City of Literature: Melbourne
Melbourne is the capital of the state of Victoria, Australia’s second-largest city with a population of 3.6 million.
More people borrow more books from local libraries in Melbourne than anywhere else in Australia. The city was home to 19th-century novelists Rolf Boldrewood (Thomas Browne) and Marcus Clarke; Booker Prize-winning author Peter Carey was born in Melbourne and today Melbourne has a vibrant community of writers, novelists, playwrights and poets.
The city is also home to one of Australia’s most valuable literary awards, the Melbourne Prize for Literature.
10 Things to Know About Melbourne
Founded in 1853, the University of Melbourne was the city’s first major institution for learning, and now enjoys its status as one of the oldest universities in Australia.
Liberal arts was the first area of study offered by the University, and has since grown to include e a School of Culture and Communication, which offers courses such as including Creative Writing, Publishing and Communication, and many more. It also offers an array of awards to assist writers: the Dinny O’Hearn Memorial Fellowship, the Asher Literary Award, the Peter Blazey Fellowship, and the Kate Challis RAKA Award.
2. Literary Festivals
Melbourne is home to a cracking range of literary festivals; most notably, Melbourne Writers’ Festival, founded in 1986. The festival is an annual celebration of talented writers from Australia and across the world.
Melbourne’s Emerging Writers’ Festival also takes place in this wonderful city every June. This not-for-profit festival is driven to support and advance the profile of new and emerging writers from Australia. The festival includes events from conferences and book launches to workshops and panels.
The city also hosts a range of other literary celebrations from the academic to the absurd.
3. Famous Authors
Melbourne is a city of writers, having produced a host of home-grown talent as well as providing a home to roaming writers from across the word.
19th-century novelist Rolf Boldrewood (Thomas Browne), an author and police magistrate, moved to Melbourne in in 1839 with his family and is remembered in the Rolf Boldrewood Literary Award, dedicated in his name to supporting Australian prose and poetry.
Another Melbourne hero of the era was Marcus Clarke (1846–1881), born in England but immigrated to Australia as a teenager, arriving in Melbourne in June 1863. By November of that year Clarke’s literary talents had been recognised by his new homeland, and his work was published in Melbourne Punch. Clarke’s career combined journalism, poetry, literary writing and librarianship. He died tragically early at the age of 35, leaving a widow and six children.
Twice Booker Prize winning author Peter Carey was born in Melbourne, best known for Oscar and Lucinda and the True History of the Kelly Gang. Melbourne essayist and novelist Chris Wallace-Crabbe and poet Dorothy Porter have been widely translated, and today Melbourne has an extremely vibrant community of writers, novelists, playwrights and poets.
4. Literary Prizes
Melbourne is home to one of Australia’s most valuable literary awards, the Melbourne Prize for Literature, awarded by the Melbourne Prize Trust. This prize is awarded every three years to writers from the state of Victoria who display outstanding literary creativity.
The Melbourne Writers’ Festival works in collaboration with Monash University to present the Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing. The Ritchell Prize is another prize presented by Hachette Australia, the Guardian Australia and the Emerging Writers’ Festival.
Melbourne is home to the biggest publishing scene in Australia.
Random House Australia PTY Ltd has an office in Scoresby, a suburb of Melbourne. Penguin Random House was formed on 1 July 2013, and has published a wide variety of writers from the likes of Alice Munro, Marlon James, Martin Ames, Diana Gabaldon, and E.L. James.
Melbourne University Press was founded in 1922, starting originally as a stationery store for students before expanding to publish books itself. The company focuses on advancing exciting non-fiction titles, publishing political books, as well as current affairs, art history, lifestyle and many more.
Melbourne is also home to a number of independent publishers, including Hunter Publishers who publish fiction, non-fiction and poetry and driven by their desire to continually raise awareness of young and emerging writers. The Text Publishing Company is another independent publishing firm that runs in association with Edinburgh’s Canongate Books, and has published internationally renowned authors including Michel Faber and Anna Funder.
Bookshops are an indispensable part of this city’s cultural identity, as Melbourne is home to more of these literary oases than in any other Australian city.
Reader’s Feast Bookstore presents all of its books with the covers facing the literary shopper, so you really can judge the book by its cover. City Basement Books is renowned for its ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme as you climb down a set of stairs decorated with butterflies and into a basement filled with books of all genres. The Little Bookroom opened in 1960 and was Australia’s first bookstore dedicated to children’s literature.
Whilst not technically being a book store, the Little Library works on a borrow-and-donate basis, providing the city with bookshelves of character influenced by the very people that live there.
Melbourne has an impressive selection of libraries, frequented by readers, authors and scholars alike, and the proof of these lovely literary puddings is in the eating: more people borrow more books from local libraries in Melbourne than anywhere else in Australia.
The State Library of Victoria, Melbourne’s oldest free library, is situated in a beautiful 19th century building that houses over 2 million books: the La Trobe Reading Room is a highlight of the building that visitors won’t want to miss.
The Melbourne Athenaeum Library, founded in 1893, is Melbourne’s oldest subscription library, offering an extensive, hand-picked collection of reading materials.
Libraries in Melbourne fulfil an important role in providing the community with open access to books and reading materials, but also in organising cultural events that engage the community, bringing together the diversity of social talent that the city has to offer.
8. Young Readers
The Centre for Youth Literature is organised by the State Victoria Library to promotes reading for please for all young people and champion youth literature.
The Centre runs an exciting programme of events involving writers, illustrators, librarians, teachers, booksellers and publishers. Reading Matters is a programme dedicated to storytelling for young people, and in 2015 the programme celebrated its 11th biennial event with an dazzling array of Young Adult (YA) authors, illustrators and publishers. Also organised for the youth of Melbourne are the wonderful Inky Awards, which seek to recognise high-quality YA literature with the judges being made up by young adults themselves.
9. The Wheeler Centre
As part of its bid to be a City of Literature, the Victorian Government created the Wheeler Centre of Books, Writing and Ideas, named after the Melbourne-based founders of the Lonely Planet guide.
The Centre is an established arts organisation within the city, continually curating a programme of innovative events as well as fostering important discussions about the role of art and culture (plus many more) in Melbourne.
10. Literary Organisations
Melbourne is home to a dynamic range of literary organisations which strengthen the city’s contemporary cultural scene: Australian Poetry, the Victorian Writers’ Centre, Express Media (for young writers), independent publishers collective SPUNC, and the Melbourne chapter of PEN. All come together to serve readers, writes and literary professionals from all walks of Melbourne life.
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A poem from Melbourne author Marcus Clarkeappeared as a poetry projection on the streets of Edinburgh in March 2016.