On the Suspended 2021 Khartoum International Book Fair

This year’s Khartoum Book Fair was supposed to feature bold books, exciting events, and retrospectives on important writers:

By Lemya Shammat

The 16th Khartoum International Book Fair launched on Friday October 22 and was scheduled to run through the first of November. The books that used to be officially banned in the ousted surveillance state, like those of  the acclaimed Sudanese novelist Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin, and the bold investigative journalist and writer Fathi al-Daw, were supposed to reclaim their place in the shelves of the book fair. However, they announced the suspension of its major book exhibition and all the public programs and accompanying activities a few days later, as Sudanese woke up to a counter-revolutionary military coup that detained the Prime Minister and other civilian leaders to pave the way for the return of the ousted regime.

The country continues to suffer disruption of internet and mobile connectivity, as well as large-scale arrest of activists, campaigners, demonstrators, and members of resistance committees. The coup prompted mass civilian revolt, nationwide protest, and civil disobedience. More than hundred were injured and at least 14 have been killed by security forces’ gunfire. 

The exhibition of this year was supposed to be launched under the slogan “Back to the Book,” so as to encourage and develop the passion of reading across community’s different age groups. It was meant to include more than 160,000 titles, with the participation of about 190 local, regional, and international publishing houses. The previous session of the fair was also suspended as part of countermeasures against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Two iconic Sudanese literary figures were expected to be memorialized and honored in the cancelled 16th session of the annual fair: the novelist, short-story writer, and critic Eisa Al-Hilo, who is celebrated for his innovative novelistic style and techniques and intricately layered and densely textured narratives; and the poet and activist Taha Al-Gaddal, for his influential poetic mastery, startling images, wordsmithery, and verbal elegance. The two honorees’ commitment to their craft never kept them at distance from people. They used their gifts and visibility to promote enlightenment, to creatively struggle against injustice, oppression, and corruption, and to call for more diversity, plurality, and inclusivity.

Khartoum Book Fair is considered one of the country’s major cultural events, and it provides a platform for workshops, seminars, films, musical bands, the plastic arts, poetry recitals, concerts, and folkloric shows that attract big crowds of readers and visitors.

The accompanying events this year were scheduled to include papers on revolutionary poetry, School Theatre, Sudanese women’s narrative experiences and obstacles to printing and publishing in Sudan, among other topics. Additional papers were written on the creative projects of Al-Hilo and Al-Gaddal. One paper, for instance, highlights the impact of Eisa Al-Hilo on the Sudanese narrative landscape and generations of writing, while another features the aesthetic images of “badia,” or countryside, in the poetry of Al-Gaddal.

Our own small celebration:

ام الناس- محمــد طـه القدال

Two Old People in a Tree” – by Eisa al-Hilo

Al-Hilo’s work was also included in the Book of Khartoum, ed. Raph Cormack and published by Comma Press. His “A Boy Playing With Dolls” was translated by Marilyn Booth.

Lemya Shammat is ArabLit’s Sudan editor.