Congratulations are in order to everyone who helped secure Seattle’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature. This was an effort that inspired a lot of people who worked hard for this, and the designation is well-earned. Way to go, Bob Redmond and the rest of the board of directors. I’m proud of you.
I played a small part in this effort. I founded Seattle City of Literature in 2013, an incredible experience from which I learned a lot. For the record, here’s what I contributed.
- Established and maintained contact with the US State Department, which oversees the program domestically
- Lobbied Seattle City Council and the mayor’s office to submit a bid and provide budgetary support for the Seattle City of Literature organization
- Met with UNESCO officials in Paris to discuss Seattle’s bid
- Led a delegation, with Rebecca Brinson, to the UNESCO Creative Cities conference in Chengdu, China
- Secured office space at the Sorrento Hotel
- Met Creative Cities officials in Reykjavik, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Norwich to discuss Seattle’s bid
- Edited the anthology Seattle City of Literature
- Hosted events at the Seattle Public Library, Elliott Bay Book Company, University Bookstore, Hugo House, and Town Hall
- Hosted guests from Reykjavik for an evening of literary programming during the Taste of Iceland festival
- Established the organization as a nonprofit
- Recruited two boards of directors
I consider myself privileged to live in a city, and country, where acts of expression are not yet met with violence or imprisonment. This is not the case for many writers in other parts of the world, as I learned through my travels promoting Seattle as a literary city. And I have never been more concerned that our society is slipping toward that state, which makes the work of Seattle City of Literature all the more vital. The privilege of free expression requires constant vigilance, and means maintaining a distinction between strong criticism and punishment for expression.
My hope is that Seattle will become a city that writers around the world look to as a safe place for expression, including expression that shocks, upsets, or offends. More than bookstores, libraries, arts programs, or the work of any individual writer, this value will be reason enough for the city to maintain its designation.