If January is the month for the Cairo International Book Fair, and February is for Casablanca’s SIEL and Oman’s MIBF, then March resides squarely in the Emirates: The Emirates LitFest is set to be staged in Dubai March 6-10 and the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) is scheduled for March 28-April 2.

Both events have, like their sister-fair in Sharjah, been growing like magical beanstalks in the last few years: from a handful of events to hundreds. But while the March 2012 events may be twinned, they are not identical. Both boast a number of high-profile authors and literary events. But the ADIBF, which is free and open to the public, is affiliated with the giant Frankfurt Book Fair and bills itself as “your marketplace in the Arab world.”

The Dubai-based LitFest, on the other hand, features four days of mostly ticketed literary events and is geared at students and other general readers.

Emirates LitFest organizer Mohammed Barghuthi says the Emirates LitFest is markedly different from book fairs held elsewhere in the Arabic-reading world. He said in an email that, “as a Literature Festival, we provide people with the chance to see authors up close in intimate settings discussing and debating relevant topics along with their work, and delving in depth into what’s important to both writing and society in general.”

Barghuthi said that the LitFest is bringing in “120 authors of more than 25 nationalities taking part in over 150 different events” and added that this “would not be possible without ticketed events.”

The ADIBF, on the other hand, focuses on business development.  Among other things, they offer a publishers-training session, a “spotlight on rights” program, and match-making sessions between publishers. ADIBF has a somewhat less flashy cultural program, although still plans to feature talks by Ibrahim Al Koni, Alia Mamdouh, James J. Zogby, Susan Abulhawa, and the International Prize for Arabic Fiction-shortlisted novelists, among others. And the glittery International Prize for Arabic Fiction will be presented just before the 2012 fair opens.

Also this year, ADIBF is also launching a Tawaqee or Autographs initiative, in the hopes of establishing tighter ties between authors and readers. As part of its Autographs programADIBF will host a number of celebrity book-signings during the fair. The first 50 readers in line for each signing will get a complimentary copy of the book.

The LitFest, meanwhile, is trying to reach out more to young readers. Barghuthi said that “the aim this year is to touch at least 20,000 young people” and that “the LitFest devotes one full day of the Festival for authors to visit schools.”

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