It starts with rain.
I arrived in Manchester two weeks ago to embark on a six month long exchange program. My field of study is English Literature. My name is Gabrielle and I am drawn to reading poetry. My favourite poets are the Romantics John Keats and William Wordsworth. This past summer, I realized that my fondness for what I study stems from my fundamental love of stories and storytelling. From my perspective, being exposed to new material constantly through my classes and being given the tools to appreciate those works gave me the advantage of knowing reading for pleasure. I realized that I wished the same for everyone around me.
Literacy is more than knowing how to read and write. Literacy means understanding the world around you and being able to interact with it to your fullest capacity. As stated on the Literacy Quebec website, “A society that invests in literacy is more socially inclusive, safer and creates more vibrant communities.”
UNESCO declared Manchester a City of Literature in 2017. This city built the UK’s first public lending library and is home to countless literary festivals. It raises standards by creating platforms and allocating resources to diverse groups of artists, writers, publishers and translators. Additionally, by promoting domestic and foreign literature, Manchester welcomes countless diverse readers.
Manchester is a city of contrasts. It rains most days but upon arrival, I felt the warmth and kind attention that Mancunians are most known for. Those who I had barely met were greeting me with, “Hello, love”. The people make this city. Most of all, they make it feel like a home. They are the ones who will take the time to ask about your story and where you’re from. They cherish stories. And in some way, I believe this prizing of stories is what makes Manchester so characteristically and unequivocally a City of Literature. Listening to the stories of others allows us to expand our perspective and to some capacity, empathize with realities that aren’t our own. The stories recorded in literature hold the same power. Stories spark curiosity in us that sparks questions that spark answers that spark more questions…and so on. Stories propel us forward. Thus, in a city with such a rich history as Manchester, writing and reading become conscious acts of preservation for tomorrow. Reading and writing – literacy, is the present and the future.
My project during my time here is to share with you the ways Manchester uniquely encourages literacy as a City of Literature. On their website they outline their goal to create “a viable literary ecology for the future” through the creation of innovative, accessible reading and writing spaces across the city. I hope to explore these spaces in depth and record my findings. I hope to share as many ways that Manchester continues to push the envelope as I can.
Meanwhile, I will remember that it all starts with rain. And by rain, I mean Lemn Sissay’s poem “Rain” painted on the side of a café building on Oxford Road. With each letter falling droplet by droplet, I remember the first time I looked up and read it. I cocked my head to the side and found it bizarre. I wasn’t used to it. I lingered longer then letters slowly fell into place. It started to make sense. And for the first time in a while, I began to appreciate the rain. The triumphant rain that falls in Manchester.
When the rain falls they talk of Manchester but when the triumphant rain falls we think of rainbows it’s the mancunian way