Rights Edition Interview: Torino’s New Director Annalena Benini

In News by Porter Anderson

The rights center at the Salone Internationale del Libro di Torino ‘has developed at a surprising pace,’ says the show’s new director Annalena Benini.

Annalena Benini, director of the Salone Internazionale del Libro di Torino. Image: SILT

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

‘To Make It a Truly Great Party’
With the approach of the Salone Internationale del Libro di Torino (May 8 to 10)—a public-facing book fair with a professional center and rights trading—we’re glad to have had a chance to put some questions to the show’s new director.

Annalena Benini’s first year in her new post will follow last year’s 35th iteration, which drew 215,000 attendees despite a severe spate of storms in the Torino-Milano area and much of the Emilia-Romagna. There were 1,520 public events logged in last year, staged across 50 venues. The attendance levels represented a 27-percent increase over 2022 attendance.

And of course any mention of a “new director” in regards to a book fair or trade show suddenly has special resonance with today’s (April 19) news that London Book Fair director Gareth Rapley is is being moved by the show’s parent company RX into a supervisory position in the science-show division, and being replaced—only two years after he took up the LBF directorship—by Adam Ridgway.

What’s more, in this year in which Guest of Honor Italy is headed for Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 16 to 20), its them of The Roots and Future has become a reminder that it was in 1988 that Italy was the 40th’s Frankfurt’s guest of honor, for a first time: the same year that this book fair at Torino was founded.

Book publishing’s big shows are not, actually, so prone to changes at the helm as the three changes in four years at London might make someone think.

At the biggest of them all, Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 16 to 20), our good colleague Juergen Boos is standing tall. The just-concluded Bologna Children’s Book Fair is led by Elena Pasoli, who is on her second tour of duty in the position of director. And the Sharjah International Book Fair have been helmed for years by Sharjah Book Authority CEO Ahmed Al Ameri, now with the Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi as chair of the Book Authority.

Norway’s World Expression Forum (WEXFO) on May 27 and 28 will be led by founding CEO Kristenn Einarsson, and the quickly following Readmagine program in Madrid on May 20, 30, and 31, is led by Luis González with FANDE managing director José Manuel Anta. To mention another of the biggest, the Guadalajara International Book Fair (November 30 to December 8) continues under the direction of the veteran producer Marisol Schulz, this year in association with the 34th International Publishers Congress from the International Publishers Association (IPA).

And there are more fairs and trade shows with the stability and track record that consistent, long-term leadership can produce. On the whole, quick turnover in the business of running these complex events in book publishing is not the norm.

This is one of the reasons that we’re glad to have a chance to introduce you to one of the relatively unusual newcomers to the task.

‘Approximately 500 Professionals This Year’

The entrance to the Torino fair’s rights center in its sunny, spacious setting for the 2023 edition of the show. Image: SILT

Looking at plans for the Torino rights center this year, we ask Annalena Benini about her impressions of how it’s developing.

“As far as the Rights Center is concerned,” Benini says, “we definitely look forward to the second edition of the Aficionado Award,” a project Torino has initiated with Frankfurter Buchmesse. “It was designed to pay tribute to all initiatives that innovate and improve the quality of international publishing. We have another amazing shortlist this year,” she says, and lists:

  • Circulo de Poemas
  • La Libreria sopra la Penna
  • Fifth Wave

Related article: ‘Nigeria’s Aké Festival Wins First Aficionado Award.’ Image: Johannes Minkus / Publishing Perspectives

“I’m looking forward to hearing all about their projects,” Benini says, “and I’m sure our audience of professionals does, too. Last year’s inaugural Aficionado Award winner was Lola Shoneyin, a recognition of her excellent work in developing another book fair, Nigeria’s Aké Arts and Book Festival. Shoneyin was at last week’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair, still being recognized by publishing players who knew of her success with the festival through this award.

Benini says, “The 2024 rights center has also partnered with the German guest of honor program to organize the book-to-screen event, which will allow professionals to discover more about the Austrian, German, and Swiss book-to-screen scenarios.

Torino’s rights center, Benini says—still quite a young one among world fairs—”has developed at a surprising pace. Thanks to the support of ICE, the Italian Trade Agency, we offer a generous fellowship which contributes to having a great participation turnover of professionals.

“In 2024, applications came in from 64 different countries. I believe we’ll have approximately 500 professionals this year, from many parts of the world—professionals of the book as well as of the film and audio industry, which should translate into about 3,500 meetings. And that’s not counting all the networking and the business which is being done over dinner or drinks… speaking of which, don’t forget that the quality of the Piedmontese wining and dining is absolutely unbeatable.”

‘Free To Bring in My Personality’

At the 2023 edition of the Salone Internazionale del Libro di Torino. Image: SILT

Annalena Benini was born in Ferrara in 1975. She’s based in Rome and drew our applause, of course, immediately because she has worked as both a writer and a journalist (with Il Foglio since 2001). She edits Review, the Foglio’s monthly magazine. The book column Stolen Letters comes out every Saturday, the insert Il Figlio comes out every Friday and is also a podcast. She has written and hosted a television show called Italian Novel for RAI 3. Last year, she released a novel, Annalena (which is not a book about herself). And she has produced a documentary with Francesco Piccolo about the poet Patrizia Cavalli, titled My Poems Won’t Change the World.

