The mists of time shroud the exact date of my arrival in Manchester to study, and after stopping a while, I departed for a sojourn in the big smoke before being drawn back to the rainy city coming up for a decade ago. Manchester has an appeal to me for many reasons, not least because it’s big enough to support a feeling of cosmopolitanism; small enough to offer a sense of community. Since returning, I’ve become involved in various groups and activities, helping organise green festivals in Chorlton (where else?), joining the monthly bike ride Critical Mass, tagging along on psychogeography derives, taking part in a 24-hour performance art project and doing all sorts of other cool things in various cool places with loads of different cool people.
My main thing, however, is getting immersed in the burgeoning literary scene, which has really taken off this last 12 months or so. You can’t swing a cat for the amount of spoken word nights, author readings and creative writing workshops there are these days; often two or more brilliant events clash and I have to play rock paper scissors in order to decide which one to grace with my inimitable presence. I like to listen and learn from other poets and proseurs, and I also like to write and perform my own micro stories, or flash fiction. I work for Manchester Literature Festival and The Literateur online literary magazine, and I’ve been churning out an arts blog, Words & Fixtures, since 2008. I’ve decided therefore to take this opportunity as guest curator of A Wondrous Place to look at the city’s words and fixtures: literature and libraries.
Libraries are on topic right now and there’s been a lot in the media about our public libraries being under threat while the Culture, Media & Sport select committee has just published a report on the subject. Meanwhile Manchester’s main reference and reading establishment, the amazingly imposing Central Library (pictured here - in the original version of this post on A Wondrous Place, that is - in an artist’s impression of the under-construction One St Peter’s Square), is currently closed to undergo a complete overhaul, due to reopen in 2014. The temporary City lending library is crammed into Elliot House on Deansgate (lovely stained glass and awesome wallpaper, though, so definitely worth a looksee if you’re passing), the collection is squirrelled away somewhere in a Cheshire salt mine and the future of Library Walks is uncertain, but STOP! Let’s not get disheartened, dear reader – I’m going to take you on a tour of some of the alternative book depositories the residents of Cottonopolis are lucky enough to have access to and explore some of the colourful wordy types this place has produced. There will be mystery! There will be history! There may even be drinks if you promise to keep quiet and don’t run in the corridors…
“The health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries” - scientist and writer Carl Sagan