Terry Gilliam looking through the archive at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh.

NLS celebrates 20 years in the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature

This October we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Edinburgh becoming the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, the founding city in what is now an international network of 53 Cities of Literature in 39 countries around the world.

Looking back, we can hardly believe it’s been two decades. The National Library of Scotland was at the heart of the creation of the title. Our former National Librarian and Chief Executive, Martyn Wade OBE, was not only one of the first Trustees of the charity and gave it his energy and commitment from the start, but was also involved in the bid to UNESCO to become the founding City of Literature. From small acorns, great ideas!

Following the award of the title in 2004, the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust was established. It’s a charity based here in Edinburgh, with whom we work on a regular basis. They maintain the title and have helped build the network, using it to bring opportunities to Scottish writers to work internationally. Locally, they have created a wide range of projects to connect readers and writers to Edinburgh as an amazing literary place. We were their partners when they created Scotland’s first citywide reading campaign and over the years we’ve worked together on many projects. These include Words on the Street with Terry Gilliam (pictured). He visited our archives to explore our Don Quixote texts before he unveiled his illuminated quotation on Jeffrey Street, welcoming travellers into Waverley with inspiring words.

Edinburgh is a truly amazing literary city, and we’re proud to play our part in that, celebrating the heritage, supporting the creative community and reaching out across the world to build partnerships. Being a UNESCO City of Literature isn’t just about past and present though, it’s about working together for the future. The City of Literature Trust are hosting a conference here in October to bring together all the cities in the network and connect them to writers in the city and with organisations like us.

We’re just about to celebrate our own Centenary in 2025 and it’s an exciting time for us and the world’s first City of Literature.

To learn more about Edinburgh as a City of Literature, go to the City of Literature website or follow their social handles.

X – https://x.com/EdinCityofLit

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/edinburghcityofliterature

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/edincityoflit/