While attending the Guadalajara Book Fair earlier this month, Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, was all smiles. "We were the biggest book fair in the world this year," Al Ameri said, referencing the 40th Sharjah International Book Fair, which was held this past November 3-13 in the United Arab Emirates. SIBF attracted 1,692,463 visitors representing 109 nationalities. In all, some 1,632 publishers attended from 83 countries. This year, the professional program attracted 550 people for panel discussions, rights meetings, and networking. "And this comes a year after we were the only book fair to hold an in person event in the world," Al Ameri added, referencing the 2020 pandemic year when Sharjah was the only large book fair to host an in-person event, when all other large fairs opted to cancel or go virtual.
Next year, 2022, will be another milestone year for Al Ameri, when Sharjah will be the guest of honor at thee major book fairs: the Bologna Children's Book Fair, March 21-24; the London Book Fair, April 5-7; and the Guadalajara International Book Fair, November 25-December 10. In addition, the Sharjah International Book Fair, November 2-13, will be hosting Italy as its guest of honor.
"We have been waiting several years for all this to happen," Al Ameri said, citing the fact that Sharjah was to be guest of honor at Bologna and London in 2020, but the program was delayed. "It is very exciting that this is all happening in one year."
The goal, Al Ameri said, is to "not only promote Emirati literature and publishing, but to serve as ambassadors for the entire Arab world." Ultimately, he hopes the presentations around the world will serve to amplify the work already being done in Sharjah. "We hope it will convince more people to come to Sharjah for the fair," he said.
One big attraction that Al Ameri touted was the translation grant support program, which offers $400,000 a year in translation subsidies to publishers translating both to and from Arabic, as well as other languages. "This year we have already had 1,800 projects submitted for grants," he said. "And we expect several thousand more by the final deadline of February 28, 2022."
Al Ameri noted that the UAE had handled the pandemic well, compared to other nations around the world. The small size of the country and strict protocols meant that the nation, which is a trading hub, was only in lockdown for a short period and had been fully reopen for business since May of 2020.
Looking ahead, Al Ameri sees Sharjah as serving as the gateway hub to difficult to reach parts of the world. "We're already the fair that is strongest in presenting the African market to the world -- the fair is where African publishers are coming to meet each other and their colleagues from the rest of the world." Al Ameri said the fair has also extended its influence East, working with publishers in India, China. and the bookseller Big Bad Wolf in Malaysia. "We brought the first Big Bad Wolf sale to Dubai last year and plan on bringing more to new regions, perhaps into African and Europe," said Al Ameri.
The Sharjah Book Authority has long fostered international collaborations, starting with the opening of Sharjah Publishing City Free Zone, the organization's grand headquarters that offers office space, logistics support, and other facilities to international publishers. Among those working in the space are Ingram, which just opened a new Lightning Source print-on-demand operation in Publishing City.
"Ingram's Lightning Source represents an important addition to the free zone’s operational capabilities and will offer publishers, retailers and other stakeholders significant opportunities to expand their access to books and content, as well as their outreach into regional markets," Al Ameri said.The establishment of Lightning Source Sharjah, Ingram’s first print-on-demand facility in the region, is indicative of the strategic opportunities Sharjah provides to publishing business in the region, and also firmly reflects on the emirate’s leading status on the global cultural stage.”
Asked to reflect on Sharjah's success over the past decade, which has seen it rise from an unknown destination near to Dubai to one of most culturally-enriched territories in the world, Al Ameri cited the support of the ruler of Sharjah. "It was his vision those many years ago to make Sharjah a destination for arts, culture and literature," said Al Ameri. "And the plan is working. The plan is working."