Seattle Joins Iowa City in UNESCO City of Literature Designation

From The Daily Iowan | By Aadit Tambe

Seattle and Iowa City may be nowhere near each other, but they have one key thing in common: They are the only UNESCO Cities of Literature in the United States.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network includes 180 cities across 72 countries divided into seven categories — crafts and fold art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts, and music.

In 2008, Iowa City was one of three Cities of Literature in the world and was the only one on the Western Hemisphere. On Oct. 31, Québec City, Canada, and Seattle joined the club. Six other cities across the world also joined in 2017, for a total of 28 in 73 countries.

The announcement comes shortly after President Trump decided to withdraw the United States from UNESCO. Trump’s decision will not affect Iowa City’s designation, because the city’s relationship with UNESCO is direct.

“When we earned the designation, the criteria were specific to literature,” said John Kenyon, the director of Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature. “For Iowa City, it was having the Writers’ Workshop, strong international connections through the International Writing Program, great bookstores and libraries, and a community in which literature played an integral role.”

Kenyon said since then, UNESCO has somewhat changed the criteria for a city to earn the designation. Now, it is now based more on how much experience the city has in doing collaborative programming with other cities in various parts of the world.

“When Iowa City earned the designation, it was recognition for what the city had already accomplished, what it was currently doing, and what it would do with it going forward,” Kenyon said. “These days, it is lot more based on what the city is doing currently and what it would do in the future. It is not as much based on what it has done in the past.”

Seattle has been influenced greatly by literature, Kenyon said, from having the largest independent bookstore in the world to having a number of reputable, independent presses. Read more...