Sharjah: guest of Honour country @ NDWBF 2019

At the upcoming New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF) 2019 to be held from January 5-13, 2018, Sharjah is the Guest of Honour country. Here, HE Ahmed Al Ameri, Chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, shares more on their participation at the fair and more, in conversation with All About Book Publishing.

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AABP: The New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF) has announced Sharjah as guest of honour for their 2019 edition. What will be the main objectives of Sharjah Book Authority’s participation at the fair?

HE Ameri: First of all, I would like to begin by thanking the management of New Delhi Book Fair for extending this wonderful opportunity to bring the UAE’s and Sharjah’s rich cultural and literary heritage to one of the most prestigious global platforms celebrating books and culture. We have been planning our participation since the announcement was made this February, through which the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) aims to showcase the Emirate’s literary and cultural assets, network with leading publishers, best-selling international authors and tap into the seemingly endless business opportunities in the publishing sector in India, and show our Indian and international counterparts the new and growing market opportunities that have emerged in the rapidly developing books industry in the UAE and Sharjah.

AABP: Could you talk a bit about Sharjah’s programme to celebrate this big honour?

HE Ameri: We have recently concluded extremely successful participations in Paris and Sao Paulo as the guest of honour at their international book fairs this year, where our rich programme of events including informative intellectual discussions, interactive workshops, poetry reading sessions, book launches, vibrant cultural performances and a showcase of traditional Arab and Emirati arts and crafts stunned the audiences. We will be organising a similar itinerary tailored to the needs, interests and expectation of India and South Asia.

AABP: Sounds very exciting! Which entities and individuals from Sharjah should we be expecting to meet at NDWBF 2019?

HE Ameri: Sharjah will be visiting New Delhi next year with the important objective of strengthening the long standing friendship and cultural relations India and the UAE share. The Sharjah delegation, represented by a host of government entities and cultural departments dedicated to promoting knowledge and literature in the UAE, numerous Emirati and Arab authors and famous intellectuals, as well as several publishers will be travelling to India to further the Emirate’s efforts to build cultural bridges with the world, in line with the vision and directives and the continuing efforts of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council Ruler of Sharjah.

AABP: In your opinion, what role have books and culture played in bringing India and the UAE together?

HE Ameri: With 2.623 million Indians residing in the UAE and constituting almost 28 percent of the nation’s population, India and its culture – whether transmitted through their award-winning novels, world-famous cuisine, vibrant clothing or Bollywood – have made an indelible impression on the Emirati way of life. SBA is a regular at NDWBF, and was there earlier this year in January at the Book Fair’s 25th edition to explore prospects for cooperation and joint action with Indian publishers to develop the book industry, facilitate Arabic and Indian cultural exchange, and provide Indians with the latest Emirati and Arabic publications.

Through a larger participation next year as the fair’s guest of honour, we aim to explore new and effective ways to strengthen cooperation between the two nations.

AABP: What opportunities and challenges do you foresee as you try to realise these plans?

HE Ameri: The UAE’s publishing market is nearly $230 million currently and imports books and other publishing goods worth $126 million each year. India remains a distinct destination for professionals in the publishing sector in Asia and globally. About 600 million people, more than half India’s population, are under 25 years old; no country has more young people. This rapidly growing youthful population is digitally connected and exhibiting the higher literacy rates than ever, and is seeking out more and more diverse content from around the world. This is where we see the biggest opportunity for learning and exchange, and of course, generate more business.

Sharjah Publishing City (SPC) is the first-of-its-kind space in the world dedicated to growing and developing the books industry, internationally. It offers a unique business ecosystem for publishers, and within a year of being inaugurated has become a publishing hub in the Gulf with publishers establishing offices there to enjoy the world-class infrastructural facilities, administrative benefits and superb air and sea links that Sharjah offers. The UAE’s publishing market is projected to grow three times to touch $650 million by 2030, and I believe Indian publishing businesses can make decisive contributions by expanding into the region with SPC as their operational base.

We would like also to increase the flow of titles between our two countries, so that more Arabic books are translated into Hindi, English, Malayalam and other Indian languages, and more Indian titles are translated into Arabic. At NDWBF 2019, we will be shedding light on how Sharjah Publishing City can help Indian publishers, especially in areas like print-on-demand.

AABP: Will SBA be focusing on any specific category of books during the New Delhi Book Fair?

HE Ameri: Emirati and Arab literature, be it classic or modern, has seen its creators engaging in a variety of genres, topics and disciplines – prose, poetry, academic writings, science and technology, arts, humanities, and novels, Emirati Heritage books and more. Our aim as the guest of honour at the NDWBF next year will be to do justice to this rich heritage by showcasing the best writings from every single genre that makes up the Arab and Emirati repertoire in writing. We will be bringing in some translations specially for the Indian reader to celebrate Sharjah’s participation as the guest of honour.

AABP: What are the SBA’s recent efforts in expanding its international presence?

HE Ameri: The SBA’s annual cultural calendar is packed with international participations around the world, be it book fairs, publishing conferences, cultural festivals or other international gatherings that promote the importance of the book.

We are passionate about disseminating Arab history, heritage and traditions. SBA was the only Arab entity at Book Expo America in 2016, so we were acting as our culture’s sole ambassadors at the event. Similarly, we were the only Arab organisation at the Guadalajara International Book Fair in Mexico, the only one at the Tokyo International Book Fair in Japan and the only one at the Beijing International Book Fair in China. Add to this list big European names likes the London and Frankfurt book fairs, the Sao Paulo Book Biennial in Brazil, and of course New Delhi.

It is our mission at SBA’s to espouse Arab literature worldwide. When we participate in events overseas, we don’t just represent Sharjah or the United Arab Emirates, we are achieving something much bigger – we are promoting the entire Arab world, including its religion, culture, and economy.

AABP: As the Chairman of Sharjah Book Authority, what advise do you have on facilitating cross-cultural knowledge sharing, and the concept of freedom of speech, translations, and the promotion of the reading habit?

HE Ameri: I derive an incredible amount of satisfaction from knowing that I am part of an organisation that is promoting the important habit of reading. It is in this basic pleasure that the most important building blocks for learning are created, and is a key activity for the creation of a knowledge-based economy in the UAE. It is from personal experience that I reaffirm the importance of meetings and exchange with different cultures that a true image of a nation is created, and opportunities to learn about them arise.

Translations play an important role here, and the Sharjah International Book Fair’s Translations Grant of valued at US$1,500 for children’s books and up to $4,000 for other titles was launched by the Sharjah Ruler to promote literary understanding and exchange.

Freedom of speech is a tool of creative expression – one that must be accessible to every member of a community. However, I would like to stress that it is crucial that people exercise this freedom with honesty and utmost responsibility to truly benefit from this entitlement and use it to strengthen cross cultural friendships.

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