Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka speaking at the 42nd Sharjah International Book Fair. Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: The 42nd Sharjah International Book Fair continued to draw thousands of visitors over the weekend with its diverse array of offerings. Some highlights of the fair from Friday and Saturday.

In an engaging discussion, Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and distinguished Sudanese poet Alim Abbas captivated the audience with their enlightening discussion titled ‘Exploring Afrofuturism: Reimagining Black Identity and Culture in Contemporary Literature.’

In a room filled with literary enthusiasts, the two authors explored how Africa should be portrayed in the rapidly growing world of literature. The session began with the moderator setting the stage, emphasising the emerging movement within contemporary African literature, which envisions a future that is firmly grounded in a reimagined and redefined sense of identity and culture.

This movement, known as Afrofuturism, is, in the words of Soyinka, “encapsulating a visionary blend of science fiction, historical fiction, and magical realism, serving as a conduit for the exploration and reimagining of the black experience.”

He said, “Within the realm of Afrofuturism, the exploration of identity takes the helm, delving into the complexities of what it means to be black in a rapidly evolving world. Through their protagonists, these writers navigate themes of displacement, cultural erasure, and the quest for self-discovery, offering a lens through which readers can reflect on the multifaceted nature of the African experience.”

Abbas, on the other hand, noted that the impact of Afrofuturism extends beyond the realms of literature and permeates various art forms. He further pointed out that the infusion of futuristic elements into traditional African aesthetics has sparked a global renaissance, fostering a sense of empowerment and cultural pride among individuals of African descent.

He said, “Afrofuturism stands as a testament to the power of storytelling as a vehicle for transformation and empowerment. By embracing the boundless potential of the imagination, Afrofuturist authors continue to redefine the narrative of black identity and culture, forging a path toward a future that is both technologically advanced and deeply rooted in the essence of African heritage.”

House of Wisdom showcases sustainable practices

The House of Wisdom (HoW) is actively promoting awareness about optimal sustainability practices and their significance in preserving the environment at the fair. Throughout the fair, it is welcoming SIBF attendees to explore its immersive pavilion, which draws inspiration from the UAE’s resolute dedication to sustainability. This pavilion is divided into three distinct sections, with the primary section prominently showcasing HoW’s proactive focus on sustainability through its headquarters. Within this section, visitors are able to discover various sustainable practices HoW implements, including recycling, the use of eco-friendly materials such as aluminium and teak wood, as well as a smart water management system that extends to both the building and its surrounding gardens, all aimed at promoting water conservation.

The House of Wisdom's pavilion at the SIBF. Image Credit: Supplied

Following this, visitors proceed to the subsequent section, which emphasises the notion of sustainability within the context of Islam. This immersive experience transports visitors on a captivating journey back in time, delving into the concept of protected zones in Makkah that were established as sanctuaries for people, animals, and plants. The final section presents a collection of carefully curated publications encompassing topics related to sustainability, the environment, wildlife, agriculture, and nature reserves, all of which can be found within the HoW library.

Marwa Al Aqroubi, Executive Director of HoW, said, “The House of Wisdom serves as a source of inspiration for future generations and sets an example for leading cultural centres in adopting environmentally friendly practices. This year’s edition of SIBF is an ideal platform for us to raise awareness among readers and visitors about the importance of sustainability. We believe knowledge is central in guiding communities, institutions, and individuals toward sustainable solutions.”

Lessons in leadership, goal setting

Aspiring business leaders, students and executives got expert lessons in the art of leadership and goal setting from two popular life coaches-turned-authors at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF 2023), as Kuwaiti content creator Saad Alrefaei and Irish-born keynote speaker Vivian James Rigney spoke at length about self-help in an ever-changing world.

Kuwaiti content creator Saad Alrefaei and Irish-born keynote speaker Vivian James Rigney spoke at length on self-help. Image Credit: Supplied

Saad Alrefaei, who’s written six books focused on behavioural therapies to help achieve personal milestones, said: “It’s important to live life the right way. The idea of depending on good luck doesn’t work because when you fall, you fall down very quickly - in the blink of an eye.”

Rigney, President and CEO of Inside Us, an executive coaching consultancy, operating throughout five continents, spoke about effectively cutting out ‘noises’ that distract. “We tend to be influenced so much by emotion, by what’s happening around us. We care too much about what other people think of us, and we forget. But we must listen to our intuition, because our intuition is our greatest gift. And when our peace is there, the intuition faces north like a compass, and it’s incredibly powerful,” he said.

Egypt’s Reham Aiaad addresses a packed hall

One of the most inspiring modern-day female role models in the region - Egypt’s Reham Aiaad - addressed a packed gathering at the ongoing 42nd annual Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), and took them on a journey through time, highlighting particular personality traits that enabled women throughout history to leave a mark and become a timeless inspiration for others.

Reham Aiaad from Egypt addressing a session. Image Credit: Supplied

“In many ways, life is easier for women today. In the past, women had to fight fiercely to enjoy basic human rights. It is due to the relentless passion of these brave women that I am sitting here on stage today,” Aiaad noted.

Arab, Korean authors of children’s fiction speak

Machines cannot replace human imagination and creativity to provide storylines with a human touch in the era of artificial intelligence and ChatGPT, concurred Arab and Korean authors of children’s fiction during a panel discussion titled “Another step towards the future: YA literature in UAE and Korea”. Moderated by writer Lamya Tawfik, the panel consisted of UAE academics cum writers Prof. Ibrahim Abu Taleb and Prof. Reem Saleh Al Gurg and Korean novelist Sun-mi Hwang.

The session on children's fiction by Arab and Korean authors. Image Credit: Supplied

Tawfik began with a quote from C.S. Lewis that “a children’s story that cannot be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story”. While Sun-mi Hwang said that she grew up reading adventures and travel books in Korean, the UAE-based academics professed their love for a local magazine called Majid as well as 1001 Nights. Prof Reem also found the story of Matilda (Roald Dahl) inspiring.