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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

UAE presence changes stereotypes at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Ahmed Al Ameri of Sharjah Book Authority tells The National why UAE representation at book fairs is important

Book lovers browse through thousands of books at the Sharjah International Book Fair Jeff Topping/For The National
Book lovers browse through thousands of books at the Sharjah International Book Fair Jeff Topping/For The National

The conclusion of the Frankfurt Book Fair yesterday also brought an intensive series of whirlwind meetings, strategy sessions and deal-making at the Sharjah Book Authority pavilion. But what is the end result? Chairman Ahmed Al Ameri explains the benefits of these interactions, the effects of which are felt in the future.

“You first have to understand the nature of this event. There are two kinds of book fairs in the world: there is the classic model which focuses on literature and then there is the trade one – which is business to business – of which Frankfurt is the biggest,” says Al Ameri.

“I am here in Frankfurt as business, so there is no point coming here with a purely cultural agenda of writers for examples. The results are in these conversations and collaborations; it may not look exciting but it is very important.”

How important is the UAE’s involvement in an international event like the Frankfurt Book Fair?

A If you look at the UAE’s presence here in Frankfurt, you will have noticed it was the biggest Arab representation. If it wasn’t for our stands you would only find only two or three Arabic publishers. We had six stands, three of which belonged to us as the Sharjah Book Authority [the others were organised by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s Knowledge Fund].

When you look at it like that, then I would say that what we are doing here is very important. In what is the world’s biggest book fair, we in the UAE are leading the way in the region.

How is success measured?

Well, you can see it for yourself. Throughout the week, have you seen the Sharjah Book Authority stand empty? We have four meeting tables and we had discussions back-to-back in half-an-hour blocks, six hours a day for three days.

Not only that, my colleagues were also going to other stands having their own meetings.

As a result, we got more publishers coming on board to attend the Sharjah Book Fair to take part in the professional programme, and some American and European publishers signed deals to set up at Sharjah Publishing City.

You returned to the Frankfurt Book Fair after announcing Sharjah Publishing City at the start of the year. How is the reception for the exclusive zone?

Fantastic, and that’s not because it is just a new place. Sharjah Publishing City is presented as a solution, a dedicated place where you have facilities – the A-Z of publishing – that runs 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and offers everything from offices, printing facilities, rights and translations, all in one spot. I had a Dutch publisher today asking when she can come over to visit and sign the deal. The enthusiasm for it is great.

Sharjah Ruler Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi paid an official visit to the book fair. What does that say in terms of the UAE’s approach to education and culture?

It says a lot that a member of the UAE’s Supreme Council has come to visit this book fair. It shows you the orientation and the strength of the UAE. Each ruler of the UAE has taken it upon themselves to promote the UAE around the world. The Sharjah Book Authority pavilion, if you noticed, was the only stand that had the UAE flag. That is important to us. When we go to book fairs around the world, whether it is Paris, London or New York, we raise the flag wherever we are.

Do you see the effect of that involvement in the industry?

We change a lot of stereotypes of the region with our presence. You know, I am still asked questions if people in the region are readers. I remember I was on a panel in a book fair in New York where I was asked if women were able to drive in the UAE. I told her, yes, and explained that woman have rights, how we are multicultural society, and we are unique in that region.

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