Visitors at the Sharjah Book Fair 2013. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Sharjah: More than one million people visited the 32nd Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) during the 10-day exhibition according to Ahmad Bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Director of SIBF.

The number of visitors has broken all previous records with the unprecedented attendance of book lovers from within the UAE, the region and beyond. The event was themed For Love of the Written Word to symbolise Sharjah’s commitment to enhancing literacy and promoting culture, and drew some 1,010 publishers from all over the world, including new participating countries such as Hungary, Portugal and New Zealand.

Reflecting on this year’s accomplishments, Al Ameri said, “To us, SIBF is much more than a remarkable tradeshow for the publishing industry — it is about encouraging a passion for literature and critical thinking, and the sharing of knowledge among Emiratis and the world at large. Under the patronage of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, the book fair has come a long way to become one of the four biggest book fairs and trade shows across the globe.”

To this end, apart from the chance to explore 400,000 thousand titles on offer, visitors were treated to a dazzling selection of 500 activities — from book signings with favorite authors to poetry reading, theatrical performances and even a session on the emerging genre of Emirati science fiction.

Fabled chefs and cookbook authors including Sanjeev Kapoor wowed foodies with cookery demonstrations featuring cuisine from all over the world. There was something of interest for absolutely everyone and admission was free of charge and open to the general public.

Top literary talent was featured with appearances by bestselling novelists like Jeffrey Archer, Lebanese author and critic Yumna Al Eid, Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and former president of India, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. When they weren’t involved in sessions on-site at SIBF, many of the guests took time out to visit local schools and universities to offer advice and perspective to aspiring young writers. It’s highly probable that as a result of these 55 community outreach meetings, some of these students’ first books will appear on SIBF shelves and in UAE libraries a few years from now.

The halls and sessions were overflowing with 150,000 UAE schoolchildren that visited SIBF on special class trips and were treated to more than 500 interactive activities and workshops geared towards instilling in them a lifelong passion for reading. The message was clearly well received, as the kids queued at publisher’s stalls, crumpled pocket money in hand for the chance to purchase a book that interested them.

For the second year running, the Social Media Station’s real time coverage of SIBF attracted bloggers, tweeters, instagramers and other savvy technological types. A total of 60 million interactions were observed on the SIBF hashtag while 20 million people used the hashtag. Many of them were students and young people who heard about the fair through Twitter and wouldn’t ordinarily have attended a literature-related event. Over the course of the fair, the Social Media Station hosted numerous events, including a Q&A Session with Saudi TV presenter Turki Al Dhakil who has more than 1.5 million Twitter followers, along with Khadija Al Marzouki, Director of the new Dubai FM radio station, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a well-known commentator on Arab affairs, and Marwan Al Serkal, CEO of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), among others.

Lebanon was celebrated as Guest of Honour and recognised on behalf of SIBF at the opening ceremony on November 6 by Dr Shaikh Sultan. The country was chosen in recognition of its significant role in promoting Arab culture and thought throughout its history. Numerous Lebanese celebrities, media personalities, literary legends, and almost 93 publishing houses participated in SIBF, with a special pavilion celebrating Lebanese heritage with displays and workshops for children.

The Professional Programme (held in partnership with New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies Center for Publishing) was bigger than ever and provided approximately 300 Arab and international members of the publishing industry with a wide spectrum of lectures, symposiums, panel discussions and workshops. As a result of the programme, it was decided that around 58 Arabic books will be translated into different languages, while 83 books will be translated into Arabic from various languages.

Throughout the book fair, 14 tonnes of bags that included educational material and pamphlets were handed out to visitors.

Numerous honours were presented to talented authors, illustrators, and publishing houses throughout the fair including the SIBF Annual Awards, which recognised Emirati and international achievement as well as the SIBF Translation Grants.

This year at the Sharjah International Book Fair, the youngest author Rebecca Mary John, aged 13, launched her first book of poetry, ‘Musings of a Young Girl’.

This year’s edition of SIBF cemented Sharjah’s role as a cultural centre of the region, celebrating Arab heritage through the written word and every reader’s quest for independent knowledge. If the legacy of the fair’s last 32 years have proven anything it is that the 33rd edition of Sharjah International Book Fair will continue to break records, much to the delight of book worms everywhere!