Tbilisi Named UNESCO’s World Book Capital for 2021

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Less than a year after its turn as Guest of Honor Georgia at the Frankfurter Buchmesse, Tbilisi has been named UNESCO’s 2021 World Book Capital, and will have the honor handed over by Kuala Lumpur.

At the Guest of Honor Georgia pavilion in the 2018 Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: FBM, Alexander Heimann

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

‘OK. So Your Next Book Is …?’
Still riding high after its 2018 turn as guest of honor market at the Frankfurter Buchmesse, the Georgian capital of Tbilisi today (October 7) has been designated by UNESCO’s director-general in France, Audrey Azoulay.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the United Arab Emirates’ Sharjah is this year’s World Book Capital, and the 2020 designee is Kuala Lumpur. Last year’s honored municipality was Athens.

The breadth and sheer energy of the program in Sharjah—the first Arabian city to hold the designation and a leader in the Middle East for the development of a reading culture—has raised the bar for the UNESCO program launched in 1996 at the suggestion of the International Publishers Association (IPA). In 2001, Madrid became the first city to call itself a World Book Capital.

Twenty-three years after the program’s inception, the IPA continues to serve as a key component of the World Book Capital advisory committee, reviewing applications and making recommendations to Azoulay’s offices. In that role, the publishers association is joined by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and by key players in UNESCO, itself.

The meeting at which the new recommendation was delivered was held in Switzerland in June for today’s announcement.

Guest of Honor Georgia became familiar to many in the international publishing community last year at Frankfurt as a powerhouse among proudly individualized cultures committed to establishing their footprints in the world as centers of reading and writing. With its exotic alphabet and profound history of literary eloquence, Georgia seems to have found a contemporary and often political voice in the post-Soviet world, focusing with great care on maintaining and nurturing its unique linguistic heritage.

This sense of itself as a singularly expressive society will, no doubt, be evident in how the team in Tbilisi designs its year as World Book Capital.

Medea Matreveli, chief of the Georgian National Book Center, served as project director for the Frankfurt Guest of Honor team last year, and Gvantsa Jobava, editor and international relations chief with Intelekti Publishing in Tbilisi, proved to be one of the market’s best ambassadors, a tireless envoy for the grace and resilience of her nation’s promise. Jobava has gone on to be made a member of the IPA’s executive committee and will be in meetings of the organization during the Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 16 to 20).

As the news is reported from UNESCO in Paris today, the Georgian program will revolve around the slogan, “Ok. So your next book is…?” and will place special emphasis on new technologies as tools, not distractions, for promoting reading among young citizens.

The news today from Bernard Gioansetto’s press shop at the UN’s body for educational, scientific and cultural prganization reads, “The program [in Tblisi comprises several important, large-scale and sustainable activities.

“Among events and activities there will be libraries and a book festival for children; a state-of-the-art digital project for transforming books into games; and the rebuilding of the first Georgian publishing house.

“Specifically designed for children, youngsters, and readers who have limited access to books, the activity program will be driven by innovation. The city’s principal objective is to popularize reading and increase accessibility to books for all social levels.”

The date for the handover of the honor from Kuala Lumpur to Tbilisi is to be April 23, 2021—a spring date annually chosen because it’s World Book and Copyright Day in the United Nations calendar.

Tiblisi will be the 21st World Book Capital. It’s preceded by: 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), Conakry (2017), Athens (2018), Sharjah (2019), and Kuala Lumpur (2020).

At the Tbilisi International Book Fair. Image:


More from Publishing Perspectives on Georgia is here, more from us on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here. And more from us on the UNESCO World Book Capital program is 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.

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