Literary Gothenburg

Literature is a key to social sustainability and it is a priority for UNESCO's Creative Cities Network. Gothenburg wants to be a part of the network as a city of literature in order to gain access to international knowledge, which in turn will accelerate local and sustainable urban development.

Gothenburg as a literary field

Given its size, Gothenburg has an impressive literary infrastructure that is nourished by grass-roots initiatives and the strongly-entrenched Nordic traditions of free speech, democracy, adult education and publicly-funded culture. It is also Sweden’s largest university town, with 60,000 students and a master’s programme in literary composition. The city has both the intellectual and financial prerequisites to allow many of its residents to dare to think and create freely.

West Sweden hosts an exciting array of festivals and book fairs. We also connect with our literary history via the digital map We are home to a dense mix of libraries, clubs, associations and venues, including Gothenburg House of Literature, where writers have the chance to meet and develop. Gothenburg has been a City of Refuge for persecuted writers and artists since 1996 and is proud of ICORN author and 2015 Nobel Prize Winner Svetlana Alexievich, among other ICORN artists.

Libraries – center to an expansive urban development

Public libraries are the literary infrastructure’s core and must exist in every Swedish municipality by law. Gothenburg has 25 libraries that receive 4 million visits yearly and a reading-promotion drive targeting children, youths, and persons with disabilities and multilingual backgrounds. The city’s newest library, World Literature House, is a meeting place with a large multilingual collection. University, college and school libraries support the education sector and mobile libraries reach readers in underserved areas.Publicly-funded cultural centres and meeting places provide a rich literary, reading and creative-activities offering for youths, the elderly, LGBTQ persons, persons with disabilities and national minorities.

Libraries have been central to Gothenburg’s expansive urban development since its first public library opened in 1861. The impact of expanding services to include the homeless, new immigrants and asylum-seekers during the 2000s is clear: free services and free library cards promote quality of life, participation and education.

Gothenburg Book Fair - The Nordic region's largest media and cultural event - and other events

Gothenburg’s international book fair is the Nordic region’s largest media and cultural event (90,000 visitors). Designed for both the publishing industry and the general public, it is unique worldwide. The 2020 fair was quickly remade into a digital festival (600,000 views) – a feat expedited by the good cooperation among local literary actors. The city also has a number of local book fairs that focus on minorities and multilingualism.

West Sweden is also home to three additional literary festivals. Göteborgs Poesifestival began in 1983 and has been organized by young poets from the city’s suburbs since 2017. A number of other festivals also showcase poetry, spoken word, novels and more. Gothenburg’s public libraries offer a broad range of activities, holding 2,050 events yearly, including International Writer’s Stage, World Poetry Day and World Book and Copyright Day. Swedish PEN organizes local activities related to the Day of the Imprisoned Writer.

Scandinavia’s largest offering of arts programmes

The University of Gothenburg (GU) boasts Scandinavia’s largest offering of arts programmes, including a unique breadth, doctoral studies and literary composition and translation programmes. In the comparative literature and cultural science fields, GU offers courses in literary criticism, editorial practices, culture and democracy, and cultural entrepreneurship. Annually, GU supplies the cultural sphere with hundreds of graduates, and the higher vocational education programme Kulturverkstan supplies some 30 international cultural project managers.

Folk high schools and adult educational and other associations offer the public a wide range of literature and arts courses. Culture is also integrated into schools’ and preschools’ curricula. Our city has acclaimed, world-class school libraries and holds teacher-led, leisure-time Kulturskola classes for 7,500 pupils. During our compulsory schools’ annual Litteraturvecka event (2019), 47 writers held 460 lessons and met with 11,500 pupils.

Tertiary education and lifelong learning 

The University of Gothenburg (GU) offers a Scandinavian creative writing programme in literary composition and studies in picture book production, comparative literature, literary didactics and criticism, editorial practices and Arabic, English, French, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and German literature. GU also offers artistic doctoral studies in literary composition, and programmes for literary translation and translation for specialist fields and publishers.

Angereds Författarskola and other folk high schools and adult educational associations hold writing courses for the public. The Norma (for young women and transgender persons), Qalam and Gatulyktor writing courses use language to achieve change and liberation. There is also a programme to promote writing skills for youths in community homes and patients in psychiatric care. Berättarministeriet offers free activities that supplement school curricula in areas with high unemployment levels to help young pupils master writing.

Research centres and specialized institutes 

The University of Gothenburg’s (GU) Centre for Digital Humanities and Centre for Critical Heritage Studies include literature in their multidisciplinary work, while its Jonsered Manor intellectual centre and collaboration forum organizes conferences, seminars and science-based literary salons.

