Montevideo, Uruguay

Montevideo became the 20th UNESCO City of Literature in December 2015, on the same day as Ulyanovsk (Russia), Baghdad (Iraq), Tartu (Estonia), L’viv (Ukraine), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Barcelona (Spain), Nottingham (UK) and Óbidos (Portugal) joined the Creative Cities Network.

As Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo is home to 1,319,000 people, nearly half of the country’s population. Its natural industrial port and historic business district combine with its rich cultural life – as its streets are brought to life with music, theatre, and art – to a create a unique City of Literature in South America.

1. Books in town – and on the beach!

Montevideo is unusual in having a smaller style of bookshop. Yenny – pronounced “shenny” in the local accent – are tiny mini-stores with crowded shelves and narrow aisles, but despite their size, customers can be found browsing or sitting with a book. It’s easy to find beach reading in Montevideo too. The city has mobile libraries on the beach, such as La Rambla, which are stocked with hundreds of titles.

2. Famous Names

Montevideo rose to literary prominence in the early 20th century and was nicknamed ‘the Athens of the Rio de la Plata’. Writers such as José Enrique Rodó, Carlos Vaz Ferreira, Julio Herrera y Reissig, Delmira Agustini, and Felisberto Hernández rose to fame leading to the work of Juan Carlos Onetti, Antonio Larreta, Eduardo Galeano, Marosa di Giorgio and Cristina Peri Rossi in the late 20th century.

3. Bartolomé José Hidalgo

Bartolomé José Hidalgo was a Uruguayan writer and poet born in Montevideo in 1788, and one of the initiators of Gaucho literature. He has a statue in Montevideo, and a park and a road named after him. His name is also given to the Premio Bartolome Hidalgo Prize, awarded each year by The Uruguayan Book Chamber.

4. The Uruguayan Book Chamber

Based in Montevideo, the Uruguayan Book Chamber is an independent organisation that brings booksellers, distributors and publishers together to promote books and reading in general across Uruguay. The Chamber has applied different strategies to promote books and encourage reading and literacy across all age groups throughout the country.

5. The International Book Fair

The International Book Fair is hosted annually in Montevideo. The sixth Fair expanded to include events in Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile, and the three cities worked together and welcomed many international writers of contemporary literature.

6. Biblioteca Nacional de Uruguay

Montevideo is home to the National Library of Uruguay. Created in 1815, it is the legal deposit and copyright library for Uruguay. The library currently houses more than 130,000 books, with periodicals, maps, scores, engravings, photograph, manuscripts and much more.

7. Feria de Tristán Narvaja

On Sundays, the Feria de Tristán Narvaja flea market takes over an entire neighbourhood, closing off the street of Tristan Narvaja for several blocks and spilling into the side streets. Here, sellers set up a large open-air secondhand book market with long tables, shelves, and crates filled with books and magazines.

8. The Writers’ House

Founded in 2003, the Writers’ House is based in Montevideo and has led many literary writing initiatives. Supporting local and national writers, the facility has made donations to public libraries, hosted events and established connections between Uruguayan authors and libraries.

9. Literary Organisations

Montevideo is full of literary organisations which champion literature across the city. Venues include the Writers’ House, the Spanish Cultural Centre (CCE), the Gurvich Museum, the Solis Theatre, and the Puro Verso Library.

10. Festival of Poetry

In 2006, the First Festival of Poetry across Uruguay was organised with the city council of Montevideo. It welcomed more than 40 foreign poets from eight different countries, 96 Uruguayan poets, 14 musicians, 26 actors and performers.