Tartu, Writer-in-Residence



Rather fantastic news to share today. I've been selected via an open call to be the Tartu-Manchester UNESCO City of Literature Writer-in-Residence for the 2024 Tartu City of Culture celebrations! Read more about it here. I am, of course, extremely excited to embark upon this shiny new venture. I have absolutely no idea what I'll be creating for it as yet, but I do plan to document the residency as I go along in some fashion, so watch-this-space for updates.


The call-out was for a writer with science-fiction leanings as the theme of the 2024 festival is 'Bring Your Own Utopia' and the plan is for me to be paired up with an Estonian creative from a different discipline. I've already met my creative sparring partner virtually - it will be the rather wondrous Henri Hutt, a performance, installation and dance artist based in Tallinn. We've said a quick hello to each other and determined a few shared interests but the plan is to get me over to Tartu later this year so we can stalk the streets together hunting inspiration. Our brief is wide open. We might create an artwork of some kind, a performance, something digital, something fleeting, something permanent... who knows? All very thrilling, and just a little bit terrifying, but the best things are created from wonder edged with trepidation.


At the moment, I know very little about the city of Tartu, besides what I've gleaned from my first little bits of research. Tartu is Estonia's second city and has recently become, like Manchester, a UNESCO City of Literature. It sees itself as something of an experimental cultural laboratory, sitting as it does between the northern and southern Baltic states, and between the West and Russia. It boasts all manner of literary energies, including literary cafes, poetry slams, poetry on buses, literary quizzes, bookshops, libraries, and a really old and beautiful university. There's an Estonian Folklore Archive somewhere which I will be especially keen to uncover.

The Struve Geodetic Arc - Tartu Beacon

Then there's FGW Struve, an astronomer who studied at Tartu University and helped to establish the Geodetic Arc - a line of beacons stretching from the top of Norway down through nine other countries, ending in the Ukraine. They were used in the practice of geodesy - the science of Earth measurement. I chimed with that little nugget in particular. If we're using Tartu and Estonia as a base to think about utopias, dystopias, and the ways the world could or should be, then a habit for measuring the planet invites intriguing parallels...


Anyway, that's my first and only real thought. I'm keeping my mind open and my instincts set to: 'explore' when I make my first trip to that mysterious and distant city. It'll be the furthest East I will have ever travelled and my first time visiting the Baltic states. It may be the closest I'll ever come to the Russian border, and it perhaps feels prescient that the announcement of this residency coincided with Putin's latest proclamations. No doubt the looming presence of world events will invade our practices too.


Plans are forming for my first trip which I hope will be taking place in mid-November. I may well use this blog as a space to document my progress - my encounters, my musings, my homesickness, my amusing faux pas. So, if you're interested in following along, follow me on Twitter and stick a good old fashioned bookmark on this page.


For now, hüvasti!


The blue, black and white stripes of the Estonian flag