Ulyanovsk, Russia

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

These all join the eleven existing UNESCO Cities of Literature – Edinburgh (UK), Melbourne (Australia), Iowa City (USA), Dublin (Ireland), Reykjavik (Iceland), Norwich (UK), Krakow (Poland), Dunedin (New Zealand), Prague (Czech Republic), Heidelberg (Germany) and Granada (Spain) – to bring the total amount of Cities of Literature in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network to twenty.

Ulyanovsk is a city of over half a million people on the banks of the Volga River to the east of Moscow.

To receive a permanent UNESCO City of Literature designation cities must apply to UNESCO and meet exacting criteria. They must show that they have outstanding literary heritage, a vibrant contemporary scene, and importantly, that they are a city where their sector works collaboratively to grow and develop through their chosen artform, via capital development and cultural engagement programmes.

1. Ulyanovsk in Numbers

Around 600,000 people with over 100 different nationalities live in Ulyanovsk, served by more than 30 bookstores, two large publishing houses, a civic library system boasting 39 libraries, and the Ulyanovsk Regional Special Library for the Blind. There is also a free library Ulyanovsk airport and over 200 school libraries. For the past 10 years, Ulyanovsk citizens have donated over 50,000 books to the city’s municipal libraries during the annual ‘day of donation’.

2. The Birthplace of Lenin

Ulyanovsk takes its name from one Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov-Lenin, born there on 22 April 1870. As well as rising to become Russia’s political head of state, Lenin was also the author of several books and treatises which expound his political ideology. Following Lenin’s death his home city Simbarsk was renamed Ulyanovsk in his honour in 1924. The city celebrates its connection with Lenin in four museums and historical houses across Ulyanovsk.

3. Authors of Ulyanovsk

Novelist Ivan Goncharov was born in Ulyanovsk (then Simbarsk) in 1812. The son of a grain merchant, Goncharov became best-known for his second novel, Oblomov (1859). In 2012 Ulyanovsk unveiled the Goncharov Museum, housed in the three-storey building where Goncharov grew up, to tell the story of Goncharov’s life and works.

4. Get Off The Sofa!

The Oblomov Festival is an annual celebration of the novel’s central – and eponymous – antihero. The festival attracts around 5000 people each year and glories under the motto ‘Get Off The Sofa!’ – a reference to Oblomov as the self-styled ‘Prince of Laziness’

5. Nikolai Karamzin: Russia’s Walter Scott

Historian, linguist and writer Nikolai Karamzin was born in Ulyanovsk in 1766. Like Walter Scott in Scotland, Karamzin is viewed as the nation’s historian whose written work reimagined their country in a new Romantic model. In 1848 Ulyanovsk built a wonderful library or ‘book palace’ as a monument to Karamzin, naming it the ‘Karamzinskaya’. It was the earliest public library in the Volga region, putting it among the first fifty regional public libraries in the whole of Russia. As with Waverley station being named after Scott’s novel, public appeal demanded that the library was named after Ulyanovsk’s most famous writer.

6. Pushkin in Ulyanovsk

In 1833 Alexander Pushkin visited Ulyanovsk, collecting material relating to Pugachev’s rebellion of 1773 – 1775. Puskin went on to write his The History of Pugachev and The Captain’s Daughter, inspired in part by his trip to Ulyanovsk.

7. Three Poets: Yazykov, Davydov and Sadovnikov

Poets Nikolai Yazykov, Denis Davydov and Dmitry Sadovnikov all lived in Ulyanovsk. Yazykov is commemorated at the Yazykov’s House literary museum, which opened in 1999 to celebrate Pushkin’s 200th birthday. Housed in a 200-year old cottage belonging to the Yazykov family, the museum explores the connections between Yazykov and the Ulyanovsk area.

8. Dmitry Minayev: Satirist and Critic

Dmitry Minayev is widely recognised as one of Russia’s greatest satirists and literary critics. Something of a polymath, he also translated the poetry of Lord Byron and Dante Alighieri into Russian.

9. Sergei Mikhalkov

Among the more recent literary events in Ulyanovsk is the Sergei Mikhalkov International Competition for the best literary work for young adults in the Russian language, named in honour of children’s poet and author of the Russian anthem Sergei Mikhalkov.

10. Literary Salons

Like Edinburgh, Ulyanovsk plays host to a series of literary salons. ‘At Lena’s Place’ is a literary-musical salon, Literary Thursdays are for the discussion of literary works and current issues, and the city library’s Oblomov Club is also very popular.