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Leeuwarden, UNESCO City of Literature, as a connector.

When the candidature as UNESCO City of Literature was being prepared, lots of discussions were held with people from the Frisian literary world. These were writers and readers, people who spoke on behalf of existing institutions and organisations, and other stakeholders. The conversations proved to be extremely valuable and inspiring, and they immediately highlighted the importance of a joint initiative. Everybody pulled together with shared ambition: get literature flourishing in Friesland.

When asked about the future of literature in Friesland, the answers of all of these people proved to be remarkably similar, despite their different backgrounds. The first and greatest need is cooperation between the various players involved in literature. In other words, not competing with each other, but complementing each other and joining forces. An umbrella body such as City of Literature can play an important role in this aspect.

A number of shared ambitions were also discussed and included in the registration plans. These included professionalisation, which involves giving tools to talented writers and education professionals in the field of literature and other disciplines. For example, different writing courses are offered by different bodies, dealing with different literary genres. However, this raises questions about who does what, and how can an aspiring writer find out the best place to develop his or her talents at the right level? The Creative Writing Programme (yes, an international name) aims to link these stand-alone initiatives and bridge gaps.

Another need mentioned by many was the physical space required for creating, meeting, and exchanging. This led to the idea of an overarching residency programme for local and external writers so that making contact with the right knowledge centres and the public is facilitated. Once again, this idea depends on cooperation and knowledge sharing. There are already a number of writer’s houses, such as Rink van der Velde’s houseboat, alongside some international exchange projects, such as Other Words. What would be really great would be getting a guest writer brought in by Tresoar to meet other writers through RIXT or Poetry Circle 058, then carry out research with the help of the Fryske Akademy, and finally present the results at Explore the North. There are obviously lots of variations of this idea, depending on the type of writer, the type of project, and the type of research it requires. Hospitality and working together in an inclusive writer’s climate that is as constructive as possible is one of the most important objectives for the future according to those involved in the literary field.

The projects included in the application only represent a fraction of the ideas and initiatives that exist. The school writers are not mentioned, for example, nor are the ambitions of Dichter bij Leeuwarden. Others omitted include Poesie International, the various plans of the Skriuwersboun, The Parthenon Project, and all the other existing ideas that unite initiatives and stakeholders.

Many more ideas will arise, because the field is extremely dynamic and there are almost certainly new plans that weren’t identified during the initial studies. The plans described in the registration are therefore not set in stone: they are merely the first steps, a start.