By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Jacks Thomas: ‘Both Commercial and Cultural Dialogue’As plans for London Book Fair’s (March 10 to 12) Market Focus Sharjah events come into focus, the British Council today (February 17) is announcing details of the cultural programming in place for the trade show.
The announcement was preceded by last week’s three-day workshop (February 13-15) for 12 translators in Arabic and English at Al Rawi Cultural Café, a program co-produced by the British Council, Sharjah World Book Capital, and Ahmed Al Ameri’s Sharjah Book Authority at Sharjah Publishing City.
As you may know “Market Focus” is the phrase used at Reed Exhibitions shows for what other book fairs, festivals, and trade shows may call a “guest of honor,” usually a featured international market or region with special placement and highlights in the trade show’s presentation.
Sharjah, of course, is the city-state best known from the United Arab Emirates for its emphasis on a reading-based knowledge culture, thanks to the focus and leadership of its royal family as guided by the Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, who received London Book Fair’s Simon Master Chairman’s Award in the 2017’s International Excellence awards.
And as we reported from Sharjah, the logic of this year’s appearance by the UAE’s third emirate as London’s Market Focus, of course, has to do with the emirate’s ongoing year as UNESCO’s World Book Capital, the first time a Gulf city has been designated as such. As we reported earlier this month, the year is being capped in Sharjah by the completion in April of a huge, high-tech library-based learning center, the House of Wisdom, on the order of the sheikh and under the direction of Bodour Al Qasimi, the vice-president of the International Publishers Association.
The cultural program being announced today features 12 Emirati writers who will be involved in programming not only at London Book Fair but also at the British Library and National Poetry Library. In the UAE, Gavin Anderson is the British Council’s country director.
As we’ve reported, the Emirati performance artist and poet Afra Atiq has been named one of London Book Fair’s three “authors of the day” and will be the focus of several activities on LBF Wednesday, March 11.
Poetry is also reflected in the presence of Khulood Al Mu’alla and Khalid Albudoor. Al Mu’alla has six collections of poetry translated into Spanish, Turkish, and Italian, while Albudoor also has six collections to his name and is a documentary film writer whose emphasis is on the UAE’s oral traditions as part of the country’s cultural heritage.
Dubai Abulhoul is reported to be the author of the first Emirati fantasy novel in English and the writer behind five children’s books based in Emirati folklore. Abulhoul is a Rhodes Scholar who was named Esquire’s Young Arab of the Year in 2016, the year of publication of her book Galagolia.
The list of authors making the journey to London also includes:
- Sultan Al Ameemi, a critic, poet, researcher and director of Poet’s Academy at the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage
- Short story writer Mohammad Al Murr
- Abdulaziz Al Musallam, an Emirati novelist who is chair of the Sharjah Institute for Heritage
- The novelist and former cabinet member Abdulla Al Nuaimi
- Film and stage actor and author Habib Ghuloom Al-Attar
- Omar Ghobash, Emirati diplomat and author of Letters to a Young Muslim
- Journalist and author Reem Al Kamali
- Emirati writer Salha Obaid
Rachel Stevens: ‘A Wealth of Literature’
In a prepared statement, British Council literature director Rachel Stevens is quoted, saying, “Sharjah has a wealth of literature to explore and [this is an] exceptional group of authors representing both contemporary stories and the rich traditional heritage of the Gulf.
“This year’s British Council Market Focus Cultural Program highlights the indigenous Nabati poetry of the Gulf region, contemporary Arabic language, and the role of dialect in fiction. We continue our support for literary translation networks by bringing our Arabic translation workshop to the London Book Fair, featuring a translation slam at the Literary Translation Centre.
“We hope that publishers, translators, writers and anyone with an interest in the Gulf or Arab culture will engage with these exceptional writers, to help us better understand each other and build lasting connections for the future.”
For London Book Fair, its director Jacks Thomas says that the fair “extends our thanks to partners at the British Council and the Sharjah Book Authority for coordinating such a fascinating program.
“Since its introduction in 2004, the Market Focus program has been a fantastic way to open doors for both commercial and cultural dialogue around the world and we hope that publishers and readers alike will enjoy this opportunity to learn more about the literary heritage and best contemporary writing from one of the Arab world’s fastest-growing markets.”
Bodour also founded the PublisHer international network for women in publishing, celebrating its anniversary this year in London.
And during the translation workshop last week in Sharjah, she said to the translators, “I’m a reader and a publisher, and especially love reading translated works. Translations offer us a unique opportunity to understand other cultures and get a glimpse of what is going on in different parts of the world”—something she said “we really need more than ever” in a world of so many political divisions.
On the announcement of the cultural program, Bodour says, “As we approach the end of a wonderful year as UNESCO World Book Capital, we continue to look ahead to new ways that Sharjah can continue in its role as a home to and champion of literature, creativity and the exchange of ideas.”
The translation workshop, which closed Saturday, she says, “offered another opportunity to welcome colleagues to Sharjah and to the London Book Fair where we look forward to sharing some of our own home-grown talent with the international community.”
And the Book Authority’s Al Ameri says that the cultural program “reinforces the vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi to strengthen bridges of cultural communication around the world.
“We believe in the power of books to foster knowledge, broaden horizons and open dialogue. London is the publishing capital of the world and at LBF 2020 we’ll present Sharjah’s unique cultural journey, which has flourished and expanded beyond the Gulf to establish the emirate as a global hub.
“Poetry has a celebrated place in Arabic culture and we’re delighted to bring several poets to the UK to take part in events at the fair and beyond. We have authors of science fiction, nonfiction, middle-grade and academic works coming to London. It will be a wonderful celebration of Sharjah’s love of books and reading.
“We’ll also showcase the growth in our local and regional publishing sector, and Sharjah Book Authority’s specific efforts to boost the number of new translations into and out of Arabic, which are the bedrock of cross-cultural exchange between cultures.”
And it’s Anderson, the country director to the UAE for the British Council, who pointed out during the translation workshop that in some 18 months’ time, Al Ameri has directed Sharjah’s appearance as guest of honor in at least six book fairs and trade shows—with Bologna Children’s Book Fair next, March 30 to April 2.
“This is an opportune time for the world to come here and gain deeper knowledge about the love of literature and reading that comes from this emirate,” Anderson said. Noting both the long years of work by Sheikh Sultan and Bodour, Anderson positioned the translation workshop as part of the cultural program for the Sharjah Market Focus events.
He told the translators, “We have brought you together from around the world to share experiences, learn from each other, and to help and support the increase of translation of works into and out of Arabic, so more people in the world can enjoy and share the pleasure of reading.”
The British Council has partnered with London Book Fair on its international Market Focus program since 2008.