Related article: ‘At Torino 2024: The German Language Is Guest of Honor.’ Image: SILT

When we ask what her biggest surprise has been in taking on her new role as what’s called the editorial director of the Torino show, she says, “I already knew that it was a very important role, and I was excited and happy. I had participated in the salone for many years as a visitor, speaker, and author, and I’ve always felt its centrality. I think the most surprising thing was, right from the start, the beauty of being part of a great project and of working together with so many seriously passionate people. The salone is a great team effort, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

In terms of the sorts of concepts she has brought to what she wants to do, and to see the fair do, Benini says that she’s being “given her head,” as we say, to get things going in the direction she wants to see them go.

“I arrived in a solid and acknowledged, highly successful reality,” she says, “where I felt free to bring in my personality. Starting with the title of this edition”—Imaginary Life, the theme of this year’s fair—”I thought of creating thematic sections within the salone’s program—not as a division but an enrichment—and entrusting each of them to an excellent curator.

“Each has built and will host key events during the Salone del Libro. Art, cinema, information, publishing, novel, romance, lightness. Each section will try to answer the question: ‘How is it done? How does it evolve?’

“For example, Teresa Cremisi will be in conversation with Antoine Gallimard about the role of the publisher. Francesco Piccolo will engage in a dialogue with Paolo Sorrentino about the creative world of a great film director. And so on.”

In a move that many who are tired of promotional dynamics, will find a bit of a relief, Benini says, “The idea is to provide an insight, free from editorial promotion, aiming further to consolidate the salone as a place for important encounters.

Related article: ‘At Torino 2023: Italy’s Bookstores Surge to a 58.3-Percent Share.’ Image: Publishing Perspectives, Jaroslaw Adamowski

“Also,” she says, “special attention will be given to the universe of young people and our most urgent contemporary needs, as well as an exploration of great female figures of the past, the present,

None of these difficult posts at these fairs comes without challenges, and an interesting one that Benini mentions is a kind of fairgoer’s comfort issue: “We’re working to make the salone an increasingly user-friendly and pleasant experience,” she says. “This year we’re expanding, adding a pavilion, and thus reaching 137,000 square meters of surface area.

“All this is also planned to meet the needs of everyone, in particular small and new publishers—to make it truly a great party.

“We also have an external stage for musical events,” she says. “We’ll have a stunning location on the roof of the Lingotto, the Pista della Pinacoteca Agnelli, where important events are taking place. And as has been the case for some years, this year again the ‘Oval Pavilion’ encompasses the Aboca forest, a large eco-sustainable green space in which we’ll make beautiful presentations.”

When it comes to what this newest director of 2024 in international book fairs sees as special about the particular show she’s now running, Benini says, “I believe that the salone has a unique sparkle that makes it a special and loved place. It’s where meetings happen, where authors, publishing houses and the public gather. A place of literature that manages to merge spirit and business—which is selling books.

“Writers from all over the world are particularly keen on coming to the salone,” Benini says, “and they do all they can to be a part of it. COVID-19 has made us understand even more the importance of physical meetings and handshakes, of being able to look each other in the eye and walk side-by-side.”

‘German Is This Year’s Guest of Honor Language’

At the 2023 edition of the Salone Internazionale del Libro di Torino. Image: SILT

At Publishing Perspectives, of course, we focus on trends and issues in the business of publishing, and in answer to our question about the Torino fair’s professional program, Benini says that it “has grown more and more international in recent years and I’m very happy to keep moving in this direction.

“I enjoy being part of a culture in motion, not only as a writer but also as a professional who builds bridges between books and those who love books.”Annalena Benini

“The New York Multipli Forti festival recently invited us to share our programs and initiatives with American publishers and professionals who were all curious to discover more about the Italian publishing world. The salone really did pioneering work by designing events and activities in the field of translation—both to and from the Italian language. One of them is the Dall’italiano al mondo conference which speaks to the whole international community of translators of Italian fiction.

“German is this year’s guest of honor language, and the professional program will focus on importing and translating books from the German-speaking world.”

And in terms of what she brings of herself to the show—the kind of question she knows is more enjoyed by journalists than by the people they put on the spot with it—Benini says, “My past life is also my present life. I just have to multiply my efforts to keep everything together.

“I have a journalistic background, I ‘grew up’ in a newspaper editorial office and over the years, I’ve moved more and more toward fiction and literature, both as an author and as an editor for cultural columns.

“I’ve known for more than 20 years the daily adrenaline of closing a newspaper and also the choice of the most important topics and the distribution of tasks. For more than two years, I’ve been directing Review, the monthly cultural magazine of Il Foglio, which covers literature and culture in motion. I know how to work in a group and manage the various sections.

“I’ve also worked in television, writing and hosting cultural programs. I enjoy being part of a culture in motion, not only as a writer but also as a professional who builds bridges between books and those who love books. My first and greatest love is books and always will be.

“At the salone,” Annalena Benini says, “I have the opportunity to practice and express the love that I feel at the service of everyone.”


More from us on the Torino International Book Fair is here, more on international book fairs and trade shows overall is here, more on Guest of Honor Italy at Frankfurt this year is here, and more on Frankfurter Buchmesse 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 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 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.