SHARJAH // It has become a major cultural hub, drawing in huge crowds to its literary festivals, and on Tuesday Sharjah achieved global recognition as it was named World Book Capital by Unesco.
The accolade came amid efforts to encourage reading in the UAE and across the Middle East.
“We are so proud to have been recognised on a global scale for literary excellence and having our name being put on the same platform with some of the world’s frontrunners in the world of books and reading,” said Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, president of the Emirates Publishers Association and head of Sharjah’s World Book Capital Organising Committee.
“This signals a fruition of the momentous project that was established four decades ago by the vision of Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah.”
Sharjah will be World Book Capital for 2019, following on from Athens next year. Other host cities include Montreal and Madrid, the first in 2001.
With the slogan Read - You Are In Sharjah, the programme focuses on six themes: inclusivity, reading, heritage, outreach, publishing and children.
There will also be a conference on freedom of speech, a contest for young poets, workshops for creating Braille books and tactile books as well as many events for Sharjah’s multi-ethnic population.
Unesco described Sharjah’s bid to be host city as “very innovative, comprehensive... with a community-focused activity programme containing creative proposals to engage the very large migrant population”.
“His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah’s insistence on knowledge being a conscientious human choice that goes beyond the arts and literature to include a space for free exchange of ideas within the Arab world, has helped us as a region to consolidate efforts regionally and globally,” Sheikha Bodour said.
Kitabi Al Awal - My First Book was launched under Sheikha Bodour’s direction. The project aims to develops a love for books and stories among the very young.
Knowledge Without Borders is another example. The project established free home libraries for 42,000 Emirati families last year.
Irina Bokova, director general of Unesco, announced the decision on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee which met at the Headquarters of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) at The Hague in The Netherlands.
Running parallel to the events announced, Sharjah will also launch Sharjah Publishing City, a space entirely dedicated to publishing and printing.
It will be the first place of the kind in the region, specifically developed to meet the needs of companies and institutions operating in the publishing field. Its objective is to reinforce the book industry by encouraging the widespread production and dissemination of publications in the Arab world.
Sharjah International Book Fair has grown to become one of the largest in the world, with 1,500 publishers and thousands of delegates attending. In addition, Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival spans some 2,000 events every year.
The year of celebrations will start on 23 April, 2019, on the World Book and Copyright Day.