Norwich became England’s first UNESCO City of Literature in 2012 and is the proud home of the National Centre for Writing. Home to winners of the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, the Man Booker Prize and Somerset Maugham Award, our rich literary heritage spans a millennium and continues to grow.
This year, Norwich and Nottingham UNESCO Cities of Literature are hosting a joint gathering for the Cities of Literature from across the globe. ‘Nottwich’ is a celebration of the vibrancy of literature and an opportunity for us to discover how words can transform lives and connect cities worldwide. We are teaming up with Nottingham to host representatives from the UNESCO Cities of Literature Network in our cities. It is the first time all 28 cities will meet together in the UK.
To mark this occasion further, we’ve handpicked a list of our favourite books that represent Norwich UNESCO City of Literature.
Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
Such is the raw drama, insight and comfort of her writing that Julian of Norwich (c. 8 November 1342 – c. 1416) has inspired those with and without faith for hundreds of years. The intimacy of her writing provides a rare window into the consciousness of a woman living in a very different time to ours. Struck down by sickness and believing herself to be on her deathbed, thirty-year-old Julian experiences a series of visions or ‘shewings’ in which Christ speaks to her – most famously telling her that “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
She recovers and her collected writings became, in 1395, the first book published in English by a woman. Julian was an anchoress who lived a solitary life in a cell adjoined to a church. The church was mostly destroyed by bombing in 1942, the restored church sits just across the road from Dragon Hall home to the National Centre for Writing.
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
Emma Healey’s debut novel, the Sunday Times Top Five Bestseller Elizabeth is Missing, places an elderly woman with dementia at the heart of an adventure that is both psychologically thrilling and darkly comic. It won the Costa First Novel Award 2014, was shortlisted for the National Book Awards Popular Fiction Book and New Writer of the Year Awards 2014, and was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize 2014 and Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction 2015. It has been translated into 20 different languages and has sold over a million copies worldwide.
Emma Healey moved to Norwich in 2010 to study for the MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, following in the footsteps of Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, and Anne Enright. Emma still lives and writes in our fine city. Her second novel, Whistle in the Dark, was published in May 2018.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go is a dystopian science fiction novel which marked a departure from Kazuo Ishiguro’s usual genre of writing. In it, he imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England and the ways in which they come to terms with their childhood many years later.
Like many of the authors on this list, Kazuo Ishiguro discovered Norwich through studying his Masters’ Degree in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Never Let Me Go was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2005 and was listed in the TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017 for his ‘novels of great emotional force’.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Based not far from Norwich in the author’s home county of Essex, Sarah Perry’s second novel The Essex Serpent is a story of romance and horror, science and superstition. It centres on Cora Seaborne, a widow freed from an unhappy marriage who retreats to the countryside and finds herself tangled in a spate of deaths and rumours surrounding a mythical serpent.
Sarah Perry moved to Norwich around six years ago and has often spoken publicly of her love for the area. At the East Anglian Books Awards 2015, she said: ‘I like to think that East Anglia never quite stopped thinking of itself as a kingdom, and that this proud separateness is part of its allure. One does not arrive here by mistake, only by intent.’ The Essex Serpent was crowned winner of the Waterstones Book of the Year 2017 and the British Book Awards Book of the Year 2017. Sarah’s third book, Melmoth, was published in October 2018.
The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald
A haunting, memorable book that defies categorisation. Most simply it charts a walking tour of the Suffolk coast yet through historical and philosophical diversions it takes the reader on a far more profound inner journey. It received international critical acclaim and secured Sebald’s reputation as one of the greatest writers of our time.
W.G. Sebald moved to Norwich in 1970 when he became a lecturer at UEA, where he also completed his Ph.D. In 1987, he was appointed Chair of European Literature at UEA and in 1989 was a founding director of the British Centre for Literary Translation. Tragically, he died in a car crash near Norwich in December 2001.