On World Book Day, Tuesday, April 23, the United Arab Emirate of Sharjah launched a year-long round of festivities in honor of its turn as Unesco's World Book Capital, which will carry on until April 2020. The event featured the launch of a new theatrical interpretation of the Arabian epic 1001 Nights: The Last Chapter, which was commissioned for the event and employed over 500 performers and theatrical technicians.
The theme for this year's celebrations is “Open Books, Open Minds." In comments made at the opening ceremony, Sheikh Dr Sultan Muhammad Al Qasimi, the ruler of Sharjah, 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.”
He 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 this year include mobile beach libraries, book fairs, storytelling, theater and programming for children. One stated goal for the program is to reach out to unify communities by reaching out to the marginalized, all the while fostering inclusion and support for refugees, the disabled, and the visually impaired, among others.
Previously, Sharjah was named Cultural Capital of the Arab World by Unesco in 1998.
The launch coincided with the the 11th Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, running from April 17-27. The festival attracts more than 300,000 visitors annually and offers more than 2,600 different events for children and families. In all, some 167 publishers from 18 countries are participating both as exhibitors and in events. Among the numerous authors appearing at this year's festival were Mohammed Abdullah Ammar, Jeffery Boston Weatherford, Nikki Sheehan, Rehan Khan, Ramendra Kumar, John Coy, and Abulhoul Hafiz Mahfuz.