Norwich, the City of Stories

Norwich is the City of Stories where few things are as celebrated as the chance to lose ourselves in not just one story but a series of stories; stories told by some of the greatest, prize-winning authors of our time.

The University of East Anglia hosts the international Literary Festival in both spring and autumn. These two literary peaks in the year allow wordsmiths and book lovers the chance to suspend life for two months and be transported to a world of author creation. So, if you have a love of literature, clear your calendar from now until Wednesday 29th April!

UEA Literary Festival

The story of UEA Literary Festival began back in 1991 where guest writers included P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Arthur Miller and Salman Rushdie. Almost a quarter of a century later and the Festival still draws top literary talent to the city. The 2015 spring programme features celebrated writers Helen Macdonald, Rachel Cusk, Robert Macfarlane, Ali Smith, Alan Johnson, David Nicholls and Julia Blackburn.


Dame Julian plaque

Norwich and literature have been intertwined for hundreds of years; perhaps it’s the beautiful architecture, the gentle landscape or the wide, open skies that inspire such world-class creativity. Whatever the source, Norwich has helped authors to spin a good story for over 900 years and is home to several literary ‘firsts’.

Julian of Norwich, named after St. Julian’s Church in Norwich where she lived as an anchoress, was the first woman to write a book in English – Revelations of Divine Love – in 1395. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in the 16th century, is recognised to have written the first poem in sonnet form. Henry was the son of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk and resided at Surrey House when visiting the city. Norwich was also the first city to implement the Public Library Act of 1850 and, more recently, the UK’s first Creative Writing MA was founded at the UEA by Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson in 1970; graduates include Booker Prize winners Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan and Anne Enright.



The city’s immense contribution to literature of the past, present and future was acknowledged in May 2012 when Norwich became England’s first and only UNESCO City of Literature. The accreditation was awarded following a bid led by the Writers’ Centre Norwich, the city’s literature development agency. The Writers’ Centre works to provide professional development for aspiring writers to help their talent to emerge and to inspire creativity and success.

Norwich is one of just eleven cities around the world to hold the UNESCO City of Literature accreditation – they are Edinburgh (2004), Melbourne (2008), Iowa (2008), Dublin (2010), Reykjavik (2011), Norwich (2012), Krakow (2013), Dunedin (2014), Heidelberg (2014), Granada (2014) and Prague (2014).

Speaking about the accolade, UEA graduate Ian McEwan said: “Literature has deep roots in the beautiful city of Norwich and it was a natural first choice for UNESCO. Writers have known for centuries that Norwich is a dreamy city.”

And dream we do. The Millennium Library is the busiest library in the UK and has held that title for seven consecutive years. Three floors are packed with people escaping into the dream world of fiction, losing themselves in row upon row of books that hold stories captive between their well-turned pages.



The city and surrounding towns are also home to a number of much-loved independent bookshops. However fast-paced our lives become and with technology fighting to take over our every decision, there is still sanctuary in a bookshop. From the calm and quiet of hushed voices to the smell of the pristine books and their crisp, new pages; there is no place like a bookshop to idle away the afternoon, tucked away from the outside world and indulging yourself in selecting the perfect story to take home with you.

The Jarrold family and its business moved to Norwich from Suffolk in 1823, under the leadership of John Jarrold II, bringing with them the art of printing and bookbinding. The family business published Anna Sewell’s global bestseller Black Beauty in 1878. Today, theJarrold department store on London Street contains one of the foremost independent bookshops in the UK. Norwich is also home to The Book Hive which opened in 2009 in the Norwich Lanes; in 2011 it was named by The Telegraph as the Best Small Independent Bookshop in Britain. The Book Hive stocks a personally chosen selection of titles in fiction, poetry, art & design, children’s books and cookery.



Norwich’s beautiful Anglican cathedral still inspires writers and poets to this day. A popular independent bookshop nestled under the shadow of the spire is Tombland Book Shop in the Cathedral Quarter. Spread over two floors, inside the 15th century building, you’ll find books ranging in price from £1 to £10,000. As well as buying and selling antiquarian and second-hand books, the shop offers book finding, restoration and rebinding services.

Pay a visit to South Norfolk and you’ll find an independent bookshop with a difference. Kett’s Books in Wymondham was established due to a community love of books; a group of volunteers who were determined not to let the closure of the town bookshop mean the end of local literary pleasure. The community bookshop began in 2013 and thrives on offering “conversation, advice, a comfy sofa and a warm welcome.”

Throw yourself into the City of Stories this month with the start of UEA Spring Literary Festival. 


*This post is re-blogged from a post I wrote for VisitNorwich.


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