Sharjah has been named World Book Capital for 2019 by UNESCO. Sharjah is the 19th city to become World Book Capital, the first in the GCC and third in the MENA region.
The selection committee applauded “the very innovative, comprehensive and inclusive nature” of its application, highlighting “a community-focused activity programme containing creative proposals to engage the very large migrant population”.
UNESCO DG Irina Bokova also commended the social inclusion element of Sharjah’s proposal: “I applaud the nomination of Sharjah as the World Book Capital as well as the efforts undertaken by the city in order to make reading available to as many people as possible, in particular the marginalised populations, as a motor for social inclusion, creativity and dialogue”.
Sharjah aims to foster a culture of reading in the UAE with initiatives to meet the challenge of literary creation in the area and in the rest of the Arab world.
With the slogan “Read – you are in Sharjah”, the programme focuses on six themes: inclusivity, reading, heritage, outreach, publishing and children. The year’s events include a freedom of speech conference, a contest for young poets, workshops on creating Braille books, and “many events for Sharjah’s multi-ethnic population”.
Sharjah will also launch Sharjah Publishing City, dedicated to the needs of companies and institutions in the publishing field. Its objective is to reinforce the book industry by encouraging the widespread production and dissemination of publications in the Arab world.
Sheikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qasimi (right), President of the Emirates Publishers Association, headed Sharjah’s World Book Capital Organising Committee. She gave due praise to her father, who has long been an advocate for literature in the Emirate and the region. She said: “His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah’s insistence on knowledge being a conscientious human choice that goes beyond the arts and literature to include a space for free exchange of ideas within the Arab world, has helped us as a region to consolidate efforts regionally and globally.
“Sharjah has now reached a point where it can be safely said that it is a driver of knowledge in the region.”
Sharjah already has two key events of relevance in its cultural calendar – more than 1,500 publishers from across the world attended the last Sharjah International Book Fair, and the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival attracted over 300,000 visitors.
There are also some important social initiatives. The Knowledge without Borders project has established free home libraries for 42,000 Emirati families last year; and 5,000 book hampers have been gifted to expectant mothers across UAE via Sheikha Bodour’s Kitabi Al Awal (My First Book) programme.
The year of celebrations will start on 23 April 2019, on World Book and Copyright Day.