The Sharjah International Book Fair: For the Love of the Written World

The Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) is a place for those who love the books to come together. Authors, the industry, press, and book worms of all ages attended the SIBF which has grown to become the fourth largest book fair in the world. The 11 day celebration of books and the industry that produces it included presentations from authors, literary events, workshops for aspiring authors, kids programs and event cooking demonstrations. There was an endless space of booths with books that spoke to any and all interests and in as many languages.

The 32nd Sharjah International Book Fair broke all previous records with the attendance of more than 885,000 book lovers from within the UAE, the region and the great world beyond. The event was themed, For Love of the Written Word and drew some 1,010 publishers from all over the world, including new participating countries like Hungary, Portugal and New Zealand.

Reflecting on this year’s accomplishments, Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, SIBF Director said, “To us, SIBF is much more than a remarkable trade show for the publishing industry—it is about encouraging a passion for literature and critical thinking, and the sharing of knowledge among Emiratis and the world at large. Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, the book fair has come a long way to become one of the four biggest book fairs and trade shows across the globe.”

Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Sharjah and Guests at the Gala Dinner

To this end, apart from the chance to explore 400 thousand titles at special prices, visitors were treated to a dazzling selection of 500 activities— from book signings with favorite authors to poetry readings, theatrical performances. Fabled chefs and cookbook authors wowed foodies with cookery demonstrations featuring cuisine from all over the world. There was something of interest for absolutely everyone and admission was completely free of charge and open to the general public.

Top literary talent was featured with appearances by bestselling novelists like Jeffrey Archer, Lebanese author and critic Yumna Al Eid, Mohsin Hamid author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. When they weren’t involved in sessions on-site at SIBF, many of the guests took time out to visit local schools and universities to offer advice and perspective to aspiring young writers. It’s highly probable that as a result of these 55 community outreach meetings, some of these students’ first books will appear on SIBF shelves and in UAE libraries a few years from now.

In a thoughtful, genuine manner, author Mohsin Hamid spoke about, The Reluctant Fundamentalist which he wrote about New York after moving from there back to Pakistan. In his interview he shared insights to his writing techniques and his strategy which was not to reveal, even at the end of the book, whether the protagonist is a terrorist or not. He also shared a pearl of wisdom of which the captivated audience is sure to long remember: “The job of a novel is not to tell people this is right or wrong,” he states. Rather, the author presents a situation, and lets the reader create her imaginings of the rest.”

Another standout author that captivated her audience was Deepti Naval who presented alongside her fellow Bollywood star and husband Farooq Sheikh. To a room packed with fans, Deepti Naval, famous actress, poet, author and painter, shared some insightful experiences of her life by reading her poetry and a short story. The famous Indian artist is known for pushing boundaries. To write the script in A Journey from LamhaLamha to Mad Tibet, and in order to develop her characters, Deepti decided to move into the women’s ward in a psychiatric facility for 23 days. She originally intended to stay for only three, but she was so fascinated by what she saw, and felt she had so much to learn, that she stayed for twenty more. “I had to live it to write about it,” she told her fans. From the poems she shared in her jewel-like voice, her empathy and keen observations were evident.

There were over 500 activities associated with the book fair including cooking demonstrations (and tastings) from some of the most prominent chefs in the region in the Cookery Corner. The Cookery Corner was packed the night India’s most famous chef , Kapoor came to share . Kapoor rose to fame through his cookery show, ‘Khana Khanzana’, broadcast across the India for two decades, and his own 24/7 food channel. He is sometimes referred to as the ‘Rachel Ray’ of India for his unpretentious approach to cooking.

Kapoor tantalized the crowd with his fried jumbo prawns in a chili, garlic and lemon sauce, the mingling of heady smells filling up the standing-room’s only space. He also gave a bit of advice to the audience who listened attentively as their mouths watered and nostrils filled with the aroma of sizzling prawns. “Don’t cook by habit,” was Kapoor’s theme for the day, as he encouraged his fans to create their own recipes. “If you normally use chili powder, try using a fresh green chili, and see what happens,” he said after he finished the prawn dish.

The book fair is also the perfect platform for authors and publishers to meet and discuss current trends and potential opportunities to work together. Publishers and book representatives from across the globe come to Sharjah once a year to share their work and find new opportunities. We had the chance to meet with Antenolla Zigrino who was there representing the Italian Collective Stand. Her stand was  full of impressive books and many extremely large and precious volumes. Zigrino shared with me some of her work including translation and publishing of the book, “My Early Life” by His Highness Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Sharjah. The book is now distributed in over 600 bookshops throughout Italy.

Zigrino was accompanied by Prof. Ugo Nespolo who is the President of the Italian National Museum of Cinema and President of the Torino Film Festival in Italy. She showed some incredible drawings by him in his publications which showcased Arabian history.

The book fair is a place of discovery and delightful surprises. My interaction with Ms. Zigrino was one of them. I learned about her life experiences as we exchanged and connected. For that I thank the SIBF and it is one more example of the growth and networking opportunities that the fair affords its visitors.

Books impact every facet of our lives as they record the thoughts of those who come before us. It is a way to share information across time and space as we learn, grow intellectually, and seek enlightenment. The Sharjah International Book Fair is such a place where different categories of books on heritage, culture, traditions and contemporary creativity are accessible under one roof at a very affordable price.

This year’s edition of SIBF was a celebration of the written word and cemented Sharjah’s role as a cultural center of the region, celebrating Arab heritage through books and every reader’s quest for independent knowledge. If the legacy of the fair’s last 32 years have proven anything it is that the 33rd edition of Sharjah International Book Fair will continue to break records, much to the delight of book worms everywhere.


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