In 2004 Edinburgh became the world's first UNESCO City of Literature after four book lovers thought that Edinburgh, and indeed Scotland, should take on responsibility for the future development of a literary culture that has distinguished and enlightened the country's past. This designation was the first in UNESCO’s Creative Cities network, which is now made up of 180 cities worldwide working towards a common objective: placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level as well as internationally.
With a limited budget and small team of staff, Edinburgh City of Literature Trust seeks to promote Edinburgh on the international stage amongst the 28 other Cities of Literature across the world, which includes the likes of Dublin, Krakow, Baghdad, Durban, and Bucheon. The literary network of creative cities boasts a combined population of over 26 million, over 1250 libraries, 130 literary festivals and over 1200 bookshops. The world’s oldest book, the world’s tallest monument to a writer, the world’s first Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing programme, the oldest university in central Europe, and the only train station named after a book, can all be found in these cities.
Since the charity was formed in 2004, Edinburgh City of Literature Trust has led on a wide range of creative and prodigious activities and projects: high-profile citywide reading campaigns, international exchanges, monthly Literary Salons, inscription of quotes on prominent public city locations, and leadership of an international network of Cities of Literature. In particular, the Trust is focusing on its international opportunities, such as its work with its sister Cities of Literatures’ writing residencies, the development of The Netherbow as a unique visitor attraction and centre for literature in the city, and exploring and presenting the city’s traditions in print and publishing as a starting-point for becoming even more acquainted with the literary city.
The Trust’s Words on the Street project aims to bring books off the page and into the streets where they were set, connecting people to place by activities such as projecting illuminated words onto locations including the Bank of Scotland, book stores, and the Castle Rock, as well as celebrating Sir Walter Scott with quotations from his work in Waverley Station, the only station in the world named after a novel. Canongate's publishing of Terry Gilliam's work allowed the Trust to install an illuminated quotation of his temporarily at Jeffrey Street, and then permanently in the Food and Flea Market nearby.
The Trust has also worked with LeithLate to create public displays of poetry, with former Makar Christine de Luca's poems exhibited as a walking trail inviting people to explore Leith and venture away from the main thoroughfares. More recently, the Trust’s work with Historic Environment Scotland on their Commemorative Plaque Scheme has led to the creation of a number of plaques promoting awareness of other women writers including Sarah Siddons Mair, Susan Ferrier and Dorothy Emily Stevenson, so that they may be seen alongside the likes of Stevenson, Scott and Burns.
In 2016, the Trust developed and presented the first run of its now award-winning Stars and Stories Project, bringing illuminated quotations to some dark and forgotten corners of the Royal Mile, seeking to provide viewers with inspiration during the winter. One lightbox next to Saltire Society HQ remembers Tessa Ransford, whilst ‘Nothing but time’ at Dynamic Earth commemorates the father of geology James Hutton, and ‘Nobody left home hatless’ brings to light Muriel Spark's observation of Edinburgh's divided society. The aim for 2018/9 is to increase the number of lightboxes from 25 to 40 by expanding into the Grassmarket, producing an audio-guide, bespoke website, and encouraging residents to choose quotes with the involvement of local libraries. Contemporary writers will be included, with those relating to children being featured at the Children’s Library on Victoria Street. Who knows! Maybe by 2019/20 the whole city will be lit up with literary words and stories! Geolocation techniques are throwing up many new possibilities, and the core funding for lightboxes can be augmented by sponsorship of workshops or residences. As well as celebrating Edinburgh's writers, we should remember printing and publishing as crafts with which the city is indelibly associated.
Looking forward, the Trust is excited to see Stars and Stories grow as part of the vibrant literary community in which it was created. The ongoing development of The Edinburgh Netherbow project reflects the Trust’s overall aims in sharing Edinburgh’s literary past, present, and future with the world, through a high-quality literary attraction and visitor centre. The Trust is also looking forward to welcoming a writer from Krakow sister City of Literature this year as part of its International Residency Programme in conjunction with the Lord Provost.