The 32nd Sharjah International Book Fair was launched yesterday, November 6, by HH Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, who decried the "cultural aggression" of globalization.
In a breakfast-time ceremony fit for a rock star and lacking only the dry ice, His Highness presented Sharjah's annual publishing awards and spoke about the centrality of knowledge and culture, all of which flows from the book, in Emirati life.
Expressing his happiness that the UAE will soon celebrate its 42nd anniversary, the Sheikh said that "Thanks to Allah and to the hard work of its leaders, and the diligence of its people, the UAE has reached this level of cultural and civilizational sophistication, aspiring to develop the human mind and spirit." He added: "We are not saying that we did not face many challenges, both local and international, in that process. The challenges were many and the UAE leadership overcame them through useful work and enlightened thinking."
Globalization, he suggested, masked with free trade agreements that allow it to slip below the radars of many leaders, commodified life, threatened an "ugly" form of totalitarianism the like of which has not been seen before. To the sons and daughters of the UAE fell the task of halting the cultural invasion of globalization.
There were also speeches by Abdullah Al Owais, Chairman of Sharjah Department of Culture and Information, who officially welcomed to the Fair representatives from 53 countries and 1,010 local and international publishing houses. Speaking for the Guest of Honor country, Gaby Layoun, Lebanon's minister of culture, declared that his country was "the birthplace of creativity. Our participation confirms cultural relations between our two countries."
Young Suk Chi, president of the International Publishers Association, also spoke. It was, he said, "no news to anyone that we are in the middle of the most exciting and tumultuous time in publishing" as digitization allowed publishers to reimagine the book in endless ways. But we needed to remember that "at its core, publishing is about connecting writers and readers. It's a people business."
Once again, an awards ceremony recognized the contributions of authors, publishers and other cultural figures to the intellectual life of the Arab world.
The Cultural Personality of the Year Award went to Farouq Abdalaziz Hosni, former culture minister of Egypt, an acclaimed abstract painter who has held exhibitions across the world.
The National Library of Abu Dhabi was named Best Local Publisher, while the award for the Best Arab Publisher went to the Center for Arab Unity Studies. The Best Foreign Publisher was D.C. Books, India. An Exceptional Woman by Ali Abualreesh was named Best Emirati Book by an Emirati Creative Writer. The award for Best Emirati Book (academic) was given to Dramatic Masks in Dr Sultan Al Qasimi Theater by Maitha Majid Mohammed Al Shamsi. Making Traditional Swords and Daggers in the Emirates by Halima Abdullah Rashid Al-Sayegh was named Best Emirati Book (about the UAE). Zayed: Man Who Built A Nation by Graeme Wilson won Best Emirati Foreign Translated Book. The Best Arabic Novel was 6000 Miles by Mohammed Muhib Jabr and Vauxhall by Gabriel Gbadamosi was Best International Novel.
Khalaf Al Habtoor: The Autobiography won Best International Book in Business and Economics, while the award for Best International Children's Book went to When I Feel Worried by Cornelia Maude Spelman. The latter prize was collected by the book's publisher, John Quattrochi of Chicago-based Albert Whitman.
The fifth annual Etistalat Award for Arabic Children's Literature were also presented:
Children's Book of the Year: Rod of Racemes (Nahdet Misr Publishing House, Egypt) by Afaf Tobala, illustrated by Hanadi Sleet
Young Adult Book of the Year: Ajwan (Nahdet Misr Publishing House, Egypt) by Noura Al Noman
Best Text Award: My Mum Jadida by Mariam Suhail Al Rashedi
Best Illustration Award: Rod of Racemes by Hanadi Sleet
Best Production Award: When You get Angry from Asala Publishing House.
His Highness launched his own new book, Hadeeth Al Thakira – Part III. Proceeds from 5,000 copies of its pink edition will go to the Pink Caravan, a pan-UAE breast cancer initiative by the Friends of Cancer Patients Charitable Society.
A version of this story originally appeared in the London-based trade publication, BookBrunch.com.