Utrecht Candidate
City of Literature

City where you learn to read

‘City of Literature’: what makes one?

Since 2004, twenty cities have been designated as a UNESCO City of Literature. Not only do these cities have a long and imposing literary history, but today they still are buzzing with literary festivals, writers, bookstores and publishers. Meeting once a year, the cities form a network that develops new ways to reach readers, shares practices and expertise, provides insight into the literary experience in different parts of the world, and establishes cooperation and exchanges. Apart from a few capital cities such as Prague, Dublin and Edinburgh, UNESCO has mostly honoured places like Lviv, Granada, Kraków, Heidelberg and Norwich. Not obvious metropolises to be sure, but rather cities which can completely focus on fostering great literature, are the right size for efficient cooperation with international partners and are adaptable and enterprising enough to get projects off the ground quickly. This description perfectly encapsulates all that Utrecht already is and all that it aims to be.

Why does Utrecht want to become City of Literature?

Because Utrecht is the literary city of the Netherlands already. Because Utrecht would love to join the City of Literature family, for that is where Utrecht will feel most at home. Because this designation would be a well-deserved accolade for the long-standing literary and cultural tradition of Utrecht. And, finally, because this vibrant literary city wants to be a gathering place for readers and writers, from all over the world.

City of authors

The list of Utrecht writers who have published at least two books with a ‘recognised’ publishing house now runs to 110 names. Exponentially more Utrechters can be found on the list of debut authors, unpublished up-and-coming talents and self-publishing authors. Utrecht is a city of authors and poets, that’s for sure.

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City of publishers

Utrecht takes pride in its rich tradition of publishing as well. A.W. Bruna, the publisher of many authors, including Stieg Larsson, Jonas Jonasson and John Grisham, was based in Utrecht for almost 125 years. The Bezige Bij, one of the most important literary , was established in Utrecht in 1943. Currently, Veen Bosch & Keuning Publishing Group is headquartered in Utrecht. This firm contains publishing houses such as Ambo|Anthos, Atlas Contact, Luitingh Sijthoff and Van Dale. Evidently, Utrecht has long maintained a favourable climate for literary entrepreneurs.

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A platform for literature

Gathering for author readings has been a tradition in Utrecht for a long time. From the famous Dada “happenings” of 1923 organised by Kurt Schwitters to the International Literature Festival Utrecht (ILFU), that since 2011 has welcomed authors such as Michel Houellebecq, Nick Cave, Paul Auster and György Konrád. Utrecht has dozens of literary platforms and organises hundreds of literary events each year.

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The city as stage

Look no further than the streets of Utrecht for a glimpse of its outstanding literary character. Plaques abound that mark where prominent literary talents once lived and worked, from the mediaeval Suster Bertken, to the father of rationalism René Descartes on to the minimalist of the inter-war period C.C.S. Crone. Many houses in Utrecht are adorned with prose and poetry from deceased writers such as H. Marsman to living authors such as Ingmar Heytze.

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Photo: Hans Bouman

A welcoming home for literary education & literary translation

Utrecht has an extensive network of institutions which focus on advanced literary education as well as its foundations: learning to read and write. From the first introduction at primary school level to Utrecht University with the largest Faculty of Humanities in the Netherlands.

Moreover, Utrecht is a leader in literary translation within the Netherlands. The city is home to the Centre of Expertise for Literary Translation (ELV) and the Filter Foundation that publishes Filter. Magazine on translation and awards the annual Filter Translation Prize (€10,000).

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Reading in Utrecht

Utrecht is a city of books by the booklovers for the booklovers. Within its limits are fiftysix book shops and antiquarian booksellers as well as a total of twenty-four libraries. The largest online bookseller in the Netherlands, Bol.com, is also based in Utrecht. The main office of the Dutch Royal Booksellers association and the largest book distributor in the Netherlands, the CB, are both located close to the city.

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Utrecht’s Literary Media

Utrecht is fertile ground for dozens of literary media outlets: from prominent national magazines such as Awater and Hollands Maandblad (Dutch Monthly) to media with wide audiences such as the Boekenkrant (Book journal) and the internationally-distributed, digital platform Blendle.

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The information on this website can also be found in the bidbook ‘Utrecht – City Where You Learn to Read’. Order your copy for only €6 (excl. €3 shipping) via The House of Literature Utrecht:

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