For more than a decade, the United Arab Emirate of Sharjah (booth 507) has focused energy and resources on fostering literacy and encouraging book publishing throughout the region. This led to the establishment of the Emirates Publishers Association and the Kalimat Group, an Arabic-language publishing house, as well as Sharjah Publishing City, a 200,000-sq.-ft. facility that offers administrative and logistical support for those looking to publish, print, and distribute.

In addition, each family in Sharjah has been supplied with an in-home library as part of the Knowledge Without Borders program. Sheika Bodour Al Qasimi, founder of the Kalimat Group and the daughter of Sharjah’s ruler, Sheikh Dr. Sultan Muhammad Al Qasimi, is serving as v-p of the International Publishers Association, where she has worked to promote publishing in Africa and other underserved international communities. These efforts culminated last month with Sharjah being named UNESCO World Book Capital, a title it will hold until April 2020. The theme for this year’s celebrations is “Open Books, Open Minds.” At the opening ceremony, Sharjah’s ruler said, “I stand before you and I am almost certain that I am visualizing our great forefathers—scientists and thinkers—filling libraries of the world with knowledge.... It is a great honor to follow in their footsteps. To embrace books and knowledge as a tool to build, not destroy... a tool to nurture love, brotherhood, and tolerance.”

The sheik continued, “The production of knowledge never stops, and the development of life continues.... Sharjah is prepared to continue on this journey, and God willing, our devoted sons and daughters will continue our march to make Sharjah a true beacon of science and knowledge and a destination for everyone thirsty for culture, for thought, and the sciences.”

Plans for the year of literary festivities include mobile beach libraries, book fairs, storytelling, theater, and programming for children. The goal is to unify communities by reaching out to the marginalized, while fostering inclusion and support for refugees, the disabled, and the visually impaired, among others.

To mark the occasion, the Emirate also erected the 2019 Sharjah World Book Capital Monument, a sculpture designed by artist Gerry Judah. And the Emirate is building the House of Wisdom, a library and cultural center designed by the famous architectural firm of Foster + Partners.

Last month the London Book Fair named the United Arab Emirate of Sharjah as the Market Focus of the 2020 fair. The Sharjah Book Authority and the fair will collaborate on a program, with the support of the British Council and the U.K. Publishers Association, which will highlight Emirati authors and books. A concurrent professional program will focus on fostering further business relationships.