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Bodour Al Qasimi, President of the International Publishers Association, during the opening ceremony at London Book Fair Image Credit: Supplied

London: In the presence of renowned authors and publishers from around the world, the 49th edition of the London Book Fair (LBF) has raised the UAE flag high in recognition of the cultural project of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.

The emirate is being celebrated as LBF’s ‘Market Focus’ this year in recognition of its continued leadership in building strong bridges of dialogue and cooperation between Arab and European nations, and for establishing itself as a cultural successful model of a knowledge-based society in which books are a pillar of sustainable development.

This came during the opening ceremony of the book fair, which is running at the Olympia Exhibition Centre in London from Tuesday to Thursday. Among prominent attendees of the event were Bodour Al Qasimi, President of the International Publishers Association (IPA); Sheikh Fahim Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Department of Government Relations (DGR) in Sharjah, who is heading the Sharjah delegation at the LBF 2022; Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA); Andy Ventris, Director of LBF; Stephen Lotinga, CEO of the Publishers Association, UK; Keith Nichol, Head of Cultural Diplomacy at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS); and editors-in-chief of leading dailies in the UAE.

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This is the first time an Arab city - Sharjah - has been selected as the 'Market Focus' at LBF Image Credit: Supplied

Books critical in fostering hope

Addressing LBF’s global gathering, Bodour Al Qasimi, said: “We believe that books go a long way towards helping countries and cultures understand each other, and they are needed now more than ever. In times of peace, books have a powerful uniting force. But, in times of conflict, books are even more critical in fostering hope, supporting reconciliation, and cementing peace. Indeed, the world needs more books, not bombs.”

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Bodour Al Qasimi addressing the gathering Image Credit: Supplied

Bodour Al Qasimi also expressed her pride in representing her home city on LBF’s platform, where Sharjah is at the centre of global attention as Market Focus. “This is an opportunity to share our homegrown talent and culture, and demonstrate our love for books and their power to build bridges.”

In his keynote speech, Sheikh Fahim conveyed the greetings of His Highness The Ruler of Sharjah, to publishers, representatives of cultural institutions, authors and intellectuals, for the hard work they are all putting in not only to shape a bright future for publishing, but the world.

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Sheikh Fahim during his keynote Image Credit: Supplied

He said: “We have spent the better part of five decades building out the vision of His Highness The Ruler of Sharjah to design our city as a hub of reading, culture and publishing, and shape a knowledge economy rooted in the consolidation of Arabic literature’s place in the world. Today, we reap the fruits of these efforts with honours like the one we’ve been offered here – to showcase our cultural leadership and achievements in publishing as the London Book Fair Market Focus.”

Gateway to global publishing

Andy Ventris said: “It is a great honour for us to celebrate Sharjah at the 49th edition of LBF. Sharjah, under the leadership of [Sheikh Sultan] has provided a great deal to the global publishing market, and set itself apart through the Sharjah International Book Fair, Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, and the SIBF Publishers Conference.”

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Emirati performers during the ceremony Image Credit: Supplied

He added: “The selection of Sharjah as Market Focus of the current edition was made to shine light on the Emirati publishing sector. Therefore, we are keen on being introduced to the works and journeys of six distinguished Emirati authors and literary greats. We hope that LBF serves as a platform for cooperation and partnerships between London and Sharjah in sectors of translations, authorship and heritage.”

Stephen Lotinga extended warm greetings on behalf of Britain’s publishers to the Ruler of Sharjah. He emphasised that His Highness’s vision has positioned the emirate at the centre of the publishing industry and a raised its status as a beacon of knowledge in the Arab region. These achievements, he added, culminated in the emirate’s crowning as the UNESCO World Book Capital 2019.

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Sharjah's expansive presence at LBF Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah as a cultural hub

Keith Nichol, Head of Cultural Diplomacy at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), said Sharjah is known around the world for its interest in culture, heritage, and arts, pointing out that London and Sharjah have deep and important cultural ties.

He added: “The date of Sharjah International Book Fair is at the top of the list in UK’s publishers and intellectuals agendas.”

Opening ceremony

During the opening ceremony, Emirati poet Afra Atiq recited a resonating poem that highlighted the power and impact of words and how they transcend time and generations.

Following the opening ceremony, and in the presence of Bodour Al Qasimi, Sheikh Fahim, and senior Emirati officials, Andy Ventris inaugurated the Sharjah pavilion. During a tour of the pavilion, Ventris was briefed on the programme of participating entities, which has been designed to promote the Arab publishing industry as well as the region’s creative and literary movements, and also encourage translations to and from the Arabic language.

The director was also briefed on the advanced infrastructure in the emirate that is geared towards pivoting publishers to international markets.

During its participation at LBF 2022, Sharjah showcases the achievements of different cultural entities and initiatives that are realising the emirate’s vision to promote the book industry and enrich the region’s cultural movement.

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Sessions and discussions

Disappearance of folktales across cultures and the role of poetry and urban legends in the was the focus of Emirati writers at the ‘Sharjah Market Focus’ at London Book Fair.

Dr Abdul Aziz Al Musallam, a writer who is chairman of Sharjah Institute for Heritage told the London Book Fair (LBF), said in a conversation with academic and researcher Sinead Murphy at the English PEN Literary Salon at LBF 2022, that characters in folktales play a role in broadening one’s perspectives on life.

Al Musallam spoke about the city of Khorfakkan in the UAE where popular fictional stories are part and parcel of its culture and tradition. “People in my city are influenced to a great extent by fantastical folktales and exotic characters. As children, we relied on fantasy to interpret natural events and other phenomena. If we heard a dog barking or a wolf howling, or when we witnessed a natural phenomenon, we interpreted it based on the fables and myths that were passed to us by previous generations,” he said.

Emirati authors 

Also, as part of its participation as Market Focus at the London Book Fair 2022, Sharjah organised a panel discussion at the British Library which brought together leading Emirati authors who introduced the written and spoken traditions of the region, from vernacular Nabati poetry to myths and storytelling, and how these traditions are inspiring contemporary writing.

Titled ‘Tales of the Emirates: People, Poetry and Fantasy’, the session was held in the presence of Sheikh Fahim, Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, and Sultan Al Ameemi, president of the Emirates Writers Union.

Speakers at the session – moderated by Irish poet and author Nikita Gill – included Mohammad Al Murr, Chairman of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Library Foundation; Dr Al Musallam, and Dubai Abulhoul, author and journalist.

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'Tales of the Emirates: People, Poetry and Fantasy' session Image Credit: Supplied

Global influence

Al Murr stressed that culture is a mix of global human experiences. He reminisced that he started reading Arabic novels much before he was introduced to international literature, specifically European, Russian and Latin American.

Oral heritage

Dr Al Musallam stressed that Nabati poetry is one of the key strengths of the Emirati heritage which preserved and transported the oral tradition over generations. He said that an in-depth look of the poetic form would reveal the changes in lifestyles, values and societal norms through time.

Writing for the younger generations

Dubai Abulhoul noted how the stories she heard from her grandmother led her to international folktales. “It made me realise that human heritage is for all, and prompted me to write for children and contribute to the global cultural movement,” she said.