, Netherlands; Bucheon, Korea; Durban, South Africa; Lillehammer, Norway; and Manchester, UK.
Seattle and Iowa City are the only two U.S. cities on the list.
The organization's effort to earn the designation hit a road bump in 2015 when former board president and fiction writer Ryan Boudinot published an essay in the Stranger about
being a bad teacher arrogant MFA students. Following a bunch of internet criticism, that board resigned and a new board took its place. Boudinot published a pretty good but admittedly incomplete collection of work from Seattle writers called, you guessed it, Seattle City of Literature, which served as the organization's appeal to the city for support. Bob Redmond, Garth Stein, Stesha Brandon, Alix Wilber, JC Sevcik, and Colin McArthur sit on the current board.
What does all this mean for Seattle? Unsure with this new crew. I've left a message with Brandon and will update this post when I know more.
However, when I interviewed Boudinot for City Arts back in 2014, the following ideas were being tossed around:
We could set up writer exchanges, wherein we’d send a few Seattle writers to Krakow, and they’d send a few writers to us. We’d increase our region’s publication visibility, in that the international community will know when a Seattle writer publishes a book. Seattle writers would also work on projects related to freedom of expression and other human rights issues. Plus, we’d have a seat at the table at UNESCO’s annual Creative City Summit. At this summit, all 41 creative cities gather to develop international programming and to discuss issues of literary importance. And that’s not all—depending on how the bid shakes out, there could be opportunities for more kids’ education programs through Seattle Public Libraries, plans to encourage literary tourism and designs to foster greater cultural exchange through literary programming.
Some of these plans may be complicated considering the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from UNESCO earlier this month due to the organization's recognition of Palestine as a member country. Despite this move, the Seattle City of Literature claims that it "will continue the important work of making our city a haven for the literary arts, for local and international writers and audiences alike."
Brandon responded to a few follow-up questions via e-mail. After input from the 42 local literary organizations that sit on Seattle City of Literature's advisory board—orgs like Hugo House, African-American Writers' Alliance, Town Hall Seattle, and Youth Speaks—the organization has decided to shift their focus a little bit in terms of programming.
A few details from Brandon:
Some of that work consists of things like providing the equity training workshops for members of the literary community. Some of it consists of facilitating introductions and relationship-building, like we did with the Indigenous Writers Exchange that we just wrapped up earlier this month. We're planning to build on this work, and continue deepening the relationships with our international community.
The U.S.'s decision to exit UNESCO doesn't change their goals, Brandon says. In fact now it "means it's more important than ever to continue this work," she concludes.
In fact, now that they're all designated and stuff, they're looking to bring on more board members. If you want to play a part in strengthening Seattle's ties to the rest of the world and vice versa, just write them a little note.