The Sharjah International Book Fair will look noticeably different this year, adopting a hybrid approach in response to the pandemic, but that's not to say it will be any less comprehensive or impressive.
Running from November 4 to November 14, the event – held under the patronage of Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah – will take place under the theme, The World Reads From Sharjah.
More than 1,000 publishers from 73 countries are set to participate in this year’s iteration of the fair, setting up stalls at the Sharjah Expo Centre that will be selling a whopping 80,000 titles.
Safety measures and new systems
Safety measures will be in place to ensure social distancing.
Thermal scanners and walk-through sanitisation gates will be located at all entry and exit points. Additionally, a five-hour disinfection procedure will be carried out every day across the fair’s halls and publisher stalls throughout the 11-day event.
A smart electronic system will also be used by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) to manage and organise visits. Each day of the event will be divided into four three-hour time slots to limit the number of people visiting the site.
Visitors will have to sign up online before they enter the premises, where they will be given a colour-coded bracelet to monitor the times of their entry and exit.
Visitors will be notified via text message when their visiting time is about to expire. However, there will be the option to sign up for the following time slot as well, space permitting. All attendees will also be required to wear a mask at all times.
'Reading transcends distances ... even pandemics'
Unlike previous book fairs, a lion’s share of the activities and talks will take place online.
The line-up was announced on Monday, October 19, during a press event held at the Sharjah Book Authority headquarters in Sharjah and broadcast over Zoom.
During the event, Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman of the authority , revealed they have decided not to host an opening ceremony for this year's event, and will postpone the distribution of the annual Sharjah International Book Fair Awards until next year.
"We are organising this year's event amid the exceptional circumstances and challenges that the world faces in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak," Al Ameri said. "Given Sharjah's cultural role in the region for the past 50 years, we felt it was especially important for us to remind everyone that reading transcends distances, and has the power to lift us over the hurdles we face – even a pandemic. Reading is our gateway to new worlds; it allows us to dream and reinforces our confidence to be creatively persistent."
From self-help to crime: a varied line-up
Some of the big names participating in the 39th fair include, renowned US poet and spoken word artist, Prince Ea, who has a dedicated social media following with more than five million subscribers on his YouTube channel alone; US businessman and author Robert Kiyosaki, famous for his 1997 self-help book, Rich Dad Poor Dad; Lang Leav, the New Zealand author of the 2013 poetry collection Love and Misadventure; best-selling Scottish crime writer, Ian Rankin; Lebanese-Canadian writer and activist Najwa Zebian, known for her poetry collections such as Mind Platter; Canadian author and television host Neil Pasricha; popular Italian children's books author, Elisabetta Dami; Indian authors Ravinder Singh and Shashi Tharoor; and British writer Richard Ovenden, among others.
Luminaries from the region include Algerian writer Wasini Al-A'raj; Egyptian author and screenwriter Ahmed Mourad; Kuwaiti writer Mishel Hamad; Iraqi writer and translator Muhsin Al-Ramli; and Lebanese theatre director and playwright Lina Khoury.
For the first time in the event's history, Sharjah Book Authority has joined with embassies of various countries in the UAE to curate eight intellectual discussions, which will be led by Emirati writers and their counterparts from Spain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia, to name a few.
While school trips to the fair will not be organised in light of the pandemic, the book authority is collaborating with the UAE's Ministry of Education to host virtual meetings between pupils and their favourite authors and cultural figures.
More than 300 publishers and 33 speakers from around the world will come together at this year’s Publishers Conference. The 10th conference will be held from Sunday to Tuesday, November 1 to November 3, in the lead up to the book fair.
Almost a dozen in-person and virtual sessions will take place during the event, exploring some of the main issues and challenges facing the global publishing industry.
Members of the American Library Association (ALA) will be meeting their counterparts from the Arab world virtually for the seventh annual Sharjah International Library Conference, from Tuesday to Thursday, November 10 to November 12.
Held under the theme, 'Challenges faced by librarians and libraries during the New Normal', the conference discussions will be attended by 300 librarians and library professionals along with 12 speakers. English and Arabic translations of all the sessions will be provided.
For more information about the book fair or to sign up to attend, visit www.sibf.com