Founded in 1608, Québec City is the birthplace of French culture in North America and the first French-speaking city to join the Creative Cities Network as a City of Literature. As capital of the province that shares its name, Québec City also plays a vital role shaping the cultural identity of the only French-speaking nation on the North-American mainland. The city has inspired a wealth of local and foreign authors over the years, and is the birthplace of such great writers as Marie-Claire Blais, the first Quebecer to receive the Prix Médicis, and Jacques Poulin, author of the classic Volkswagen Blues.
Québec City’s vibrant, diverse literary community includes more than 200 authors, 20 publishers, 20 bookstores, several magazines and journals, a major book fair, and well-attended festivals showcasing storytelling, theatre, comics, and more. Its renowned teaching and research university, Université Laval, offers one of the few creative writing Ph.Ds in the Francophonie and a nurturing environment for emerging writers. Many Québec City artists and organizations have risen to prominence with hybrid art forms that combine literature with disciplines such as technology and performance, as they seek out new ways to set the world to words.
The only institution of its kind in North America, the Maison de la littérature, opened in 2015, is a centre to celebrate, promote, and disseminate literature. The space features a 100-seat venue for events, a writers’ residence, a library, a permanent exhibition of Québec literature, a creative studio for the production of events, technological works, etc., as well as a studio for a comic arts collective. In 2017 the Maison de la littérature attracted over 120,000 visitors.
Québec City enjoys a rich literary landscape thanks to the diversity of its cultural communities, past and present. The Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, the oldest learned society still active in Canada, operates a library (made famous by Louise Penny in Bury Your Dead), a literary festival (ImagiNation), and many other English-language activities. In nearby Wendake, Éditions Hannenorak is the only publisher in the province dedicated exclusively to publishing Indigenous authors, while the First Nations Book Fair is another one-of-a-kind event.
Bibliothèque de Québec, the city’s public library system, has 26 branches that loaned a record-breaking 4.4 million items to members in 2017. Québec City readers are also keen ebook readers, with the highest borrowing rates in the province. The capital is home to De Marque, a leading distributor of French-language digital assets for libraries.
Voted 2016 Cultural Destination of the Year at London’s Leading Culture Destinations awards, and 2017 Canadian Music City of the Year, Québec City is an international hotbed of culture. It regularly hosts national and international events and symposia, such as the 2018 81st Congress of PEN International. With renowned guests including Margaret Atwood and Yann Martel, the conference attracted 272 participants from 73 countries, and marked a watershed moment for literature in Québec City.
Members of Québec City’s literary scene are also developing innovative collaborations with international partners. Québec BD, an organization that promotes comics and graphic novels, has held performances that combine music, theatre, and drawing jointly with Lyon BD and Quai des bulles (France), and collaborated with other European and Asian organizations. Québec en toutes lettres, one of the city’s largest literary festivals, has set up a collective creative writing residency, on the theme of “the digital world,” with the Nantes Atlantide festival. Among the work that came out of the residency is an interactive publication that doubled as a soundtrack. Québec is unquestionably a city where literature cross-pollinates with the other arts, and writing is appreciated in every medium, from song lyrics to film scripts and beyond.
Since joining the Creative Cities Network in October 2017, Québec City has taken part in several collaborative projects proposed by fellow cities of literature, including a handmade collective book presented to the city of Krakow, host of the 2018 UCCN Annual Meeting; a multilingual reading in the same city; and the "Read the World" exhibition in Reykjavik. Bilateral projects have given rise to the publication of Spanish short stories in a Québec literary journal, and a dialogue between the Quebec and Catalan comics communities. In 2018, a cartoonist from fellow UNESCO City of Literature Barcelona was welcomed for a one-month residency in Quebec City. In addition to completing creative work, he took part in the Québec BD comics festival, and forged ties with local authors. A follow-up exchange residency is planned, which will take a Québec cartoonist to Barcelona to work at Escola Joso, the first school in Spain to offer specialized training in the comic arts.
As a UNESCO City of Literature, Québec City has already established a grant program to support bilateral exchanges between organizations in its fellow cities of literature worldwide, and plans to step up its participation in international literary activities in the years ahead.
The oldest event of its kind in Canada, Québec BD is a showcase for the comic arts of Québec and around the world, in all their diversity, including comics with live drawing and music, exhibitions, cultural mediation, meet-ups, and more. The festival develops international collaborations while promoting Québec comics.
Bringing 70,000 visitors, 1,200 authors and 230 activities to the Québec City Convention Centre, the Salon international du livre de Québec is a much-anticipated annual gathering for Québec City readers every spring. Every year the Salon invites a different nation to be its guest of honour as part of its “diversity space.” Another highlight is the “Québec, la muse” series of evening readings set to music.
Québec en toutes lettres is an innovative themed festival brings groundbreaking programming to the public, with opportunities to discover literature in theatres and public spaces, including its most off-the-wall, surprising expressions. The festival attracts more than 40,000 visitors annually.
Since 2008, the Mois de la poésie has offered the public an experience of poetry that leaps off the page, sometimes taking to the stage and sometimes paring the art form down to its most essential.
The Festival de contes et menteries ("festival of storytelling and lies") is a storytelling festival presented by presented by Les amiEs imaginaires.
The only English-language festival in Québec City, ImagiNation features a rich variety of readings, panel talks, and discussions.
Salon du livre des Premières Nations creates authentic encounters between First Nations authors, publishers, researchers and the public: literary performances, poetry breakfasts, conferences and round tables, youth activities, publisher’s stands, and more.
Jamais lu Québec is a festival featuring readings of theatre works (many still in progress), and spotlighting contemporary theatre.
The Institut Canadien de Québec hosts several writers in residence every year at the Maison de la Literature and its creative studio. The program for international authors includes the Québec–Paris residency, the Quebec–Aquitaine (Bordeaux) artist’s residency, the Exil et liberté residency, and the Résidence de création en arts littéraires.
Québec BD works in partnership with international collaborators to host residencies for cartoonists. So far, a dozen French, Belgian, Spanish and Italian authors have participated.
Productions Rhizome hosts creation residencies for non-book creative writing, jointly with international partners.