Earlier this week, Sharjah was named World Book Capital for the year 2019 by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova:
According to the UNESCO release, Sharjah “was selected because of the very innovative, comprehensive and inclusive nature of the application, with a community-focused activity program containing creative proposals to engage the very large migrant population.”
Sharjah will be the nineteenth World Book Capital, and is set to follow Athens in 2018. The first was Madrid in 2001, followed by Alexandria, Egypt in 2002. Beirut was World Book Capital in 2009, the year of the “Beirut39” list of 39 Arab authors under 40 and the Hay Festival Beirut.
Sharjah’s World Book Capital organizing committee is headed up by publisher Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, founder of Kalimat.
World Book Capitals are meant, as per UNESCO, to “promote books and reading and to organize activities over the year which starts with the celebration of World Book and Copyright Day (23 April).” Sharjah’s year thus begins April 23, 2019.
The year’s slogan is to be “Read – you are in Sharjah,” with six themes: inclusivity, reading, heritage, outreach, publishing, and children. The promised events include a conference on freedom of speech, although details were not yet available.
Also in 2019, the UAE’s third-largest city will launch “Sharjah Publishing City,” a publishing free-trade zone designed, according to UNESCO, “to reinforce the book industry by encouraging the widespread production and dissemination of publications in the Arab world.”
Sharjah began to make its mark on the Arab publishing industry a decade ago, when it took a sleepy regional book fair with a handful of events and grew it into one of the largest in the region. This was followed by the founding a major publishing conference, opening the first major prize for Arabic literature for young people, and starting a children’s literature fest, among other initiatives.