The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has named Sharjah its ‘World Book Capital 2019’, in recognition of the emirate’s initiatives to further reading, literacy and book publishing. The announcement also adds further weight to Sharjah’s efforts to establish a global book publishing hub at its purpose-built ‘Sharjah Publishing City’, which has already received an overwhelming response from publishers.
Announced in Paris this week, Sharjah will be the 19th city to be named UNESCO World Book Capital, following Athens in 2018. Cities are chosen by UNESCO’s World Book Capital advisory committee, which incliudes representatives from the International Federation of Library Associations, the International Publisher’s Association and UNESCO. The committee cited the innovative, comprehensive and inclusive nature of Sharjah’s reading and publishing programmes, including its community-focused activities and efforts to engage both citizens and foreign residents in its promotions.
The recognition from UNESCO is also due, in part, to the efforts of Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, chairperson of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and Founder and CEO of Kalimat Group, the first Emirati publishing house dedicated to publishing quality Arabic titles for children. She is the founder and patron of both the UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY) and the Emirates Publishers Association (EPA), being re-elected as chairpseron to the latter earlier this year. In 2009, she launched the ‘Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature’, the largest and most prestigious children’s literature award in the Arab world. In 2014, Sheikha Bodour launched ‘Read to Syria’s Children’ initiative support Syrian refugee children, and inaugurated a 3,000-book children’s library.
According to the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), the Arab world’s book market is estimated to worth US$1 billion (AED 3.65m) a year. Some 2.3 million visitors attended the 35th edition of the eleven-day Sharjah International Book Fair last year, with 1,681 publishing houses exhibiting across 25,000 square metres (269,000 sq. ft.) of space. This year’s Sharjah International Book Fair will move to a new venue in order to expand its area to 60,000 square metres (645,835 sq. ft.).
The purpose-built ‘Sharjah Publishing City’, which occupies a 19,000 square metre (204,514 sq. ft.) plot on the Sharjah-Dubai road, expects to accomodate 140 and 180 international publishers in its first phase, with the second phase allowing up to 400 publishers. The free-zone status development houses publishers, distributors, printers, translators and associated businesses.
The emirate of Sharjah is no stranger to international cultural recognition, being named Islamic Culture Capital of the Arab Region for 2014 by the Islamic Organization for Education, Science and Culture (ISESCO) and Capital of Arab Tourism for 2015, as voted by the Arab Council of Tourism Ministers.
Sharjah’s year as UNESCO World Book Capital will officially begin on 23 April 2019, the United Nations World Book and Copyright Day, under the theme of ‘Read – You are in Sharjah’.
Source: UNESCO, SBA