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Sharjah Book Fair Brings Back In-Person Events

/ 30 Oct 2020

Sharjah Book Fair Brings Back In-Person Events

Book fairs and publishing meetups, a crucial part of the Arabic publishing landscape, have been on hold for the past seven months, as governments struggle to control the coronavirus pandemic. But that’s about to change, at least in part.

The Sharjah International Book Fair is set to welcome publishers, agents, booksellers and book lovers from around the world to a two-week mega-event starting November 1, with both online and in-person activities, modified to guard against spreading Covid-19.

The face-to-face meetings that traditionally happen at book fairs are important both for sales of physical books and for sales of publishing rights. So people in the book business were both nervous and hopeful when the massive Frankfurt Book Fair announced plans to hold a hybrid event in October.

But, in light of rising Covid-19 numbers, last-minute changes meant that most events were livestreamed without live audiences.

Publishers also stayed at home. Instead of the usual in-person meetings, agents and publishers participated via an online “matchmaking tool.” Although there were two major projects promoting Arabic books—the Arab World Hotlist and the Arab Voices project—it is unclear how much impact they will have without personal connections.

Attention Turns to Sharjah

After Frankfurt, the next major autumn book fair is the one held annually in Sharjah. Although considerably younger than the German fair, in the last decade, the Sharjah International Book Fair has established itself as a major event on the global publishing calendar.

Like the Frankfurt event, the Sharjah Book Fair is usually a packed two-week affair that weaves together several distinct events. Sharjah usually kicks off with a three-day Publishers Conference, this year set for November 1 to 3. At the conference, publishers listen to talks, meet their peers, and buy and sell rights. This is followed by a glittering awards ceremony and a mammoth 11-day book-selling marathon that also doubles as a major literature festival. This year, it is set for November 4 to 14.

In a typical November, authors, artists, chefs, and public speakers come to Sharjah from around the world. One of the signature sights at the Sharjah fair is the immense crowds of uniformed students pushing among the book kiosks, trailed by harried teachers and assistants.

In a typical November, authors, artists, chefs, and public speakers come to Sharjah from around the world. One of the signature sights at the Sharjah fair is the immense crowds of uniformed students pushing among the book kiosks, trailed by harried teachers and assistants.

Moreover, there is a three-day international library conference held each year on the sidelines of the Sharjah book fair, attended by hundreds of library professionals. This year, that event is set for November 10 to 12 and will be entirely online.

Reading From Sharjah, Reading From Home

The fair’s literature festival will be virtual this year, with a theme of “The world reads from Sharjah.”

Yet despite the theme, most of the fair’s presenters will be appearing not from Sharjah, but from their homes. The fair will offer a somewhat reduced cultural program of 64 events and talks, given by dozens of acclaimed and popular authors. These include the award-winning and best-selling Egyptian novelists Mansoura Ez-Eldin and Ahmed Mourad, the Algerian writer Waciny Laredj, and the Lebanese theater director and playwright Lina Khoury.

The awards ceremony will also be held in digital format this year, with shortlisted authors and publishers crossing their fingers from home.

All the fair’s events are set to be streamed free online. However, those interested in tuning in should pre-register at sharjahreads.com.

Book-Buying at a Distance

In contrast to the streamed literary events, book lovers will be able to come to the Expo Centre Sharjah and browse titles from more than a thousand publishers.

Normally, fairgoers can show up at the center whenever they like. This year, however, those interested in browsing the fair must sign up for one of four daily time slots to ensure the center doesn’t grow too crowded. Thermal scanners and walk-through sanitization gates will be set up at all access and exit points, organizers say, and each visitor will be given a colored bracelet to monitor their entry and exit.

In a news release, organizers said they will also ask visitors to “strictly follow the safety protocol laid out by them, including the wearing of face masks and maintaining a physical distance from other visitors and publishers at the kiosks.”

For Publishers, Face-to-Face Meetings

One of things that sets Sharjah apart from other big Arab book fairs is that, like the fairs in Frankfurt, London, and Bologna, it has become a go-to fair for publishers interested in buying and selling rights.

This year, the fair’s Publishers Conference will go on in only a slightly modified form. More than 150 publishers and agents are expected from around the region and beyond, including from the United Kingdom and other countries across Europe, as well as Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa and Turkey. Indeed, there is an extra incentive for publishers to come to Sharjah in person, as the fair’s translation grant is available only to those who attend the fair.

Shereen Kreidieh, the publisher at the Beirut-based publishing house Dar Asala, will be there selling rights to her award-winning children’s books.

“As Lebanese publishers, we have been badly affected by the economic situation in Lebanon, Covid, and the 4th of August explosion.”

Shereen Kreidieh   Publisher at Dar Asala, in Beirut

As Lebanese publishers, we have been badly affected by the economic situation in Lebanon, Covid, and the 4th of August explosion,” Kreidieh said over email. “Our work has been paused for almost a year now, and going back to Sharjah is an attempt to try to move the wheels again by displaying our new titles, getting in touch of our customers, and being available in the market.”

“We know there are many challenges that will face us,” Kreidieh added, “but we have to try.”

The fair is also an important meeting place for literary agents. Yasmina Jraissati, of Raya, an agency for Arabic literature, said she had no doubt that “it’s going to be a difficult couple of years for literature in translation.”

“I have no specific expectations in terms of sales,” Jraissati said. “But the [translation] grant is still important for many publishers I usually do business with, some of whom will be there.”

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Nazli Gurkas and Goksun Bayraktar recently launched the Black Cat Agency, which is co-located in London and Istanbul. They traveled to Sharjah in the past, when working at the Kalem Agency, and Gurkas said that “getting together in real book fairs is like living a dream!”

Although Frankfurt reported thousands of connections made through its matchmaking tool, some publishers reported disappointment with the loss of face-to-face communication and serendipitous meetings. Jraissaiti said these personal connections are an essential part of the publishing ecosystem.

“Beyond sales, I’ve discovered how crucial it was to see people, talk to them, just catch up,” Jraissati said. “These are human, personal, relations before anything else, and they give me energy. I think we all need them to keep on going and be reminded of why we do what we do.”




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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام