Abu Dhabi Book Fair 2021: new director Mouza Al Shamsi has high hopes for future of the festival

The event returns with one of its strongest programmes yet, with a mix of in-person and online sessions

Mouza Al Shamsi is the new executive director of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Courtesy The Arabic Language Centre
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The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is only going to get bigger and better, according to its new executive director.

Speaking to The National before the event returns to the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) from Sunday, May 23, to Saturday, May 29, Mouza Al Shamsi is already looking forward to the 2022 iteration.

While this year’s fair may be held on a more intimate scale, with a mix of in-person and online sessions, it forms the launch pad for a major overhaul.

“We have already established the book fair over the past three decades, so the question now really is how to position it for the future,” she says.

“I think the way forward for us is to be different and smarter. We will be using technology and be more integrated. It’s also about raising the profile of the fair not only here but overseas. It’s not enough to be at an international book fair with our booth and that’s it.

“We have to also tell our story, and the work on a new comprehensive strategy for the fair has already begun.”

A programme for our times

That rejuvenation is felt in one of the book fair's strongest programmes to date.

Spread across the Cultural (public) and Professional (industry-only) streams, there are panel discussions, in-conversation sessions, seminars and workshops addressing the various challenges of the modern day.

The Cultural programme features not only award-winning authors discussing their latest works, but historians, poets, diplomats and medical professionals looking at how pandemics, present and past, have upended our lives, examining the lessons we can learn to move forward.

The Professional programme is home to much-needed discussions centring on how regional publishing can embrace the opportunities that technology offers.

As president of the International Publishers Association, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi will also be on hand to deliver a keynote address to publishers on the scourge of digital piracy.

A new approach

Al Shamsi puts the expansive programme down to a more organic consultation process across publishing and government sectors. More robust community outreach initiatives are planned for future fairs.

“We want it to truly feel like a cultural festival and we want everyone to think and curate with us,” she says. “It’s not just about bringing in a company to manage the programme and that’s it.

“We need to have more thought to it. This is happening through the establishment of the Arabic Language Centre and our scientific committee members, who are all focusing on the depth of the programme.”

The fact that the event was organised within just four months hints at the exciting future of the new collaborative approach.

It also demonstrates the faith placed in UAE authorities and residents in getting the pandemic under control in time for the fair to open, albeit with safety measures in place.

“Remember, four months ago the situation was very different than it is now,” Al Shamsi says. “We worked under the idea that things are going to get better and that is happening.

“Eighty per cent of the community have taken the vaccine and the country is opening up for international visitors, so we have a lot of things to look forward to.”

Culture at the forefront

The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair's resumption continues the resurgence of the UAE's cultural sector.

This includes the reopening of Louvre Abu Dhabi in April 2020, the launch of the House of Wisdom in December and the return of the Sharjah International Book Fair and the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature last November and this February, respectively.

Al Shamsi is not surprised that culture is playing a frontline role in the UAE’s recovery amid the pandemic.

“Culture is essentially all about connections,” she says. “It’s about bringing different people together and finding creative solutions to go forward.”

More information on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is available at adbookfair.com


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