UNESCO designates Kozhikode as first City of Literature in India

Home to authors, poets, publishing houses, libraries, bookshops and the Kerala Literature Festival

Kozhikode Kerala Litfest 2020 Photo KLF | festivals
Kerala Litfest 2019 Photo KLF

Kerala’s Kozhikode (previously Calicut) has been named as UNESCO’s City of Literature on 31 October 2023 and added to the prestigious UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network (UCCN). Along with Kozhikode, Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior made it in the music category. Srinagar (crafts and folk arts), Chennai (music) and Varanasi (music) are already part of the network.

UCCN represents seven creative fields — music, crafts and folk arts, gastronomy, film, media arts, design and literature. It was founded in 2004 to foster cooperation among cities that have been identified under the network for sustainable urban development. The UCCN includes 350 cities in over a hundred countries.

The network, which aims to promote UNESCO’s goals of cultural diversity and heightened resilience to factors such as urbanization, inequality and climate change, aims to support the social, creative and economic potential of the cultural sphere of the cities.

A team of students and faculty from the department of architecture and planning, NIT Calicut, conducted a comprehensive study on the literary assets and resources of Kozhikode, which has helped the city in drawing the prestigious UNESCO City of Literature title, the National Institute of Technology Calicut website states. 

The study traced the literary history of Calicut from the 14th century. The study was conducted from July 2022 to January 2023 and the final document was submitted to UNESCO in June 2023. According to the study, Kozhikode houses 550 public libraries and is home to more than 70 publishing houses and more than a hundred bookstores.

Kozhikode is home to some of India’s renowned authors and poets such as Vaikom Muhammad Bashir, MT Vasudevan Nair, SK Pottekkatt, Uroob, Punathil Kunjabdulla, Thikkodiyan, P Valsala, NN Kakkad, KV Krishna Iyer, Gireesh Puthenchery, Chintha Ravi, Indu Menon, NP Mohammed, and Akbar Kakkattil. 

The city is also home to several publishing houses, libraries, bookshops and is the venue for the Kerala Literature Festival. It has a well-established theater tradition. Kundalatha, the first Malayalam novel penned by Appu Nedungadi, was written in the city.

“India’s cultural vibrancy shines brighter on the global stage with Kozhikode’s rich literary legacy and Gwalior’s melodious heritage now joining the esteemed UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Congratulations to the people of Kozhikode and Gwalior on this remarkable achievement! As we celebrate this international recognition, our nation reaffirms its commitment to preserving and promoting our diverse cultural traditions. The accolades also reflect the collective efforts of every individual dedicated to nurturing and sharing our unique cultural narratives,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

Both Kozhikode and Gwalior have been invited by UNESCO to participate in the 2024 UCCN Annual Conference from 1 – 5 July 2024 in Braga, Portugal. The theme of the conference is ‘Bringing Youth to the Table for the Next Decade.’

UNESCO declaring Kozhikode as City of Literature is a moment of joy for my city of stories and songs, said Kabani C, Malayalam writer and translator.You can list great writers such as Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, K P Kesava Menon, S K Pottekkatt, Uroob, P Bhaskaran, NP Muhammad, UA Khader, Thikkodian, NP Muhammad, K A Kodungallur who loved this city. MT Vasudevan Nair, P Vatsala, MGS Narayan have made it a home now.” 

Kabani said the Kerala Literature Festival brings big crowds to the Kozhikode beach at the beginning of every year. “Writers are the stars. Mathrubhumi weekly, one of the best literary magazines, if not the best, is published in this not-very-big city. These are all known facts for everyone. Happily, we can call Kozhikode the City of Literature.”

“But, for me, one who lived in Trivandrum and Thrissur for several years, but a Kozhikode citizen, there are other reasons for calling it the City of Literature. In Kozhikode you feel a mystic air around. There are stories from the Arabian Nights in the atmosphere.  You see Djins and Poothams on the beach, Mithai Theru and Valiyangadi. Stories brought in by the cultural exchanges between Kozhikode and Arabia and the wars we fought with the Europeans, not just the British, with the Portuguese also. SK Pottekkatt translated these myths and fables into his works, Oru Theruvinte Katha and Oru Desathinte Katha. This air must have allured Muhammad Basheer from Vaikom to Beypore. Yes, Kozhikode is genuinely the City of Literature,” Kabani said.

Kerala Literature Festival & Golden Jubilee of DC Books

The annual Kerala Literature Festival, organized by DC Books in Kozhikode for the past six years has served as a key catalyst in prompting the city to become a UNESCO City of Literature. The massive attendance for the KLF, became the most visible symbol of Kozhikode’s love for literature.

“Kozhikode’s recognition as the City of Literature by UNESCO is a testament to the power of literature to transcend boundaries and unite people,” says Ravi Deecee of DC Books, who is the chief facilitator of Kerala Literature Festival that will hold its seventh edition from 11 – 14 January 2024. Turkey will be the guest country this year.

Kerala minister for public works department and tourism, PA Mohammed Riyas, commented, “A literary festival like the KLF is a resistance against the constitution in this period of death threats.”

Kozhikode’s mayor Beena Philip commented, “Kerala Literature Festival, a major event in Kozhikode bringing authors and Nobel laureates from all over the world and has a huge footfall, served as an important part in bringing this honor to Kozhikode.”

DC Books, one of India’s largest publishing houses, which is in its 50th year of publishing, began its Golden Jubilee Celebrations on 9 September 2023 at Kottayam, Kerala. The Golden Jubilee will be a yearlong celebration with numerous events and festivities marking DC’s 50 glorious years in publishing.

A trailblazer in the Indian publishing industry, DC Kizhakkemuri, founder of DC Books, paved the way for books to the masses by selling 10,000 copies of the book Chemmeen by Thakazhi in 1956, thus kick-starting the paperback revolution in India. DC Kizhakkemuri also initiated the move to abolish taxes for books as an act in the Parliament by the then Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. 

The publishing house, known for introducing debut writers who achieve great critical acclaim and become best-selling authors, is also home to some of the celebrated writers of Malayalam. The translation projects brought in renowned names such as Gabriel García Márquez and Paulo Coelho to Malayalam.

DC Books is said to have started the first eBook ecosystem in India by introducing ‘WINK’ tablets in 2008. From leading the paperback revolution in India to being the first ISO-certified publisher and becoming the nation’s largest producer of audiobooks, DC Books has fostered innovation, and received prestigious awards for excellence in publishing and boasts the largest bookstore chain in South India through its sister concern, Current Books. Having revolutionized reading, DC Books is the pivot around which the readers of the region revolve. DC Books has won the highest of awards for excellence in publishing from the Federation of Indian Publishers, New Delhi.

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