Buzz is beginning to circulate about this year’s Sharjah International Book Fair, an eleven-day festival set to open November 4:
The Sharjah fair has swollen from just a handful of literary events in 2007 to a promised “nearly 900” — or “more than 900” — events set for 2015, as well as a promised 1.5 million individual book titles.
The fair is also “guaranteed” to beat its previous visitor count of 1.47 million, according to book-fair director Ahmad Al Ameri, who is also the chair of the Sharjah Book Authority.
In a 2010 interview, Al Ameri said that, way back in 2007, there were only nine cultural events at Sharjah’s fair. Although the fair has by now been running more than thirty years, for most of its history, the SIBF was like many other book fairs in the region: mostly a way for city residents to gain access to a selection of discounted books in a less-censorious environment.
That began to change after 2007. That was the year when the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) got together with the Frankfurt Book Fair to launch the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. In 2009, neighboring Dubai held its inaugural “Emirates Airlines Literary Festival.”
And, as Dubai launched its fest, Sharjah also moved toward offering something bigger. In 2009, Al Ameri said, “we increased from around ten [professional and cultural events] to 150. This year  is 200-something.”
And by 2015, Gulf Today reports, organizers are “set to create a new record.” This includes playing host to 1.5 million individual book titles from 1,502 publishing houses, hailing from 64 countries.
To support all its events, the SIBF plans to have a large contingent of visiting authors, with globally prominent writers like Nigerian novelist Ben Okri as well as a particular focus on regionally acclaimed writers from southeast Asia. There are no “gotchya” guests as in past years, as when Dan Brown and Adel Imam headlined the 2014 fair, but a strong contingent of Arab, Pakistani, Indian, and Bangladeshi authors and artists.
Also, for the first time at SIBF, a comics zone will be set up, promising the participation of 26 specialised publishing houses.
The Sharjah Book Fair is often chaotic, with writers sometimes mashed together on lopsided panels, underattended and underpromoted events with great authors, masses of children, and too many things going on at the same time. Certainly there are complaints to be made about what all this record-setting is trending toward. But the growing presence of Southeast Asian publishers is certainly to be celebrated, and it remains a wonderful meeting-place for book lovers and a good opportunity for Arab publishers to sell books.