If there was such thing as the ‘Fantasy Writing League’, Dublin would win. Okay, Edinburgh would be a very close runner up — it would probably go to penalties — but you can’t really lose with ‘marquee’ writers like Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, WB Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Seamus Heaney, Bram Stoker, Anne Enright and Roddy Doyle. You could probably keep Maeve Binchy and Sebastian Barry on the bench.
Dublin was awarded UNESCO City of Literature status in 2010 in recognition of its rich literary heritage. It was the fourth city receive the designation.
I visited Dublin’s City of Literature Office in the Pearse Street Library where I spoke to Jane Alger, Director of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and Brendan Teeling, Deputy City Librarian. Jane told me about her City of Literature work; Brendan spoke about the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and their plans for an exciting new cultural quarter just north of the River Liffey.
How does the City of Literature work with Dublin’s Libraries?
The City of Literature office in Dublin essentially is the libraries; the office is embedded in the library service. Jane is a librarian herself, former chief buyer and reader development specialist for Dublin City Public Libraries.
The libraries and the City of Literature office are both funded by Dublin City Council. Dublin Council supply funding for projects, with some input from the national Arts Council. Library reader events and programs are branded with the City of Literature logo and the office has a remit to always include libraries in its programming.
Dublin’s libraries look after smaller events and book clubs; Dublin City of Literature office takes care of bigger events, such as the Dublin Book Festival and the One City, One Book program.
The Dublin City of Literature branding is used on just about everything the libraries do. The libraries keenly promote the Dublin’s City of Literature status.
What are the main City of Literature programs delivered via the libraries?
1. One City, One Book has been going from strength to strength since 2006. The program aims to bring Dublin’s literature to a wider audience by encouraging everyone in the city to talk about the same book in the month of April. 2015’s book was Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy. Some of the books previously featured are Dracula Bram Stoker and The Dubliners James Joyce.
Many people perceive that events in libraries are not for them. To counter this, One City, One Book events are held in unexpected places, such as historic buildings, pubs and music venues.
2. A version of One City, One Book for primary school aged children, the Citywide Reading Campaign, runs from January to March. The books chosen not are not literary prize winners but page turners, written in an fun, accessible way. This year’s book, Danger is everywhere David O’Doherty had the added benefit of appealing to special needs children.
In tandem with the Citywide Reading Campaign, a reader-in-residence is employed to work with inner city schools and kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. She brings classes to libraries. Part of budget is to buy books that the children can keep; many of them don’t have books in their homes.
3. Words on the Street is a program that puts literature out beyond the library walls. On World Literature Night, May 2015, works from 12 countries were read by Irish celebrities in 12 unusual venues across the city. The venues chosen are those that Dubliners may never have gone into otherwise.
4. Other programs combine other aspects Dublin’s rich cultural heritage with literature. These include Resonance, pairing books and music, and Writers in the Castle, bringing together history and writing.
5. The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, established in 1995, celebrates writing from all over the world. Books are nominated for the shortlist by 400 library systems across the globe. The awards are administered by Dublin City Public Libraries.
An exciting new cultural quarter is planned for Parnell Square, north of the river. This will be the site of a new City Library and the new home for the City of Literature office. Parnell Square is an urban renewal project to reinvigorate the community. The south of the city is always seen as the posh part, with the north often seen as more disadvantaged.
Possible collaboration with Melbourne
1. A program to engage Melbourne’s book clubs with the IMPAC award could work well. The book clubs could ‘shadow’ the prize, read the shortlist and decide on their favourite. As the awards are announced at 12 noon in Dublin in June, we could have a live streaming of the ceremony in Melbourne at 9PM.
2. The timing of the new Dublin City Library in Parnell Square coincides beautifully with the timing of the development of Melbourne’s new City Library. Both buildings are due to open in 2020. It would be great if we could follow each other’s progress, possibly collaborating on community engagement projects.
Which Dublin books you would recommend to Melbourne readers?
The snapper Roddy Doyle
(15 new short stories by prominent Irish writers, inspired by the original)
Tara Road Maeve Binchy
The green road Anne Enright
A long long way Sebastian Barry
Declan Hughes’ crime series, featuring detective Ed Loy
Strumpet City James Plunkett
And a hint from Jane: the best way to get into James Joyce’s Ulysses is to read it out loud.