Book Capital

Amsterdam, City of Letters

Ever since the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic in the 17th century, Amsterdam has been a world book capital with a leading reputation in the Netherlands and beyond. Amsterdam has always opened its doors to writers fleeing oppression elsewhere. Along with the open-mindedness of the book trade, this tradition has ensured the Dutch capital’s thriving success as a literary hub, as a home to many industrious writers, printers, bookshops, publishers and antiquarian booksellers. UNESCO’s granting of the title of World Book Capital to Amsterdam presents the city with a unique opportunity to reaffirm its international reputation as a place of refuge for free speech and the written word.

Mission statement

Amsterdam World Book Capital wants to inspire and propagate dialogue and debate about the freedom of expression. The city aims to do this by adopting the ‘Open Book’ theme as its guiding principle. This theme ties in with Amsterdam’s character as a city of books, linking books with the social realities of the present, in the Netherlands and around the world. An ‘open book’ clearly presents plenty of opportunity to share insights into sector-specific domains such as copyright, self-censorship and digital media, and to explore them in greater depth.

As World Book Capital, Amsterdam will encourage a wide-ranging public to become actively involved with books in all their diversity during the twelve months the city bears the title. This will be achieved by organising an array of public events and happenings as well as workshops at schools and in city neighbourhoods. The ‘openness’ of the theme does not apply for the professional field alone, but also extends to the public at large. The whole city must be imbued with inspiring, intriguing and exciting initiatives and activities around reading and books. Amsterdam World Book Capital is therefore making a priority of reaching out to the public in their own neighbourhoods, so that all the city’s inhabitant feel they are active participants in Amsterdam World Book Capital.

In the year 2008/2009, Amsterdam will be presenting itself as a port of sanctuary for the World of Books by entering into a dialogue and establishing links to the printed word as an instrument for building bridges across countries and cultures. These objectives will be achieved by bolstering existing initiatives, by launching one-off and recurring events, and by exchanging expertise and ideas with other countries.

Aims and objectives
Amsterdam World Book Capital aims to firmly place Amsterdam on the world map as a city of books par excellence, to promote the book and the publishing profession and to broadcast the ‘Open Book’ message far and wide. The event will achieve this by forging links, building bridges and entering into dialogue. The general public’s active involvement in this process is key, in order to spark an active engagement with books as well as to broach and tackle industry-specific themes that are relevant at an international level. The topical theme is highly appropriate for pressing home the social relevance of books and the spoken word, and for reaching out to a broader public. At the international level, expertise and ideas from other countries will be welcomed with open arms and, in turn, disseminated to other countries, as a means of promoting Amsterdam as a sanctuary for the freedom of expression, a quality that rests on a centuries-old tradition and coexists with professional expertise.

Theme and motifs

The theme of Amsterdam World Book Capital is the ‘Open Book’. The motifs that with this include the city as a place of sanctuary, open-mindedness, tolerance, freedom of expression and dialogue.


The national and international allure of Amsterdam as a refuge for the freedom of expression and as a world-leading city of books is an important spearhead with regard to the event’s scope and reach. Amsterdam World Book Capital is also endeavouring to penetrate deep beneath the skin of society, which means that the participation of local and regional publics will be actively encouraged.

Target groups

From professionals to the general public and from young to old: Amsterdam World Book Capital is taking place in a multifaceted city with a highly varied population and a diversity of visitors. The Amsterdam World Book Capital programme takes these differences into account by being highly targeted and recognises overarching similarities by building bridges.


In view of Amsterdam’s history – and besides the logo and the use of other visual media in the city itself – the organisation has endeavoured to find iconic personalities who tell a story about Amsterdam, a World Book Capital of yesteryear and the 21st century, as well as reflecting international allure and sparking the interest of diverse target groups, all in harmony with the umbrella theme.

The three selected icons are:


Amsterdam is the ‘City of Spinoza’. Spinoza spent the greater part of his life in Amsterdam and it is here that he formulated his revolutionary ideas. Nevertheless, Spinoza has not received the recognition he deserves.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank is the most famous writer that the Netherlands has ever produced. In recent years we have seen increasing evaluation of Anne Frank as an author. It seems self-evident that Anne Frank should occupy a prominent place in the capacity of accomplished author.

