When the announcement was made that Manchester had been awarded Unesco City of Literature status my social media feeds filled up with photographs of victorious colleagues and acquaintances who had worked fantastically hard across different institutions to make it happen. They looked happy and tired in equal measure.
Manchester is home to two thriving creative writing MA programmes – at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University (where I teach) and the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester. Staff and students from both regularly intermingle at live-literature nights such as Verbose, Bad Language, The Other Room and many more. The Manchester international festival, which takes place every two years, transformed the city in the summer. The annual Manchester literature festival wrapped up a couple of weeks ago. And, on 3 November, the national creative writing graduate fair, run by Comma Press with the Manchester Writing School, will bring agents, publishers and writers together in a frenzy of literary speed dating.
In addition to Comma, one of the country’s most exciting publishers of short fiction, Manchester is also home to top poetry publisher Carcanet, as well as an expanding small-press scene. Confingo magazine has been gaining recognition as part of the renaissance of UK literary journals, along with Hotel, the White Review and the rejuvenated Ambit.
Anthony Burgess was born and raised in Manchester; Elizabeth Gaskell was born in London, but the North and South author’s house is a fixture on the Manchester tourist trail. French nouveau roman giant Michael Butor changed the name of the city where he spent a couple of unhappy years in L’Emploi du Temps [Passing Time]. More recently, Joe Stretch and Gwendoline Riley have named Manchester locations in their novels. Poet Michael Symmons Roberts’ love for the city is reflected in the title of his latest collection, Mancunia.
It’s a city for readers and writers, but sitting with a book or a laptop in a Burton Road cafe is not the whole story. Waterstones, Blackwells, the John Rylands Library and the International Anthony Burgess Foundation support writers by hosting events in town, and numerous independent and secondhand bookshops are scattered across Greater Manchester. With this award, life for book people in Manchester can only get better.