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London Book Fair: Promising future for Middle East publishing

The Turkey's Translation Initiative stall at the London Book Fair on 16 March 2017 [Tallha Abdulrazaq/Middle East Monitor]
The Turkey's Translation Initiative stall at the London Book Fair on 16 March 2017 [Tallha Abdulrazaq/Middle East Monitor]

The three-day London Book Fair came to a close today, with Middle Eastern publishers and writers making a strong showing for the region, making their presence felt and scooping up awards from the event in the process.

On the first day of the event, the Middle Eastern region included several winners for awards in international excellence in contributions to literature and the wider publishing sector.

Image of the UAE book stand at the 2017 London Book Fair [Tallha Abdulrazaq/Middle East Monitor]

Image of the UAE book stand at the 2017 London Book Fair [Tallha Abdulrazaq/Middle East Monitor]

 Cairo-based blogger Marcia Lynx Qualey won the Literary Translation Initiative Award for her “strong personal dedication to creating cross-cultural understanding in the diverse world of Arabic literature.”

The second major award claimed by an Arabia-based personality was taken by Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, the Ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah and a member of the Supreme Council of the UAE. The Arab ruler won an international award “for his outstanding contribution to the publishing industry in the UAE.”

Under Al-Qasimi’s direction, Sharjah is known for financing and supporting the publishing sector, and encouraging authors and writers to produce more works of literature, both fiction and non-fiction alike.

Finally, Turkey’s Nermin Mollaoglu of the Kalem Agency winning the Literary Agent Award because “she has in one decade become a second bridge to the outside world for her writers at a point in Turkish history when this connection is more crucial than ever, and harder than ever to achieve.”

Also present at the second day was renowned Turkish author and political scientist Elif Shafak, who was marketing her new novel called “Three Daughters of Eve”.

Image of Elif Shafak [Midas Public Relations]

Image of Elif Shafak [Midas Public Relations]

Once known for its production of world-leading literature and scientific publications, the Middle East has faced stagnation and decline over the past few centuries. However, with the presence of successful Middle Eastern authors and through winning these awards, there are signs of the beginning of a literary revival in the region.

National representation

 Some Middle Eastern nations also made effort than others to attract prospective readers, writers and publishers at the Fair, with Turkey and the UAE as having clearly made the most prominent showings.

A popular refrain in the Arab world says that “books are written in Cairo, published in Beirut and read in Baghdad”. While this popular saying aims to demonstrate the Arab world’s connection with literature and its storied history of publishing and producing texts, they were overtaken by newer publication centres in the Middle East.

The Lebanese stall at the London Book Fair on 16 March 2017 [Tallha Abdulrazaq/Middle East Monitor]

The Lebanese stall at the London Book Fair on 16 March 2017 [Tallha Abdulrazaq/Middle East Monitor]

 Considering Lebanon’s well-rooted publication industry, the Lebanese Ministry of Culture’s stall was somewhat quiet, with few visitors. The books on display were also sparse, with many texts focusing on arts and design and very little representing the region or even Lebanon itself.

The UAE, on the other hand, was energetically involved in the Fair. Several initiatives were represented from all over the UAE, including Sharjah and Dubai. Publishing houses, like the London-based Austin Macauley, told MEMO that they were soon to start working in partnership with Sharjah in order to translate books from Arabic to English and vice versa.

Turkey also made enthusiastic effort to showcase the nation’s gusto for literature and publishing. Notwithstanding the presence of award-winning personalities, such as the aforementioned Kalem Agency as well as Elif Shafak, the representatives from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism spoke enthusiastically about Turkish efforts to boost international consumption of Turkish books.

The Turkey’s Translation Initiative stall at the London Book Fair on 16 March 2017  [Tallha Abdulrazaq/Middle East Monitor]

The Turkish representatives said that the government subsidises translation costs under the “teda” programme for any publishing company who can demonstrate that a Turkish book could be successfully marketed in any territory abroad. They also assist with distribution through trade connections with domestic markets, the representatives told MEMO.

With such initiatives as well as an increase in domestic publications, it would appear that the Middle East is once again on the rise, and writers and publishers are going to great lengths with government support to ensure that their authors are read not just at home, but also abroad.

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