Annie M.G. Schmidt

The internationally renowned author of children’s books, Annie M.G. Schmidt, has captivated many generations of children with her immortal characters. Her works include Pluk van de Petteflet (Pluck mit dem Kranwagen in German, Pluk el del Torrificio in Spanish, with the Dutch-language film version dubbed as Tow Truck Pluck in English), Jip en Janneke (Bob and Jilly, Julia und Alexander, Los inseparables Mila y Yaco, even Jippus et Jannica in Latin), and Minoes (Minnie, Cette mystérieuse Minouche, Die geheimnisvolle Minusch). Annie M.G. Schmidt was born and bred in Amsterdam and her oeuvre encompasses many genres, including songs, musicals, and radio and television scripts. Many of her children’s books were successfully turned into films.


The year will be subdivided into four ‘seasons’, with one or several major public events taking place during each season.

1. April-June 2008

The opening sees the spectacular arrival of the flotilla of books, an opening celebration for the city of Amsterdam and all its inhabitants. With an international festival, a special programme for children and youngsters, an international symposium on copyright and, of course, an extravagant celebration of books on and around the water.

Plans to stage the opening on the banks of the IJ waterway are gradually taking shape, with the Amsterdam Public Library (OBA), the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ concert hall, Pakhuis de Zwijger – a warehouse converted into a centre for culture and media – and the Overhoeks Tower as the landmark venues. Spectacular events both on and alongside the water will play an equally important role, with a fleet of ships, canal boats, ferries and specially designed ‘literary boats’ transporting the public between the venues. Two illustrious international authors will feature as keynote speakers during the festival’s official opening ceremonies on 23 April.

From 24 to 27 April, Amsterdam’s international literature festival will unfold at various places in the Dutch capital. At the same time, ‘The Republic’ will be declared on the banks of the IJ, providing a sanctuary for a multitude of artists who will regale the public with surprise encounters with artistic bounty of a literary hue.

There will also be a number of symposia for professionals during this season, as well as exhibitions and other activities.

2. July-September 2008

The emphasis of the summer season is on a whole raft of open-air activities, amateur writers and the international visitor.

Parc Poetry is the ambitious public event that will be taking place in Amsterdam’s various parks, surprising visitors and open-minded summertime tourists with live poetry, music and artistic happenings, offering a different look at the park and the surroundings through the eyes of writers and poets. There will also be writing workshops for budding authors and lovers of literature under the supervision of established columnists and published authors. Coinciding with the start of the academic year, an important international symposium about self-censorship will be convened in De Balie, a centre for culture and politics. The annual ‘European Heritage Days’ (‘Open Monumentendag’) mark the start of a special project entitled ‘Printing in Progress’ (‘Drukwerk in uitvoering’) that will introduce the public to book production processes of centuries past. A composition ‘for printing press and orchestra’ will receive its premiere and the myriad printing presses in the Netherlands will each print a single page of a book that will be presented at the close of the Amsterdam World Book Capital year.

3. October-December 2008

The arrival of autumn means it is time to seek shelter indoors. This season’s focus is developments in digital media and animation.

AWBC will be coordinating its activities under this theme with Cinekid, an annual film, television and new media festival for children, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) and the PICNIC Cross Media Week. There will be a series of masterclasses on illustrating for children’s books, and the annual exhibition of ‘The Best Dutch Book Designs’ (‘De Best Verzorgde Boeken’) will open at the Stedelijk Museum. There will also be various symposia during this period, as well as guest appearances by several leading international authors.

4. January-April 2009

The New Year also means the end of Amsterdam’s year as World Book Capital is gradually approaching. In the same way as the cycle of seasons ends where it begins, Amsterdam World Book Capital also culminates in a “big bang” on the banks of the IJ.

AWBC will be staging an unforgettable celebration on and around the Leidseplein in association with the Riposte Festival of Literature (Literatuurfestival Weerwoord), which is celebrating its fifth anniversary. A massive tent will be erected on the Dam Square for the National Read-Aloud Days (Nationale Voorleesdagen). At the end of a whole twelve months as World Book Capitial, Amsterdam will be transformed into one big bazaar, so that everyone can roam through the city (from north to south and from east to west), visiting all kinds of organisations and stages where activities of a literary hue will be taking place. The public will once again be offered transport in ‘typical Amsterdam style’ – this time by means of pedal power (of the two- and three-wheeled variety), special trams and other modes of transport. The banks of the IJ waterway are once again the focal point for this Amsterdam Literary Bazaar, and it is from here that the title of World Book Capital will be given a rousing send-off at the close of a year filled with books.