Krakow, Poland

In 2013 Krakow became the seventh UNESCO City of Literature.

Krakow is a dynamic centre for all things literary in Poland, hosting the country’s most important and exciting literary festivals: the Miłosz Festival and the Conrad Festival. Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski came from Krakow, and it is also the burial place of the Romantic national poets Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki. Krakow probably has the highest density of poets in the world. Several hundred poets live and work in the city and poetry soirées and salons – including Poetry Night, initiated in 2011 – are hugely popular.

Krakow was the capital of Polish literary modernism, galvanising the Futurists and the poetic avant-garde.

1. Culture

Krakow is a picturesque city steeped in the rich cultural history of Central Europe. Formerly the country’s capital, the city is the beating heart of the Polish language and the birthplace of the country’s literary soul.

In 1978, by the decision of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, Krakow was inscribed on the first list of the most valuable objects in the world.

In 2000 the city was honoured with the title of the European Capital of Culture for that year, with an array of cultural events featuring literature, theatre, music, and folk traditions taking place throughout the year. The City of Literature designation is a permanent one.

Krakow is also a member of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) for persecuted writers.

2. Literary Festivals

Krakow’s literary and cultural scene is a-buzz with numerous events, hosting festivals celebrating music, film, theatre, poetry and much more.

Jewels in this crown of cultural celebration are the city’s biggest literary festivals: the popular and exciting Miłosz Festival, championing poetry from across the world in the name of Poland’s Czesław Miłosz, and the Conrad Festival, inspired by the creative internationalism of Joseph Conrad. Writers and scholars flock to Krakow annually to attend these festivals, with the Miłosz Festival being the fourth largest poetry event in Poland and including a varied programme of events, from live readings, panels and discussions to exhibitions and workshops. The Conrad Festival hosts on average 150 authors and 100 events annually. The Conrad Award is also part of the festival, rewarding the work of a successful debut writer by supporting and promoting their work.

Also of notable importance is the International Book Fair in Krakow, now in its twentieth year. As with book fairs worldwide, it is entirely dedicated to bookstores and publishing, and is the biggest of its kind in Poland.

3. Great Writers

A talented list of writers were born in or at least made their home in Krakow for some time.

Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski came from Krakow, as did Stanislaw Wyspianski, Konstanty Ildefons Galczynski, Tadeusz Kantor, Stanislaw Lem, Czeslaw Milosz, Slawomir Mrozek, Adam Zagajewski, and Wislawa Szymborska. It’s also the burial place of the Romantic national poets Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki.

4. Nobel Prize Winners

The city’s history is packed with stories of Polish Nobel Literary Prize-winners. Krakow magazine Czas featured episodes of Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novels, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905. Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont, author of The Promised Land and The Peasants, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1924. Czesław Miłosz, known for his talent as a poet, prose writer and essayist, wrote a host of popular works including The Captive Mind and Family Europe, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. Wislawa Szymborska, author of Calling Out to Yeti and People on the Bridge won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.

5. Poetry

More than any other literary form, Krakow is known for its poetry and the poets who call the city their home. Several hundred poets work and write here, and most of them are involved in the many poetry events and salons that regularly take place. Poetry Night started in the city in 2011 and takes place in the city’s the numerous literary institutions, hosting evenings of readings, salons and performances.

Nobel Prize Winners Wislawa Szymborska and Czesław Miłosz regularly organised the famous Meetings of the Poets of the East and West, which, from 2000, took place in Iowa City. The city is also renowned for being home to authors who were involved in the birth of Polish modernism, heralding the poetic avant-garde movement.

The Miłosz Festival is an annual celebration of poetry, known to be the biggest in Poland and Central Europe, and regularly features poets from all over the world. Robert Hass (USA), Ruth Padel (UK), Valzyna Mort (Belarus/USA), Marie Lundquist (Sweden), and Uroš Zupan (Slovenia) have all read there in the last few years.

6. Libraries

Krakow has been home to some of the very first libraries and printing presses in this region of Europe, and its libraries are an integral part of the city, with a rich history extending hundreds of years.

Today, the Jagiellonian Library houses the most important relics and masterpieces of the Polish language, and archives all Polish prints published in Poland and abroad.

Krakow’s Regional Public Library is home to a collection of almost 500,000 items. Devoted to the preservation of literature and literary life within Krakow, it is responsible for the organisation of book discussion clubs and regular literary events.

The former Municipal Arsenal, now the Princes Czartoryski Museum, is home to a collection of nationally-important literature and artefacts belonging to the Czartoryski family. Arteteka at the Malopolska Garden of Arts hosts an impressive collection of art, books, and literature available to the public in all formats.

7. Literary Institutions

Krakow is the seat of the Book Institute, established in 2004 to promote Polish literature and support national literary programmes. The city is also home to the Polish Writers’ Union, the Polish Writers’ Association, the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Polish Academy of Learning, as well as countless non-governmental organisations, associations, and foundations supporting literary activities.

8. Education

More than 200,000 students a year choose to study in Krakow, a testament to its beauty and its lively cultural life. Twenty-three institutions of higher education operate within the city, with Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364 by Casimir III, providing students interested in literature with the opportunity to join the Department of International Polish Studies.

9. Prizes and Scholarships

Krakow offers several prestigious literary prizes including the Transatlantyk Award for the promotion of Polish literature abroad; the Jan Dlugosz Prize for the best book of the year; the Kazimierz Wyka Award for essay writing and criticism; the Wislawa Szymborska Poetry Award, and the Stanislaw Vincenz New Culture of New Europe Award.

The city also supports young writers and translators through the Villa Decius Association and the Albrecht Lempp scholarships.

10. Bookshops and Publishers

Krakow is home to a thriving book market of almost 80 bookshops and 30 antiquarian bookstores, as well as a host of publishers.

The oldest bookshop in Europe was founded in the city in 1610, now known as Bookstore Matras, part of Poland’s largest chain of booksellers. The store offers a wide selection of books, including adult fiction, children’s fiction, comic books, travel books and much more. Another interesting literary outlet is Massolit Books and Café, an independent English-language bookshop in the heart of the beautiful Old Town. Other popular bookshops in the city include Lokator, Verbum (which specialises in antiquarian books), Mocak Bookstore, Austeria and many others.

Krakow also produces more than 3,000 titles annually, the result of the large number of printing houses within the city and including academic publishers, publishers of fiction, poetry, as well as religious and children’s publishers. Krakow’s publishers include Znak, Universitas, ha!art, Czarne, Karakte, Austeria and Bona, to name but a few.