Sharjah Book Authority Announces a 10-Day Virtual Reading Festival

In News by Porter Anderson

Aimed not only at young readers but at adults as well, the new Sharjah Virtual Reading Festival, May 27 to June 5, is being designed to stress cultural inclusion amid social distancing.

On the Khalid Lagoon promenade in Sharjah. Image – iStockphoto: Typhoon Ski

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

Programming: Both Arab and International Authors
Among the many events and programs working to develop online approaches to their usual experiences, one of the most ambitious may be the Sharjah Virtual Reading Festival, being prepared for a 10-day run, May 27 to June 5.

As we reported on March 9, the annual Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival was expected to run April 8 to 18 before it had to be canceled, of course, along with so many key publishing events of the spring amid the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. And that’s a big show. Unlike the industry-facing Bologna Children’s Book Fair–at which Sharjah was to be the 2019 guest of honor–the Sharjah event for young readers is public-facing. Last year, it drew more than 200,000 attendees to its 2,546 activities.

And Sharjah has seeen some of its most anticipated events this year sidelined by the contagion. The pandemic has canceled the emirate’s turn as the international Market Focus at London Book Fair; the closing ceremonies for the UNESCO Sharjah World Book Capital year; and its ceremonial opening of the emirate’s brand-new House of Wisdom “knowledge hub” digital library facility.

Undaunted, Sharjah Book Authority chief Ahmed Al Ameri has come up with what he says will be “a galaxy of acclaimed writers and authors from all over the world, all putting in digital appearances at #SVRF2020.

“Now more than ever,” Al Ameri says, “the role of culture, books, and reading becomes more central to our lives.”

Ahmed Al Ameri

And, as Publishing Perspectives readers know, Sharjah is not the market anyone expects to sit still while a lethal pathogen plays through. As many have come to realize, the fact that the UAE’s third emirate has made publishing and a focus on literature its driving cultural dynamics means that Sharjah is going to be the first to mount a full 10-day online feast of what Al Ameri is describing as “creative cultural, literary, and poetry sessions and workshops.”

Under the faithful pressure of Sharjah’s author-ruler Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the new Sharjah Virtual Reading Festival is intended, to reinforce what the Book Authority  understands as “its role as a cultural institution that upholds the sustainability of arts, culture, and reading as key pillars of building a knowledge-based community.

“Sharjah Book Authority also recognizes that at a time of enormous uncertainty, promoting access to culture and books and supporting the continuation of projects and activities brings the community together, providing them with inspiration and hope.”

These days, a lot of world markets–beset with unexpected public health struggles, governmental failures, and societal shortfalls in the onslaught of the pandemic–could use a Sharjah Book Authority.

#SVRF2020: Not Just for Kids

At the 2019 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival. Image: SBA

While our initial understanding is that the new Virtual Reading Festival is at least a follow-up to what the Children’s Reading Festival had planned, it’s important to note that the new online event is meant to target “all community members, of different age groups and nationalities,” with the participation of both Arab and international authors and personalities.

As Samihah Zaman has reported for the Gulf News on Tuesday (April 14), strict “movement restrictions” have been put into place in the United Arab Emirates in an effort seen in many parts of the world to “flatten the curve” of the peak incidence of infection.

In its 10:54 a.m. ET update (1454 GMT), the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center counts 4,933 confirmed cases and 28 deaths.

As Zaman reports, the Tuesday count of 412 new cases was the highest daily addition to date, some public health authorities saying that a full peak in the region could occur between mid-May and mid-June, making the timing of the Virtual Reading Festival very good, with, presumably, the maximum limitations on citizens’ movement.

‘The Right Conditions for Creativity’

At Sharjah International Book Fair 2019. Image: Porter Anderson

“In these circumstances,” Al Ameri says, “our responsibility toward society, readers, and intellectuals has naturally doubled, and we intend to harness all means to contribute to their well-being by elevating their artistic thought and creative processes. The launch of Sharjah Virtual Reading Festival underlines the necessity of making available cultural content and continuing to adapt projects in light of the extraordinary circumstances we’re in.

“The festival is an ideal opportunity for the literary community to reinforce how – despite the physical distances – culture brings us together, keeping us connected and helping build resilient societies.”Ahmed Al Ameri, Sharjah Book Authority

“Rapid technological developments and innovative solutions are the hallmarks of the world we live in today,” he says in making the announcement of the new digital project. “By leveraging the potential of these technologies, we aim to build on our rich cultures and create the right conditions for creativity and innovation to thrive.

“The Sharjah Virtual Reading Festival offers a unique digital platform for intellectuals and creative minds from around the world to connect remotely, celebrate the full diversity of humanity’s cultural expressions, and share experiences and knowledge, even as the world works to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.”

The six-year-old Sharjah Book Authority is behind the establishment of Sharjah Publishing City, the emirate’s free trade zone, as well as the annual Sharjah International Book Fair and its growing professional program that annually has hundreds of speakers and rights-trading players on-hand at Sharjah’s Chamber of Commerce.

More details of the new Virtual Reading Festival are expected soon, but in the meantime, the programming may offer many world publishing players who frequently travel to Sharjah to be in touch during the pandemic.

“The festival is an ideal opportunity for the literary community to reinforce how–despite the physical distances–culture brings us together,” Al Ameri says, “keeping us connected and helping build resilient societies.”

A face mask of a happier kind: A 2019 attendee at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival. Image: SBA

More from Publishing Perspectives on Sharjah and its publishing culture and programs is here. And more from us on the coronavirus pandemic is here.

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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 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.