The first in a weekly series of articles to coincide with the Sharjah International Book Fair
The 39th edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) runs from 4 to 14 November, organised under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah. This year, although the author programme will be virtual, Sharjah is welcoming delegates in person from around the world to the three-day Publishers Conference, which opened yesterday (1 November). The physical fair welcomes exhibitors from 73 countries. This week we will reprint an article a day from the magazine produced by BookBrunch, in collaboration with SIBF and Publishers Weekly, for professional visitors to the fair.
Coronavirus understandably colours everything at the moment, and in a fast-moving situation it is easy to be overtaken by events. But looking beyond local infection rates and social distancing stories, the relatively young publishing industry in the UAE is working hard to take books to new audiences - part of the reason Sharjah was named UNESCO World Book Capital - with bodies such as the Emirates Publishers Association (EPA) and PublisHer, both under the leadership of Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, championing the idea of careers in publishing, especially for women.
In the UAE - and most particularly in Sharjah, where government policy favours books and literacy - much has been done to promote a culture of reading. Outreach initiatives include Knowledge without Borders, which has distributed more than 2 million books to nearly 45,000 Emirati households, and 1001 Titles, in which the EPA set itself the task of publishing 1001 first edition Emirati titles. There have also been mobile libraries, reaching communities that may not have easy access to books.
On the occasion of the EPA's 10th anniversary in 2019, Sheikha Bodour said: "The EPA follows a clear vision to grow the Emirati book market, boost publishing standards in the UAE, and advance the profession itself. We seek to continually build the capacities of Emirati publishers so they can bring the strongest competition to regional markets."
To help publishers who have lost sales due to the coronavirus, the EPA launched a 1m AED Emirates Publishers Emergency Fund earlier this year, and the association is now to survey its members to find out exactly what their needs are.
The coronavirus pandemic has had one positive effect on societies round the world: it has underlined our love of stories and our need to turn to books - whether digital or paper - for escape, education and solace during dark times.
Photo: Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi