About

The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization is a nonprofit 501(c)3 that manages the Iowa City area’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.

For 80 years, Iowa City has been teaching the world to write. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa pioneered the teaching of creative writing at the university level. Dozens of creative programs within the university and the city followed. The newest chapter in this tradition is Iowa City’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.

How could a small city in the center of the American heartland have such a wide-ranging impact on creative writing? The answer is that Iowa City, for its size, may be the most literary city on earth. It has a unique set of influential literary institutions, which explore new ways to teach and support writers. At the same time, it has long been, quite simply, a place for writers: a haven, a destination, a proving ground, and a nursery.

Together, these synthesizing aspects – the writers and the institutions that have grown from them and for them – have created a history and an identity in which its citizens take enormous pride, prizing a role in celebrating and honoring writers and good writing. The University of Iowa continues to invest substantially in the dozens of writing and literary programs.

By designating Iowa City as a City of Literature, UNESCO has recognized Iowa City’s deeply elaborated cultural assets and its strong creative and economic foundations.

Iowa City and the University of Iowa treasure this honor and will seek to create fresh opportunities locally and with its new global partners.

Read the Formal Application

Background:

On September 16, 2008, Iowa City and the University of Iowa unveiled the city’s formal application (PDF) to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to designate Iowa City the world’s second City of Literature. The proposal — a beautiful boxed volume of hand-made paper and original calligraphy, designed and created by the UI Center for the Book — was shipped to the UNESCO office in Paris for final consideration. On November 20, 2008, UNESCO designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world’s third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

“This is at once a celebration of the literary riches and resources of Iowa City and a spur to action,” said University of Iowa International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill, who led the UI Writing University committee that submitted the city’s proposal. “We look forward to working with our new partners in the Creative Cities network — to forging dynamic relationships with writers, artists and others committed to the life of discovery. This is a great day for Iowa City.”

Iowa City joined Edinburgh, Scotland; and Melbourne, Australia; to become the third UNESCO Cities of Literature. Since that time, other cities have earned that designation, including: Dublin, Ireland; Reykjavik, Iceland; Norwich, England; Krakow, Poland; Granada, Spain; Dunedin, New Zealand; Heidelberg, Germany; and Prague, Czech Republic. Other cities in the Creative Cities Network — honoring and connecting cultural centers for cinema, music, crafts and folk arts, design, media arts and gastronomy, as well as literature — include Santa Fe, N.M.; Paducah, Ky.; Tucson, Ariz.; Detroit, Mich.; and Austin, Texas, in the U.S., as well as Berlin, Germany; Montreal, Canada; Popayan, Colombia; Bologna, Italy; Shenzhen, China; and Seville, Spain.

Creative Cities Overview:

UNESCO is the educational, scientific and cultural arm of the United Nations, facilitating international co-operation among its member states. Its Creative Cities Network, launched in 2004, is designed to promote innovative social, economic, and cultural growth in leading cities around the world, fostering both local initiatives and global connections. The Creative Cities Network connects cities who want to share experiences, ideas and best practices for development. Cities may apply to be endorsed by the Network and join the program to ensure their continued role as centers of excellence and to support other cities, particularly those in developing countries, in nurturing their own creative economy.

Once the city is appointed to the network, it can share experiences and create new opportunities for itself and others on a global platform, notably for activities based on the notion of creative tourism. A key ingredient is the creation of public/private partnerships that help unlock the entrepreneurial and creative potential of small enterprises, which play an important role in the new economy. To underpin their development, small creative businesses also need innovative talent, and therefore cities with strong contemporary art, fashion, craft, music and design schools are most likely to flourish.