GU also has ties to the Swedish Academy via its permanent secretary and members and hosts the editorial functions for Svensk ordbok and Svenska Akademiens ordlista. Part-financed by the Academy, the Swedish Literature Bank’s editorial office is also in Gothenburg, and has created a digital map showcasing literature in West Sweden –

Neighbouring city Borås is home to the Swedish School of Library and Information Science, which offers Sweden’s premier educational programme in the field. Clandestino Institut, an autonomous network of researchers and cultural workers, works actively in the city and region to address racism and colonialism using literature as one of its bases.

Publishers and cultural journals - a hallmark of Gothenburg

As the country's second largest city and as a regional cultural center, Gothenburg is of great importance to Swedish literature. Gothenburg leads Sweden in producing and distributing cultural journals. Sweden’s literary industry is characterized by increased export revenue, and the combined value of literature exports has tripled at the national level over the past ten years.

Gothenburg enjoys some twenty cultural journals, including the Nordic region’s oldest cultural journal, Ord&Bild; some of Sweden’s preeminent editorial boards, and members of the European cultural-journal network Eurozine.
The cultural journals cover a wide range of topics, as an important part of the infrastructure where both new and experienced writers can be offered a place in the public eye/ meet a wide audience/? They also contribute to a lively cultural debate and critique.

Nätverkstan based in Gothenburg, is the distributor for about eighty of Sweden’s cultural journals. Nätverkstan also have a major contribution from the Swedish Arts Council to facilitate the dissemination of and knowledge about cultural journals in various ways.

Sweden’s first shelter to writers and artists at risk, in the country with the most ICORN cities in the world

Gothenburg’s history of free speech is long, from the time of the daily Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfarts- Tidning to becoming Sweden’s first ICORN City of Refuge and the founding of the Segerstedt Institute.

Sweden has a total of 24 cities that are members of ICORN. Gothenburg has welcomed artists at risk from the following countries:

  • Nigeria 1997–1998
  • Burma 2000–2001
  • Chechnya 2004–2005
  • Belarus 2006–2007
  • Georgia 2009–2010
  • Former Soviet Union 2011–2013
  • Palestine 2013–2015
  • Eritrea 2016–2018
  • Syria 2020-2021

The most well-known of these is the Nobel Price Winner (2015) Svetlana Alexievich, author and journalist who during her stay in Gothenburg (2006 - 2007) participated as a freelance writer on Göteborgs-Posten's cultural pages.

Exciting and well-known authors

West Sweden has long had an exciting lineup of authors such as prose writers and poets, as well as non-fiction and children’s authors. They come together in a tradition of working together, grass root groups and professionals alike. Different art forms clash together in experiments where poetry meets visual art, dance and music.

Experience some of West Sweden’s poets and musicians in Window Poetry (link), which started to draw attention to Gothenburg's application to become a UNESCO City of Literature.

What makes Gothenburg unique is its harbor and river—which has inspired many prominent authors. A statue of the sailor, singer, composer and author Evert Taube (1890 – 1976) stands by the water down by the Gothenburg Opera House, ready to greet you if you happen to walk by. Born in Gothenburg and raised in Vinga, he set sail for the sea at the tender age of 17. The harbor, the sea, and life as a sailor became an important theme in his ballads.

Nobel Prize winners

”Gothenburg has made half of me”. This is how Harry Martinson (1904 – 1978) was quoted in the newspaper Göteborgs-Posten from March 1949, the year he was elected to the Swedish Academy. He was an orphan who ended up in an orphanage in Gothenburg; he became an author with Gothenburg as a form of harbor; a homeless man who became a sailor, who in turn became a poet and a recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1974.

But the great storyteller of seafarers was the working-class author Ove Allansson (1932 – 2016), who preached the virtues of reading all his life and created the concepts of läsenärer and ombordare, words that playfully combine reading with travelling the seas.

The poet Karin Boye was born in Gothenburg. The Noble Prize winner (1909) Selma Lagerlöf too had ties to Gothenburg, even though her home was in Värmland.

August Prize winners

To this day we still have noted authors from the West Coast, both nationally and internationally, not to mention all our locally well-known authors. In recent years, for example, we have had a number of August Prize winners:

  • 2015 Jessica Schiefauer, The Eyes of the Lake. She was also a winner 2011, Pojkarna, Girls lost
  • 2017 Johannes Anyuru, They Will Drown in their Mothers' Tears
  • 2019 Marit Kapla, Osebol
  • 2020 Lydia Sandgren, Samlade verk

Professional infrastructure

Writers’ Centre West (365 members) advocates for writers’ interests, offers a free-of-charge Authors’ Agency and runs networks for authors of children’s books and authors who are immigrants or in exile. They also run Forum för poesi och prosa, a Gothenburg-based infrastructure for literature recitals built on collaborations all across West Sweden.

