Support Shows Cull Not UNESCOrted in Literature Bid

Dunedin Booked in to be NZ's Home of Literature

Dunedin has taken a major step in becoming New Zealand’s home of literature after Mayor Dave Cull last week sent through a bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature.

UNESCO only permits one City of Literature per country, and Cull’s bid aims to establish Dunedin as just that. A successful bid would align Dunedin with Unesco’s other literary cities: Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin, Reykjavik, Norwich and Krakow.

The status would have undeniably positive effects on the University, asserts Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne. “It will be great marketing, but it will be more than marketing because it has teeth.” The bid has been backed by six cities of literature internationally, who are “right behind” Dunedin and have written letters of support, Hayne said.

English Head of Department Chris Prentice believes City of Literature status would be “a claim to fame that is at least as important as sporting activities,” and would attract students to “the place to study our literary culture from book history to contemporary literary art.”

Critic spoke to local Dunedin writer and 2012 Burns Fellow Emma Neale, who was incredibly supportive of the bid. “It’s rather hard to reduce the energy and commitment the city shows [to literature] to just a tweet-sized mouthful.” Being New Zealand’s home of literature “would attract more attention, more funding, more interest, and so refuel the creative engines.”

Dunedin’s love of literature exists in both past and present, states Neale. “Not only do we have historical ties to writers such as Charles Brasch, Janet Frame and James K. Baxter,” asserts Neale, “but [we are] a city that offers fellowships, awards, a vibrant live poetry scene, New Zealand’s oldest independent newspaper” Also prevalent are literary publications such as Landfall and Deep South; the Fortune Theatre, which actively supports new scripts; The University Bookshop, The Centre for the Book and a range of high quality libraries.

“When you start to total up how many different ways Dunedin celebrates, supports and embraces a literary culture,” comments Neale, “a pretty festive feeling breaks out even before the bid is assessed.”

The outcome of the bid is due to be released this November. For now, Robert Burns’ statue silently presides over the Octagon of our “vibrant literary city,” patiently awaiting UNESCO’s decision.
This article first appeared in Issue 6, 2014.
Posted 7:01pm Sunday 30th March 2014 by Emily Draper.