Books – Melbourne: City of Literature

You  may or may not know that Melbourne is ‘a City of Literature’. I have no real way of predicting that since most of what I don’t know is common knowledge. In fact, Melbourne’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature is apparently “acknowledgment of the breadth, depth and vibrancy of the city’s literary culture”. That makes me happy. And so Melbourne boasts a variety of literary organisations  and events to promote a culture of reading and engagement, events such as  Writers Victoria, Express Media, the Australian Poetry Centre, the Melbourne Writers Festival and the Emerging Writers’ Festival.

I missed the lead-up to Melbourne’s accreditation and only realised the fact after I discovered the Wheeler Centre’s rich program of literary events. You can’t just claim the UNESCO title of City of Literature, you know – you have to do a serious submission. If you’re the kind of person who’s interested in these things, Melbourne’s City of Literature credentials can be read in full here. I usually don’t read the complete version of anything that looks like an official document.

There’s a Creative Cities Network webpage too, and this informs you of the other Cities of Literature, namely Edinburgh, Iowa, Dublin, Reykjavik and most recently, Norwich, England. It makes me feel special, anyway, even if I don’t contribute in any tangible way. I can bask in the literariness of our fair city, knowing that we are culturally superior to Sydney – ignoring the fact that Sydney has joined the UNESCO Creative Cities network as a City of Film. There’s a small satisfaction for us in the fact that Sydney has been misspelled on this page (Sidney).

The Wheeler Centre is the physical space which is home to Melbourne’s literary status. It’s “Australia’s first Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. The Wheeler Centre, opened in February 2010. The Centre is located within a newly renovated wing of the State Library of Victoria” – which is lovely because it’s central and bustling and has the right buzz for attending evening events after work during the week even in Winter. I would say, particularly in Winter, since the warmer months lend themselves more to outdoor events.

It’s fantastic that so many of the Wheeler Centre offerings are free although I have my own theory about that. The State Library events are also free, at least the ones I’ve recently attended. It’s a shame that some of these excellent events are poorly attended. My theory is that people grab the free online tickets just in case, and for whatever reason do not attend, but are still holding onto the tickets. In my opinion the tickets should be something like ten dollars which is still affordable but would make you think twice about not attending. Maybe. I did feel a little sad that the State Library’s evening with  Charles Leadbeater was only a third full. It didn’t seem right considering his impressive credentials. I mean, the man is a former advisor to Tony Blair.

Anyway, have a look at the Wheeler Centre’s calendar of events and do some serious booking. Melbourne is just about to celebrate Charles Dickens and you can book for 3 different events if you’re a Dickens fan. In any case, if you need reminding about these things, you can organise that on Facebook, Twitter or in the form of email alerts. If you like listening to lively discussion of contentious issues consider coming along to the Intelligence Squared Debates. “Too often, the big issues feel ill-served by parliamentary question time or the 24-hour news cycle. Big issues and bigger ideas deserve informed and passionate consideration. Beyond the soundbites, beyond the sloganeering, beyond the posturing, there’s the debate”.

So you can see how easy it is to immerse yourself in a variety of literary culture, bury yourself in issues and ideas, discussion and debate. It’s all very civilised and not heavy or boring unlike mainstream education. (Did I say that out aloud?) The icing on the cultural cake of our City of Literature profile is the almost new eatery, The Moat Bar and Cafe, tucked away within the Wheeler Centre (all part of what I still consider to be The State Library) at 176 Little Lonsdale Street. There’s a small courtyard in the front, all green and fake grassy (looks better than it sounds) before you go down into the cosy, cave-like interior. Love the piles of books and strange rough bluestone walls in dappled red and gold (again, not as bad as it sounds). I’ve found the limited menu at 5pm to be just enough for a pre-event meal , especially the soup of the day. I’ve only tried the beetroot which is thick and blended, with the right amount of Persian feta. Question: why is it called The Moat? There is neither water, nor ditch, and we don’t need a line of defence.

– Tania Sheko

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