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America's Next UNESCO "City of Literature" Could Be Lexington, Kentucky

Picture of Michael Barron
Books and Digest Editor
Updated: 24 April 2017
The historic Kentucky town is finalizing their application to the United Nations-based agency to be distinguished as a literary city.

Lexington currently boasts credentials as America’s horse, bourbon, and blue grass capital. Now it may add “International City of Literature” to its bona fides.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, local writer Jayne Moore Waldrop has assembled institutions such as the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, the Lexington Public Library, the University Press of Kentucky, the Kentucky Humanities Council and VisitLex, (which provided $10,000 in funding for the application process), to make the city part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network by having it officially on of the institution’s Cities of Literature. Of the twenty cities that currently hold this distinction, only Iowa City can stake this claim in the US.

“What we have here in the literary arts is authentic,” he told the paper. “It’s not something we have to make up; we just have to connect all the dots. Just like bourbon, we’ve been doing it for 200 years.”

From its pool of applicants, UNESCO’s criterion for selection is a mandate that a city uses literary arts to promote community growth. “We know there are jobs directly involved with the literary arts,”said Neil Chethik, director of the Carnegie Center. “And by having a strong literary community and arts community generally, we attract businesses that are trying to keep or attract good employees.”

The Carnegie Center houses the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, which includes luminaries such as Wendall Berry and Hunter S. Thompson. Lexington / Central Kentucky area is also the home to a number of notable writers, including two recent finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction: C.E. Morgan and Margaret Verble.