Norwich, the city of literature

3 March 2021

Norwich, the city of literature

Norwich became England’s first UNESCO City of Literature in 2012, and was officially declared the City of Stories in 2018. (By us, but who’s counting?) With bookshops galore, writers round every corner, festivals throughout the year, and a strong literary heritage, it’s no surprise that Norwich is known as a book-lover’s paradise!


Here are 7 reasons why Norwich is a City of Literature:

  1. Norwich’s Literary History

Norwich has been a city of literature for over 900 years: a place for writers and readers of all kinds. In 1395 Julian of Norwich was the first woman to write a book in English: her Revelations of Divine Love contains the famous comforting phrase: ‘all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’. Meir Ben Elijah, who lived in Norwich, is the only medieval Hebrew poet whose work has survived to this day, with his work dating back to the thirteenth century.

In the sixteenth century the first poem in blank verse (using iambic pentameter) was written here by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey – he also devised the form of sonnet which we now know as Shakespeare’s! Thomas Browne, who made his home in Norwich from 1637 to his death in 1682, is widely considered one of the most original writers in the English language: he is the 69th most cited author in the Oxford English Dictionary, and is known to have influenced Samuel Johnson, the Romantic poets, Edgar Allan Poe, and Virginia Woolf, amongst others.

Harriet Martineau, born in Norwich in 1802, was a writer and activist, and is often credited as the first female sociologist. Her work encompassed economics, equal rights for women, and the abolition of slavery. In 1877 Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty was published by Jarrold & Sons, becoming an immediate bestseller.

For more on Norwich’s literary history, visit the National Centre for Writer’s website.

All Shall Be Well Prints

‘All Shall Be Well’ print from National Centre for Writing

  1. The Amazing Bookshop Scene

Norwich is a brilliant city for readers! Why not take the day and go on a tour of the city’s bookshops – just make sure you have a bag big enough for all the titles you’ll be taking home – whether you love vintage covers, independent presses, or the latest bestseller, you’ll be able to find your perfect read. We love the award-winning Book Hive, an independent shop with a great range of titles on London St, and home to Propolis Books, and Bookbugs & Dragon Tales, a children’s specialist bookseller. Prefer a wide range? Head to Jarrold’s Book Department, which has an exceptional local section, or Waterstones. If you love a second-hand find, head to Dormouse Bookshop on Elm Hill for all the classic Penguins, or Tombland Books for a wide antiquarian selection!

Bookbugs & Dragon Tales

Bookbugs & Dragon Tales

  1. Famous Writers

Norwich is a city for writers! From tutors and graduates of the UEA Creative Writing Masters, to people drawn to the city by its reputation for creativity, it’s easy to see why people say there’s a writer around every corner. Emma Healey, Sarah Perry, and Sarah Hall are just a few of the well-known writers who call the city home, whilst Margaret Atwood, Ali Smith and Ian Rankin have all come to the city as UNESCO City of Literature Visiting Professors.

Margaret Atwood

  1. Libraries

Not only was Norwich the first municipality to enact the Public Library Act back in 1850, but the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library in the Forum was the busiest library in the UK for seven years running. The Millennium Library was built on the same land as the previous city library, which burned down on 1 August 1994 (an unlucky day for libraries in Norwich – on the 1st August 1898 the Guildhall subscription library was destroyed by fire too).

The Forum

The Forum, Norwich

  1. University of East Anglia

You might have heard of the University of East Anglia’s prestigious Creative Writing Masters. It was the first to be established in the UK, back in 1970 and the first graduate was Ian McEwan, author of Atonement. Other writers who have studied there include Nobel Prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro, Booker winning Anne Enwright, and Costa Award winners Emma Healey, Christie Watson and Andrew Miller. World-renowned, the UEA brings aspiring writers to the city every year, and many choose to stay in our City of Stories!

Arial photo of UEA Campus and lake

UEA Campus, Norwich

  1. Literary Festivals & Events

There’s almost a book launch a week in Norwich, so if you like your literature live, you’re in the right city! Throughout the year there are readings, launches, spoken word performances, and much more. There’s also Noirwich, the city’s crime writing festival which takes place in September, UEA Live, the university’s literary festival which takes place twice a year and the Norfolk & Norwich Festival which has a City of Literature strand of events.

Inua Ellams at UEA Live

Inua Ellams at UEA Live

  1. Writing Organisations

Norwich is home to the National Centre for Writing, which runs writing courses, literary festivals, and much more. The British Centre for Literary Translation, founded by WG Sebald, also calls Norwich home. Independent publishers Galley Beggar Press, Strangers Press, Propolis, and many more, call the city home. There are plenty of amazing writing schools, and live poetry events like Toast or Café Writers, too.

The National Centre for Writing, Norwich

The National Centre for Writing, Norwich