Lagerhuset houses Gothenburg House of Literature, an infrastructure for some 60 membership organizations’ literary activities, and Nätverkstan, which supports and develops municipal and regional cultural life via its open media workshop, resource centre for cultural journals, accounting services, education and training. It also houses publishers, journals’ editorial offices, journalists and translators. Projects focusing on the industry’s development and digital transition are also coordinated here.

Gothenburg Book Fair is an international infrastructure for the publishing industry. Its programme is designed jointly with the Swedish Arts Council to help advance literature and the publishing industry. There is a host of platforms/meeting places for professionals working in cultural and creative industries, authors’ agencies and manuscript production.

Vital venue for Poetry and Spoken word

In Gothenburg, as well as in nearby cities in the region, several festivals have emerged, each with its own specific characteristics. The oldest are the Göteborgs Poesifestival, Poesifestivalen Merci Poesi, and Politisk Poesifestival. Also Textival, a festival not limited only to poetry being at the beginning an alternative book fair, continues to evolve.

Poetry has been present in different places in the city over the years. At Gothenburg Book Fair there is a Rum för poesi, a dedicated area for poetry appearances under three days in a row. Gothenburg has a wide range of venues where the art of words is flourishing, from amateur theater groups and institutions to venues for literature reading and discussions on stage. At Gothenburg´s City Theater, Sweden´s oldest City Theater, drama plays are always a part of the repertoire.

The Spoken word-scene is and has always been an important starting-point for many well-established authors and poets in Gothenburg. The venue marked 20 years of existence in 2017 during the Swedish championship in Poetry Slam, arranged by Göteborgs Poetry Slam. Poets from Gothenburg have often won, individually and at the team-contest. Eight contests, three finals and two open venues take place during the season. In addition, organises Göteborgs Poetry Slam Spoken word-evenings at Folkteater, a major theater in Gothenburg. Ortens Bästa Poet, an initiative by the association Förenade förorter, has been promoting poetry all over the city during the last few years. The association Poesiwerken organises six times per year Klubb LäsBar, an open mic for text-based art, Poesi I Parken, a summertime-event as well as other festivals and release-events. Sweden´s first record-label for Spoken word, Verbal Alfa, is also based in Gothenburg.

Many associations and expansive businesses

Gothenburg is a creative city with many committed literary associations and a large number of cultural associations. The extensive mapping work, that has been conducted prior to Gothenburg's application to become a UNESCO City of Literature, lists more than 30 local associations with literary activities. The associations organize many literary activities. Gothenburg House of Literature is important in coordinating collaborations and as a central meeting place for civil-society actors.

Gothenburg’s cultural and creative industries employ over 6,300 people and the literature sector has seen steady growth in recent years. Gothenburg leads Sweden in producing and distributing cultural journals. Sweden’s literary industry is characterized by increased export revenue, and the combined value of literature exports has tripled at the national level over the past ten years. With their approximately 20,500 companies and 35,590 employees, including 6,900 within the literary industry and publishing, cultural and creative industries are a prioritized focus area for economic development at the regional level.

The whole city mobilizes as The City Where We Read to Our Children

The City Where We Read to Our Children is a community-wide effort in Gothenburg that began in 2015. The purpose of the effort is to promote the development of language and reading in children early on in life, and it is a part of the City of Gothenburg’s work in creating a more equal city. The work involves raising awareness and increasing the knowledge of the importance of reading aloud. The goal is to increase children’s vocabulary, their love of reading, and their reading skills.

Research shows that reading daily affects children's verbal abilities, their school readiness and their performance in school. Children who are read to early on in life therefore have a more solid foundation to stand on compared to children who are not read to. Taking action early on in a child’s life will have a profound effect both for the child here and now, but also for the entire society. All efforts that promote early speech development in children are investments. Both for the individual child and for society as a whole.

Report 2020   Being a writer in the West

In September 2020, the Literature Association Skrift presented the report "Being a writer in the West - Gothenburg as a literary field" on what it is like to be active as a writer in Gothenburg and the surrounding area. One of the reasons for the survey is Gothenburg's application to become a UNESCO City of Literature. The survey has been carried out as an independent initiative by the association to create knowledge in the matter independently of the application.