Ahead of World Book Night this Sunday, we reveal why the city’s bid for UNESCO City of Literature is a strong one
On 2 March this year - the twentieth anniversary of UNESCO World Book Day - some fifteen million book vouchers were sent out and more than 100 countries celebrated the joy of reading in the biggest bookish event of its kind.
This Sunday sees its nocturnal shadow, World Book Night; a lesser-known but no less important event created by The Reading Charity, in which books are distributed across the UK, with a particular focus on those who don’t read. Prisons, libraries, colleges, hospitals, care homes and homeless shelters…all are gifted with a staple of novels on 23 April (incidentally also Shakespeare’s suspected day of birth and death).
So why are these events so vital? As the Department for Culture, Media & Sport said, ‘reading for pleasure is a globally recognised indicator in a huge range of social issues from poverty to mental health’ yet, as of 2015, 36% of people didn’t read regularly. Such are books’ impact on wellbeing, they’re now available on prescription, and Read Manchester is just one of campaigns across the country to promote literacy.
With that in mind, and considering Manchester’s proposal to be UNESCO City of Literature this summer, we thought a roundup of Manchester’s own vibrant literary scene was due: from innovative publishers to lively spoken word nights and a plethora of fictional fests. Here goes…
Manchester University Press is perhaps the city’s longest-standing publisher; founded in 1904, alongside journals it now produces over 170 humanities titles per year, spanning art history to politics. But fiction can be found too, from the likes of Saraband - recently relocated from Scotland - whose list includes the Booker-shortlisted His Bloody Project, and short story-focused Comma Press, which recently announced it will only publish translated works from Trump’s seven banned nations in 2018. Hic Dragones focuses on ‘the weird, dark and strange’ via serialised Victorian pulp and upcoming murder mystery games, while poetry is represented by Flapjack Press and Carcanet.
Unlike the south, where bookshop chains are more common - Daunt and Foyle’s, for instance - Manchester is limited to Waterstones. Fortunately the city’s dearth of literary superstores is made up for in part by its independent scene, characterised by gems like those featured in our 2015 best bookshops roundup - as well as the more recent Aspidistra, a quirky pay-as-you-feel pop up in Great Northern Warehouse (which sometimes randomly offers free wine to boot). Longstanding second-hand shops include Paramount, E J Morton and Manchester Book Buyers while academics will soon be able to take advantage of a second Blackwell’s once it opens in Bruntwood’s University Green. Curry Mile charity Alexandria Library (actually a bookshop) offers materials in languages of the Levant, Arabia, central and south Asia; as well as many outreach programmes for refugees, asylum seekers and international students.
From Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden to Jack Rosenthal’s seminal sink drama Corrie, Manchester abounds with iconic literary figures (Confidential’s Jonathan Schofield has a commendable tour detailing three centuries of written word in the city). Both Elizabeth Gaskell and Anthony Burgess, whose centenary is this year, have relevant centres; while organisations dedicated to honing a new generation of writers include Cultureword, Centre for New Writing and Manchester Writing School. All host a regular calendar of events, as do libraries from The Portico to Working Class Movement. And, although Waterstones arguably has the most comprehensive array of book clubs, it’s not the only one; with Meetup, MadLab and even LEAF running literary soirees.
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With some writers now commanding more attention than their books, literary festivals reflect the trend for ‘brand authors’ - providing a great way for readers to meet the person behind the pages. Manchester Literature Festival (which recently announced a series of spring previews ahead of October’s main event) is the highest profile, but several smaller events attest to the growing popularity of fests on a particular theme: Louder than Words examines the cross section of music and words, MCBF celebrates children’s books and MMU now hosts a popular Gothic fest. Local regional affairs include Chortlon Book Festival, Rochdale Literature & Ideas Festival and Oldham Bookmark Festival.
SPOKEN WORD EVENTS
Poetry runs through Manchester’s veins: when both Salford (Jackie Kay) and Manchester University (Lemn Sissay) have renowned poets as their chancellors, while poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy heads up MMU’s Writing School and John Cooper Clarke commands impressive crowds for his distinctive punk poetry, it’s little surprise that local writer and lecturer Adam O’Riordan reckons Manchester has ‘more poets per square mile’ than anywhere else in the UK - many of them award-winning.
Dovetailing as it does with spoken word, this has spawned events including Poet in the City, Poets & Players and The Other Room. Spoken word isn’t restricted to poetry, however, with many mic nights also including fiction, such as Verbose and Bad Language. Non-fiction, meanwhile, can be found at The Real Story, while Flim Nite retells popular movies.
Celebrate World Book Night at Central Library
Fancy celebrating World Book Night, silent disco-style? Central Library is opening its doors from 7-10pm, Saturday 22 April, for a retro party in the library’s performance space - hosted by DJ John Ryan (Girls on Film, Gaydio, Max 80's digital radio).
Grab a drink at the bar, then don your headphones for a choice of seventies and eighties classics and a Manchester bands mash-up.
Librarian fancy dress is optional but there will be prizes awarded for the best outfits.
Advance tickets to the silent disco cost £2 and can be booked at librarylive.co.uk