Know Your Latest UNESCO City of Literature: Krakow

An honor for the Polish city

This Monday, UNESCO unveiled Krakow as its newest City of Literature, after Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin, Reykjavík, and Norwich. The announcement comes after a three-year wait; in its 2010 application (all 68 pages available for download here), Krakow is recommended as “a city of Nobel Prize winners.”

Yet this is no empty boast, as, to paraphrase Krakow’s claims, the city’s streets saw a great deal of the Polish Nobel Prize winners for literature. The Krakow magazine Czas, for instance, printed serials taken from the popular novels of Henryk Sienkiewicz, a Prize-winner back in 1905. While Władysław Stanisław Reymont, who won in 1924, merely visited the city often, the 1980 winner—poet, writer, and essayist Czesław Miłosz—picked Krakow to be his home during his last years (his legacy, though, is very much in flux, as this TLS article about his centenary two years ago explains). And the great Wisława Szymborska, awarded with the Nobel in 1996, actually spent most of her life in the Polish City of Literature, which then after her death paid tribute to her by naming its biggest prize for Polish poetry after her.

Although he was passed over for the Nobel Prize, one of my favorite poets, Zbigniew Herbert, also lived in Krakow from 1945 through 1947. Read Michael Hofmann’s passionate essay about the “perennial Nobel bridesmaid” here. Below you’ll find some more links to bring you up to speed:

– Krakow, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (inscribed in the inaugural 1978 list).

– “Ten Reasons why Krakow deserves its City of Literature title”, from the city’s official website.

– A selection of Czesław Miłosz’s Last Poems published in Asymptote‘s October 2011 issue.

– Poet Adam Zagajewski’s tour of Krakow.

– Check out a YouTube montage of the words and music of Marcin Świetlicki (and his band Świetliki), a poet whose work often takes Krakow as its protagonist (though sometimes it doesn’t).

Plus, there’s two-and-a-half-more days to enjoy Krakow’s literary Conrad Festival, masterminded by Asymptote contributor Michal Pawel Markowski! Check out the program here.