Ahmad Bin Rakkad Al Ameri, chairman of Sharjah Book Authoriy, at a press conference on Monday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Sharjah: This year’s biggest names virtually attending Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) include American rapper and social media star Prince Ea; Canadian writer Yann Martel, perhaps best known for his Life of Pi novel; and Elisabetta Dami, Italian creator of the Geronimo Stilton children’s book series, it was revealed on Monday at a press conference at Sharjah Book Authority (SBA).

The 39th edition of SIBF will be held as usual at Expo Centre Sharjah, this year running November 4 to 14. The latest edition will be held under the theme ‘The World Reads from Sharjah’. However, international writers are participating only online while local authors will attend in person under COVID-19 precautions. The book fair will also see talks by Indian author and politician Shashi Tharoor and novelist Ravinder Singh.

Visitors will be limited to 5,000 people per hour. They will first have to register on a dedicated online portal. Strict health and safety measures like temperature checks, masks, social distancing, regular sanitisation, and dedicated entry and exit gates will be put in place. There will be no opening ceremony, awards or organised student visits this year. Last year saw a record 2.52 million visitors at SIBF, said to be the world’s third biggest book fair. The annual book fair was launched in 1982.

Organised by SBA, the book fair will be held under the patronage of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.

80,000 titles for sale

The literary and cultural programme designed for the 11-day event this year is bringing together 1,024 publishers from 73 countries; and 60 renowned Arab and international authors from 19 countries. They will participate in 64 events and activities in an online and offline format. Monday’s press conference witnessed the launch of SBA’s new ‘Sharjah Reads’ global virtual platform that will host all future cultural events organised by the authority, starting with the 64 activities of SIBF 2020, allowing attendees from around the globe access to the fair’s cultural programme.

At the press conference, SBA chairman Ahmad Al Ameri announced that 80,000 titles will be on offer this year across an area spanning over 10,000 square metres. The line-up of publishers include 578 Arab publishers and 129 international names, featuring 202 from Egypt and 186 from the UAE, 39 from UK, 29 from USA, among others.

Precautionary measures

Thermal scanners and walk-through sanitisation gates will be installed at all access and exit points. Additionally, a five-hour disinfection will be carried out across the fair’s halls and publisher stalls daily throughout the event. A group of volunteers and security personnel will be supervising the exhibition grounds to monitor visitors’ compliance with the stipulated precautionary procedures. Moreover, a smart electronic system has been deployed by SBA to manage visits, divided into four slots each day in order to limit the number of visitors at any given point in time. All visitors to the fair will need to book their visitation slots by registering online at a dedicated website. Upon arriving at Sharjah Expo Centre in accordance with their booked slots, each visitor will be given a coloured bracelet to monitor the timings of their entry and exit.

Who else is participating this year?
International figures
* Robert Kiyosaki, American businessman and author
* Lang Leav, best-selling author from New Zealand
* Ian Rankin, bestselling writer from the UK
* Lebanese-Canadian author Najwa Zebian
* Neil Pasricha, Canadian author and television host
* British writer Richard Ovenden, among others.
Luminaries from the region
* Wasini al Araj, Algerian writer
* Ahmad Mourad, Egyptian author and screenwriter of fiction and non-fiction
* Kuwaiti writer Mishel Hamad
* Iraqi writer, poet academic and translator, Muhsin Al Ramli
* Lebanese theatre director, writer, producer, and educator Lina Khoury, and more

For the first time in SIBF’s history, SBA has tied up with embassies of various countries in the UAE to design eight intellectual discussions, which will be led by Emirati writers and their counterparts from Spain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia, among others. Specially for SIBF’s large audience of children and youth, SBA is collaborating with the UAE’s Ministry of Education to host virtual meetings between students and their favourite authors and cultural figures.

Publishers conference

The 10th edition of the SIBF Publishers Conference will welcome 317 publishers and 33 speakers from across the world, who will discuss key issues and challenges facing the global publishing industry in 11 in-person and virtual sessions. The three-day event will be held in the lead up to the book fair, from November 1 to 3 at Expo Centre.

Library conference

Members of the American Library Association (ALA) will be meeting their counterparts from the Arab world virtually for the seventh annual edition of the Sharjah International Library Conference, from November 10 to 12. Themed ‘Challenges faced by librarians and libraries during the New Normal’, the conference discussions will be attended by 300 librarians and library professionals along with 12 speakers, for three hours on each day of the event.

‘Reading transcends distances’

Addressing the media on Monday, Al Ameri said: “We are organising this year’s edition amid the exceptional circumstances and challenges that the world faces in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Given Sharjah’s cultural role in the region for the past 50 years, we felt it was especially important for us to remind everyone that reading transcends distances, and has the power to lift us over the hurdles we face – even a pandemic. Reading is our gateway to new worlds; it allows us to dream and reinforces our confidence to be creatively persistent.”