Friday, 6 May 2016

The Manchester Writing Competition 2016 opens – in a city of literary opportunity

Manchester is home to one of the biggest Fiction and Poetry prizes; with £10,000 up for grabs. Ready to investigate why writing matters so much here is Emily Oldfield…

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for...

Manchester is a city known for its wordsmiths. The lyrics of Morrissey come close to poetry, as well as so many other musicians, and the city has been home to a number of authors including Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Burgess and Howard Jacobson. The Manchester writing Competition seems proof of the literary legacy of this place. With a prize of £10,000 for each category – The Fiction Prize and The Poetry Prize - it is one of the biggest celebrations of writing around.

Established by Carol Ann Duffy in 2008, this competition attracts entries from all over world, and encourages new writers. The writing can be as experimental and expressive as people want; something I believe Manchester upholds more than many other cities – writing that gets close and personal.

For example, poetry and prose enter the streets – literally. Have you ever seen the Lemn Sissay poem ‘Hardys Well’ on the side of the Wilmslow Road pub of the same name?  Plus the sheer number of ‘writing workshops’ and ‘spoken word’ events show how the written and spoken form is well alive here. I’ve already discovered poetry nights as wackily named as ‘Transdimensional Space Goats’ and the ‘Fuel Word Cup’. Commonword organises many similar events; and as one of the largest community writing and publishing organisations in the North West based here, upholds Manchester as a place where people can find ‘common’ ground through writing.

Because here writing has been used to portray the plight of the ‘common’ man – think of Friedrich Engels’ (with input from Karl Marx) work on ‘The Condition of The Working Class in England’ in Chetham’s Library, as just one example, back in 1845. Writing has been used as a social tool both historically and for humour – take John Cooper Clarke’s ‘Beasley Street’. He’s the self-proclaimed ‘Bard of Salford’ and performance poet with lines like ‘The Hipster and his hired hat/drive a borrowed car’; mocking inner-city culture in a meaningful way.

Poets and writers are capable of giving voice to the otherwise unspoken in society after all – they uncover the layers, and add so much to the discovery of the metropolis which is Manchester. This especially applies to poetry - as Dr David Cooper, senior English Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, reflects…

“'From Mrs Gaskell to Mike Garry, Manchester has long been perceived, represented and – crucially - reimagined by a diverse range of literary voices. Poetry (in particular) has played a prominent role in this multi-layered literary geography of the city. This seems to be particularly true right now as, every week, we learn of an imaginative new project, event or happening which celebrates poetry's potential to reconfigure our sense of what it means to be in the world.”

Poetry and creative writing has been standing out in a number of public ‘projects’ ; one of I Love Manchester’s recent stories showed how writer and performance poet Tony Walsh penned  a poem to
celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Alliance Manchester Business School.

Writing is part of the infrastructure of this place it seems, even at an institutional level. The chancellor of The University of Manchester is after all the outstanding performance poet and writer Lemn Sissay, whilst Carol Ann Duffy, the current Poet Laureate, is based at The Manchester Writing School – the host institution of the competition. In light of The Manchester Writing Competition, YOU can be next in terms of making sense of the city and connecting yourself to it, through writing. As David Cooper says:

“Clearly, we’re living through a period of great change in Manchester. For me, then, it’s more important than ever that we listen to what poets – ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’, according to Shelley –   have to say about the places and spaces in which we live, work and play.”

It seems fitting then that there is separate Poetry Prize and then a Fiction Prize; though in previous years the competition has alternated between the two, rather than having them as stand-alone. That means even more opportunity to express yourself – thanks Manchester. Entries are possible by post and online.

For more information about the Manchester Writing Competition 2016, you can visit the website:

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