Abu Dhabi International Book Fair Outlines Its 2021 Programming

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The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair’s programming is to be entirely streamed live, free of charge, May 23 to 29.

At the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, the 2019 edition. Image: ADIBF

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

Al Tamim: ‘A Gateway to Publishing in the Middle East’
As you’ll remember from the April 29 news conference with organizers of Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, its 30th edition runs May 23 to 29.

Today (May 11), this major Arab world public-facing show’s umbrella producing bodies—the Department of Culture and Tourism and its Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre—have announced  the outlines of a program that’s expected to be posted soon to the show’s site.

Featured speakers are to include the American author Tayari Jones, the British motivational speaker Vex King, International Publishers Association president Bodour Al Qasimi, bestselling writer Mitch Albom, and the Emirati author Sultan Al Amimi.

Publishers in the Gulf region are traditionally dependent on the major book fairs for many of their sales and revenues, of course, and that’s why the financial news in today’s announcement will be so welcome to many publishers, both in the Arab world and from international markets. The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair now is offering the largest allocation for grants in the show’s history.

The book fair’s Spotlight on Rights program, now in its 12th year of operation, is offering 300 translation grants to support print, digital, and audiobook publications for publishers attending the fair this year, whether physically or digitally. May 30 is the deadline for applications. Publishers registered with a physical or digital stand can apply for translation funding at this email address: MAhad@dctabudhabi.ae.

Dr. Ali Bin Tamim

The Spotlight on Rights program has contributed to the publication of at least 600 titles since its inception in 2009, assisting more than 120 publishers in bringing forward significant work in translation.

Dr. Ali Bin Tamim, chair of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre and secretary-general of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, is quoted today, saying, “We’re truly honored that so many critically-acclaimed and respected writers and industry leaders, from all corners of the world, will be a part of the fair this year.

“We very much look forward to hearing their contributions and to taking part in literary and cultural exchange.

Tayari Jones

“As a gateway to publishing in the Middle East, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair will embrace this opportunity to introduce writers to the region, sometimes for the first time, and to encourage as many business conversations as possible.”

While the bulk of the programming, of course, is devised for the reading public, there’s a professional program being put together as part of this year’s Abu Dhabi Guest of Honor Germany plan. As we reported early this month, Germany will participate digitally this year and then return in 2022 to take its place with a fully produced physical guest of honor program.

In this year’s cultural offerings relative to the guest of honor program, audience members will hear from Ulla Lenze, Navid Kermani, Stefan Weidner, Joseph Croitoru, and Pierre Jarawan.

Physical and Online Presentation

The German stand on the floor of the 2019 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Image: ADIBF

As you’ll recall, the Abu Dhabi book fair—like the coming Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival—is another example of the United Arab Emirates’ pace-setting position in mounting physical public-facing book fairs, often with extensive digital events for a hybrid offering.

While much of the world publishing industry has resorted to all-digital iterations of its trade shows, festivals, and book fairs during the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the UAE has presented physical-and-digital events including the Sharjah International Book Fair in November and Dubai’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature earlier this year.

This month, the Abu Dhabi program will field several hundred publishers, organizations, and vendors on its exhibition floor and is rolling out a busy program of events in the 73,000-square-foot Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, many parts of which will be streamed for would-be participants who can’t be on-site this year.

Two Major Arab World Award Programs

As happens each year in association with the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, both the  Sheikh Zayed Book Award and the International Prize for Arabic Fiction will be in play during the show.

Winners of the 15th annual Sheikh Zayed Book Award in 2021 are, upper row from left, Iman Mersal of Egypt; Mizouni Bannani of Tunisia; Asma Bint Muqbel Bin Awad Al-Ahmadi of Saudi Arabia; and Michael Cooperson in the United States. And on the lower row from left, Khelil Gouia of Tunisia; Saeed El-Masry of Egypt; Tahera Qutbuddin of the United States; and Dar Al Jadeed in Lebanon

Several events will spotlight winners of the Sheikh Zayed Book Awards, the centerpiece being a May 24 event in which this year’s winners will be celebrated. Later that evening, the art of translation will be featured in discussion among three experts: Marilyn Booth, Hamid Al Gaithi, and Michael Cooperson, the 2021 Zayed Book Award winner of the translation category.

Egyptian-born poet, novelist, and educator Iman Mersal—winner of this year’s Literature category prize for In the Footsteps of Enayat Al-Zayyat will be in conversation on May 26 with Salha Obaid. And in a separate “Meet the Sheikh Zayed Book Award Winners” event the previous evening, May 25, all the winners will be interviewed and given an opportunity to discuss their works.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction winner will be named on May 25 and the winner will be interviewed by Bilal Orfali the winner and shortlisted authors in a special session. (Our coverage of the shortlist for this year’s prize is here.)

Shortlisted authors for the 2021 International Prize for Arabic Fiction are, clockwise from upper left, Abjulatif Ould Abdullah; Jalal Bargas; Amira Ghenim; Habib Selmi; Abdelmajid Sabata; and Dunya Mikhail

More Featured Writers

Sultan Al Amimi

Among Arab world writers featured during the course of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair are:

  • Novelist Taleb Alrefai with Emirati researcher Eman Alyousuf on the state of literature during the pandemic
  • Iraqi expatriate writer Muhsin Al Ramli in a masterclass on writing in Arabic
  • Emirati author Sultan Al Amimi on his new short story collection, A Blue Creature or Maybe

And also on tap for the fair’s programming are chef and restaurateur Gennaro Contaldo with Peyman Al Awadhi; Colombian-American poet Carlos Andrés Gómez; British historian Bettany Hughes; and Yemen Observer former editor Jennifer Steil with US diplomat David Rundell.

We’ll have further instructions and information for those interested in seeing all or part of the Abu Dhabi programming as scheduling becomes available, and we’ll have a special magazine available for free download with complete details, news, features, and interviews with key players and participants.

A display of translated literature at the 2019 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Image: ADIBF


More from Publishing Perspectives on book fairs and trade shows is here, more on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is here, more on Guest of Honor Germany and Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, and more on the United Arab Emirates’ market is here. Publishing Perspectives is the media partner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award and the International Publishers Association.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he 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.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (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.

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