Book Festivals and the ‘Huge Desire for New Arab Novels’

Not-yet-novelist Yassin Adnan

Three recent or ongoing book festivals (The Sharjah International Book Fair, Beirut’s Francophone Book Fair, and the Manchester Literature Festival) highlight a growing demand for Arab literary work. If that’s not enough, there’s also the giant Arab-focused London Poetry Festival at the Southbank Centre this October 30-Nov. 7.

Moroccan poet and short-story writer Yassin Adnan, a Beirut39 laureate who appeared at the Manchester fest, told The National that audience members in England were eager for more Arab writing.

I can personally measure the success and importance of Beirut 39 quite easily. Somebody has come up to me, just now, saying he was really interested in translating my novel into French and publishing it.

Adnan doesn’t (yet) write novels. But, he said:

…his offer does illustrate two things: what opportunities there are when you’re under this Beirut 39 umbrella, and the huge desire for new Arab novels. I just wish I wrote them myself!

Novelist Abdelkader Benali echoed Adnan’s appreciation for the Beirut39 project:

It almost feels like Beirut 39 is shining a light on something that has been in the shadows for too long.

Meanwhile, the fair in Beirut was promoting new work in French by Egyptian author Robert Sole and Lebanese-American author Raymond Khoury, among others.

And, at the Sharjah Book Festival, agent Yasmina Jrsaitti—after seeing Emiratis fill shopping carts full of books—questioned the truism that Arabs don’t read.

Yasmina, I hope you don't mind that I stole your photo!

She wrote:

This shopping spree for books contradicts the image of the Non Reading Arab that has been haunting us for the past years. Something does not fit. If Arabs do not read, then why are book fairs so crowded? Why do people buy books so massively that they would need shopping caddies to be able to walk around the fair more easily, if they didn’t read?

I’m talking about two separate issues, of course: the foreign appetite for Arab fiction and the Arab appetite for (mostly Arabic) books. But both point to a possibly boom future for young Arab authors.

Jrsaitti continued:

Can it be that when non readers say that they would read more books if they were more interesting books to read, it is because they do not have access to the existing interesting books? If there are more interesting books on the Arab market, but Arab readers don’t have access to them, or don’t even suspect their existence, how would they even want to read them?

And so I say to all (Arab) parents: Shouldn’t you be encouraging your daughters and sons to grow up to be novel writers?