For the past 32 years the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) has brought together authors, publishers, families and literary enthusiasts from the United Arab Emirates, other countries in the gulf region, and places from as far away as New Zealand. The emirate of Sharjah, located twenty minutes from Dubai, has been home to the 10-day exhibition where over 1 million visitors roamed the halls and attended the sessions at this year's festival which took place November 6 through November 16, 2013.
When I arrived at the Sharjah Expo Centre, I was blown away to see how colossal the building was and how extensive the book exhibitions, displays and halls were throughout the expo. With an international crowd of Emiratis, distinguishable Arabs from other nations in the gulf region, South Asians, and North Africans, the crowd at the fair was colorful and diverse. As I walked through the halls, Arabic was being spoken as the dominant language followed by English.
The Sharjah International Book Fair has special significance to the gulf region, as the majority of the books are in Arabic with fiction and non-fiction content relevant to this audience. From Sudanese writer, Leila Aboulela writing stories about practicing Muslim faith in difficult circumstances to Mohsin Hamid writing about the quest for the American dream in his book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, there are books of all types and all subjects that appeal to international audiences.
At this year's fair, a few internationally acclaimed writers were in attendance to talk about their work, inspiration and journey. Sir Jeffery Archer, who has sold more than 270 million books in 97 countries, spoke to a captive audience about his best sellers including Best Kept Secret and the Prison Diaries series.
The former president of India and acclaimed author, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, attended the Sharjah International Book Fair to speak at sessions to encourage leadership among the youth and to discuss his experiences as statesman, scientist, and author.
There were over 500 activities and sessions that took place during the fair and the one that caught my attention was The Future of Travel Writing where panelists were organized to discuss how travel writing has changed and the impact of social media on travel writing. Although a great attempt was made to insight discussion here, the future of travel writing wasn't really discussed and a panelist from Generation Y, savvy in blogging and social media was missing.
The presence of this year's Sharjah International Book Fair brought in media from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, the United States, France, etc. In celebration of the 32nd annual book fair, Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Qasimi held a private dinner for a group of fifty journalists that included entertainment and an endless spread of traditional Middle Eastern cuisine.
After spending a few days at the book fair, my interest in the gulf region grew and made me more curious about literature related to this part of the world. I now have two Arabic translated into English titles that are waiting to be read.
Books at the Sharjah International Book Fair, photo credit: Tomas Loewy
Unlike neighboring Dubai, Sharjah is the most conservative emirate and lacks the trendy restaurants, nightlife, opulence. Outside of the book fair, there are a few other interesting things to experience in Sharjah. The Sharjah Maritime Museum has evidence of the Emirate's rich maritime heritage and the Sharjah Heritage Museum displays handcrafted works of art and objects that date back to a time when local people relied solely on fishing and pearling. A stroll on the palm tree lined Al Buheirah Corniche along the Khalid Lagoon is worth doing and if you have more time to kill, take a ride the Eye of the Emirates Ferris Wheel which is a new addition to the Sharjah skyline.