The 37th edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair has drawn to a close – and is set to be another record-breaking effort. "This will be the biggest one for sure," Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, told The National yesterday (Saturday). While the final numbers have yet to be released, Al Ameri is confident of beating last year's record of 2.38 million visitors and Dh206 million in sales.
When we meet in his makeshift office within the fair’s venue, the Expo Centre Sharjah, on the last day of the 11-day event on Saturday, Al Ameri points to a television screen showing Sharjah TV’s live broadcast of the book fair. “Look at that crowd; there are people everywhere,” he says. “We are in the last day of the festival and it has never been this busy. We actually extended the opening hours today until 11pm.”
He says the Sharjah Book Fair’s success – it is the third-largest book fair in the world behind Guadalajara in Mexico and Germany’s Frankfurt, respectively – is down to a greater global appetite for reading, whether via physical or e-books. “The awareness of the people has grown so much. They are understanding the importance of books, literature and knowledge. It has really made a great impact everywhere and what we are seeing here is almost a chain-reaction effect,” he says.
When it comes to the consistently packed crowds at the Sharjah International Book Fair, Al Ameri credits that to smart programming that looked beyond plenary and "in conversation" sessions fronted by authors.
He points to more than 2,000 people who attended a session by the Canadian-Indian YouTube star Lilly Singh on Thursday, as well as the similar number of people arriving for a reading by legendary Urdu poet Anwar Masood on Saturday. "That poetry session was amazing. There were not enough seats," Al Ameri said.
Which begs the question: with more than two million visitors attending the book fair for the past two years, has the event outgrown the much loved Expo Centre Sharjah – its home for the past 37 years? “Well, I cannot say that,” Al Ameri said. “But I will tell you something for sure: if I have the triple the size of this space here, I can sell it. But this is really a beautiful problem to have.”
With Al Ameri and his team travelling to the Kuwait International Book Exhibition this week to promote the Sharjah International Book Fair, plans for next year's event are already under way. Al Ameri promises "an even bigger and better" fair next year, with another expansive programme in the works.
However, for all authors wanting to take part in the festivities, Al Ameri urges them not to come empty-handed. “We don’t bring anyone to the book fair without them having a book,” he says. “Even our chefs, they are also writers who come here to sign their books. There is nothing here that is not related to books.”