The countless book stalls at SIBF 2021 at Expo Centre Sharjah Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: The latest 40th edition of Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) was a runaway success, attracting top authors, leading celebrities, and publishers and book-lovers from around the world.

The book fair, open to all free-of-charge, was held from November 3 to 13 at Expo Centre Sharjah.

Here are nine reasons why SIBF 2021, crowned as the world’s biggest book fair, was such a massive hit:

1. Supporter of the written word

SIBF was launched in 1982 by His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, who is recognised globally as a passionate supporter of books and culture.

His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi during the opening ceremony of SIBF 2021 on November 2 at Expo Centre Sharjah Image Credit: Supplied

The first edition was comparatively tiny, with just a handful of publishers setting up stalls in an oversized tent.

Little known most people, Dr Sheikh Sultan had bought all the books on show, as a gesture of support for booksellers.

Thanks to his patronage, SIBF 2021 became the largest book fair held this year anywhere in the world, in terms of buying and selling of rights and hosting the largest number of publishers and literary agents networking in one place.

The latest edition saw him allocate a grant of Dh4.5 million to purchase books from publishers at SIBF to provide Sharjah public libraries with various publications.

2. Books, books and more books

There were a mind-boggling 15 million books on display from 1,632 local and international publishers from 83 countries. These included 1.3 million “unique titles” from around the world, out of which 110,000 made their world debut at SIBF 2021.

sharjah book fair crowd
Schoolchildren shopping for books at SIBF at Expo Centre Sharjah Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Perhaps the most special of them all was the 17-volume ‘Historical Corpus of the Arabic Language’, launched by Dr Sheikh Sultan during the glittering opening ceremony of SIBF.

The dictionary is the biggest Arabic linguistic knowledge and information project that documents the history of Arabic language lexicons and their usage transformations over the last 17 centuries.

3. Colourful performances

Visitors gathered around various performers as they put on roaming shows in the aisles and between halls of the book fair. These included ‘Underwater Drummers’ led by artists from Stelzen-Art, a creative group based in Germany; and ‘Time is Running’ by Tukkers Connexion.

‘Time is Running’ performers at SIBF 2021 at Expo Centre Sharjah Image Credit: Supplied

4. Crowd-puller

1.69 million visitors representing 109 nationalities thronged the book fair over its 11-day run. A little more than half (51.9 per cent) of all visitors were women.

sharjah book fair crowd
A busy scene from the book fair Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

An interesting finding this year was that around 20,000 amongst the 1.69 million visitors to SIBF 2021 walked into the 11-day fair more than once; thousands visited the fair three to seven times. Some even made multiple visits in one day.

Most visitors were from the UAE, followed by India and Egypt.

5. Bestselling authors

The line-up of writers saw the likes of Chris Gardner, whose memoir The Pursuit of Hapyness was turned into a movie of the same name, starring Hollywood star Will Smith.

Chris Gardner during his talk at SIBF 2021 on November 12 Image Credit: Supplied

Fourteen awarding-wining authors, journalists and social media stars from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka also took part, including Indian novelist Chetan Baghat – who was in Time magazine’s list of World’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010. In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Baghat described SIBF as “the best event on earth. It’s a five star event, yet for the masses”.

6. Towering personalities

Among the key figures gracing the book fair were 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Abdul Razak Gurnah and Kuwaiti novelist Taleb Al Refai, who was this year’s ‘Cultural Personality of the Year’ at SIBF. Visitors got a rare chance to interact with them at the event.

Abdulrazak Gurnah-1634741953948
Abdul Razak Gurnah

7. Top chefs

11 celebrity chefs from 10 countries, including those who have prepared meals for world leaders, held 30 live cooking sessions at the book fair. Featuring chefs who have cooked for heads of states and the royalty, this year’s participating included Kunal Kapur (India), Judy Joo (Korean-American), Sherson Lian (Malaysia), and Lina Saad (Lebanon), among others.

Three-time winner of 'International Gourmand World Cookbook Awards', Lina Saad is a Lebanese food and culinary heritage expert who joined other top chefs at SIBF 2021 Image Credit: Supplied

8. Kids’ corner

From science to arts, more than 40 workshops on diverse interests took place for children of all ages. There were also 355 activities and shows, including roaming performers through the aisles and halls of SIBF.

A children's workshop in progress at the fair Image Credit: Supplied

9. Publishers conference

35 speakers, 546 publishers and literary agents participated in the 11th SIBF Publishers Conference, organised in collaboration with the International Publishers Association – helping SIBF 2021 clinch the title as the world’s biggest book fair.

Publishers and agents networking at Publishers Conference of SIBF 2021 Image Credit: Supplied

Trevor Noah thrills huge crowds

One of the last big events at the book fair was a full-house talk by world-famous South African comedian Trevor Noah, who is also host of the Daily Show on TV and an author.

Thousands of fans showed up to hear Trevor Noah's talk at SIBF 2021 on November 12 at Expo Centre Sharjah Image Credit: Supplied

Some 3,000 fans packed the giant ballroom of SIBF to hear him open up about his often-difficult childhood from an underprivileged background.

Noah, 37, revealed that his mother has been the driving force in his success.

Trevor described his book, New Memoir, as a tribute to his mother”, saying: “I’m lucky to be my mother’s son. I didn’t get to choose who she would be, I didn’t ‘work hard’ to get my mother”, he said.

“And yet, she is the reason I got everything I did in life. She was the person who worked the hardest to get me here; she was the person who made me love books in the first place.”