At London Book Fair: ‘Libraries on the Beach’ Courtesy of Sharjah

In News by Porter Anderson

Those restful beach lean-tos at London Book Fair were reminders that in April, the United Arab Emirates’ Sharjah becomes UNESCO’s World Book Capital.

London Book Fair 2019 trade visitors take a break in the balmy ‘weather’ of Sharjah’s ‘Libraries on the Beach’ stand that highlighted the emirate’s upcoming year as UNESCO’s World Book Capital. Image: Nabs Ahmedi

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Promoting Dialogue and Empathy’
Not that many of us were able to work in our tans during the London Book Fair this week, many of the show’s 25,000 or so trade visitors did find it tempting to head for the beach, courtesy of the UNESCO Sharjah World Book Capital stand at Olympia London.

The installation, complete with sand, bamboo, and deck chairs, did a toasty job of reminding the international book industry that on April 23, UNESCO’s annual World Book Day, the emirate of Sharjah becomes, as Publishing Perspectives readers know, the agency’s World Book Capital for a year, taking over from the currently running honoree, Athens.

“Libraries on the Beach” is to be part of a year-long program in Sharjah, as it becomes the 19th venue to receive UNESCO’s designation.

Sharjah, the third largest of the United Arab Emirates, is the first city in the Gulf region to hold the title, and the third in the Arab world, after Beirut and Alexandria. The emirate is reported to have had more than 1.4 million residents in 2015.

The stand in London got the message across that a major series of literature-driven events is being created for the UNESCO recognition, led by the UAE’s Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi—the publisher of the Kalimat Group, founding president of the Emirates Publishers Association and vice-president of the International Publishers Association (IPA).

As a matter of fact, there’s a direct IPA connection to the World Book Capital program: it was originally the suggestion of Pere Vicens, in 1996 the president of the IPA. In 2001, Madrid became the first city to call itself a World Book Capital. And the publishers’ association has worked closely with UNESCO on it, as was evidenced in the strong IPA presence last April in Greece for the opening of Athens’ year as World Book Capital.

Sharjah’s delegation to the London Book Fair this week revealed its first plans for its World Book Capital program.

Bodour Al Qasimi. Image: Frankfurter Buchmesse, Bernd Hartung

Bodour, head of the Sharjah World Book Capital 2019 advisory committee, said, “April 23 will mark the beginning of a new chapter in Sharjah’s pioneering achievements and efforts to host leading cultural events and initiatives locally, regionally and globally.

“The event will offer a gateway to all 200 nationalities residing in the UAE to explore various sources of knowledge and culture. It will also be a unique platform for intellectuals, authors, publishers, and artists to showcase their creativity and contribute to highlighting the irreplaceable value of books in promoting dialogue and empathy among civilizations around the world.”

A site is ready now with an introduction and news about the program, in English here, and in Arabic here.

Among the most compelling elements of the site’s content for many in the world industry is the “Sharjah, Golden Literature” section in which new voices in Arabic literature are being highlighted. This is a competition, and published writers of the Arab world born in 1980 or later are being encouraged to submit their work for consideration. Details are at the link.

Other elements of the World Book Capital programming in development include:

  • An outdoor opening ceremonial spectacle on April 23, designed to set the tone for the year, celebrating literary themes, organizers say, “in a show that will unite the generations in a shared love of reading”
  • “From Bat to Book” will give cricket fans in Sharjah the chance to meet their cricketing heroes. Top international players will share extracts from their favorite books in Malayalam, Urdu, Hindi, and English in a series of events held across Sharjah and including friendly cricket matches between community groups and companies
  • A Reading Caravan will travel from place to place, setting up a Bedouin tent that will be transformed into a library wherever it goes
  • Mobile libraries will be patrolling Sharjah’s public spaces, from its beaches and parks to its hospitals and shopping malls, carrying a wide selection of titles for Sharjah’s rich mix of peoples, including those from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines, and from the minority Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese communities
  • And of course signature annual events including the Sharjah International Book Fair, Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, Sharjah International Storytelling Festival, and the Sharjah Light Festival will have programming tied into the World Book Capital events

Our readers who have followed Sharjah’s energetic cultural development will recognize many reflections of the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the author-ruler whose zeal to see Sharjah become a reading culture and a society very immediately in touch with literature was recognized in 2017 when he was given the Simon Master Chairman’s Award by the London Book Fair in association with the UK’s Publishers Association.

He has had the formidable support of both Bodour and of Ahmed Al Ameri who chairs the Sharjah Book Authority. Together with their teams, they’ve developed extensive social infratructure to ground and delivery on the sheikh’s concept.

And so it is that a large number of Arab and international novelists, poets, and playwrights will be participating in the celebrations over the year, under these six guiding principles:

  • Unifying Communities
  • Fostering Knowledge
  • Honoring Heritage
  • Empowering Children and Youth
  • Raising Awareness
  • Developing Publishing Industries
Sharjah Publishing City has 77 Publisher-Clients

On the waterfront at Sharjah. Image: Porter Anderson

Sharjah dramatically stepped up its commitment to its role in the world book business in 2017 with the opening of its Sharjah Publishing City complex under Book Authority chairman Al Ameri’s direction. The UAE-based free trade zone is designed and run in support exclusively for the publishing and printing industries.

Ahmed Al Ameri at Frankfurt Book Fair. Image: Porter Anderson

Publishing City was created as a response to the growing need for a specialized publishing hub in the Arab region, offering a gateway to the North African markets in the process In just a year or so of the center’s activity,publishers from 17 countries have started operating out of the 40,000-square-meter facility, which also houses the Emirates Publishers Association and its new One Stop Shop service for member-publishers.

During the London Book Fair, Publishing City’s Mohamed Noor Hersi told Pubishing Perspectives that 77 publishers had taken space in the project by this month.

Many of the events in Sharjah World Book Capital will focus on young people and literature, including the annual Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, which now attracts more than 300,000 visitors every year.

Sharjah is home to a growing number of children’s publishers, including Bodour’s Kalimat, the UAE’s first  publishing house dedicated solely to publishing Arabic children’s books.

In the last two years, its associated charity, the Kalimat Foundation, has built partnerships in Sweden and Germany, providing immigrant children with Arabic books and help them preserve their first language.

Cities designated as UNESCO World Book Capitals agree to promote books and reading and to organize activities over the course of a year. Past winners include Madrid (2001), Alexandria (2002), New Delhi (2003), Anvers (2004), Montreal (2005), Turin (2006), Bogota (2007), Amsterdam(2008), Beirut (2009), Ljubljana (2010), Buenos Aires (2011), Erevan (2012), Bangkok (2013), Port Harcourt (2014), Incheon (2015), Wroclaw (2016), with, of course, Athens in place for its tenure this year.


More from Publishing Perspectives on Sharjah is here, more on the UNESCO World Book Capital program is here, and more about London Book Fair is here

Our Spring Magazine is ready for your free download following the London Book Fair—where many trade visitors picked up print copies, also free of charge.

Read up on the issues and players important at LBF and other major fairs of the season this year, plus an early look at key points interest about the coming Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 16 to 20).

Download the new magazine here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.