The 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF), or Frankfurter Buchmesse, which took place from October 20 to 24, was the first major physical book fair held this year since the pandemic and therefore, the participants – including the publishers, authors, booksellers and readers in general – were delighted to be back in person.
Of course, the numbers were reduced, but the attendees felt it was important to keep the show going. The number of editors was about a quarter of the usual number, but it actually facilitated spontaneous meetings and meaningful discussions – one participant told me: “I’m glad the fair isn’t like it used to be. We can breathe.
The number of book and trade-related visitors was around 36,000 from 105 countries and there were over 37,000 private visitors from 85 countries. Over 2,000 companies from 80 countries and 3,500 media representatives from 39 countries attended. The halls were large and the generous size and layout of the booths were designed to avoid clutter. Vaccination certificates have been carefully checked before allowing entry. The general order and cleanliness were remarkable.
As a leading trade fair for the international publishing and content industry, the FBF had a lot to offer, both in terms of face-to-face and digital offerings. The huge choice of programming was spot on as well as digital and hybrid. Many other demonstrations took place in parallel in the city.
Each year, Frankfurt has a country or region as a guest of honor. This year, it was Canada with the motto “The Singular Plurality”. The guest of honor is always honored to present his literary, cultural and social life through programs on his literature, his art, his music, his cinema and his theater.
The Frankfurt Book Fair is the largest book fair in the world and this year was also the first physical book fair since the pandemic. He had a lot to offer, but Pakistan was shining again with his absence
Canada was in the spotlight with dozens of publishers and a welcoming space that offered great coffee and a chance to hear Canadian voices in English, French and Indigenous languages. It presented, for the first time in the history of the FBF, both a physical pavilion and a virtual pavilion. The Governor General of Canada led the large delegation of Canadian publishers, authors, illustrators, performers and artists, and over 380 books by Canadian authors, or on Canada, were published. The First Nations of Canada were also well represented by poets and authors from Quebec and Saskatchewan.
Supported by the German government’s Neustart Kultur program, the national reading festival called Open Books was held in front of a live audience. Publishers from different countries showcased their latest fiction and non-fiction titles and Open Books Kids showcased recent and new children’s books.
The fair was not without controversy, however, with four writers stepping down for reasons that far-right editors were also in attendance. German writer and activist Jasmina Kuhnke, who was due to promote her first novel, Black Heart, decided to step down when she learned that far-right books were also being promoted at the fair. After its withdrawal, three other authors followed suit and the Anne Frank Education Center, a political education organization in Frankfurt, expressed its solidarity with Kuhnke.
When asked about it, Juergen Boos, director of the FBF, said: “As long as these do not violate the Basic Law, we will also allow all politically extremist exhibitors… I have a feeling that they are all very busy. with themselves right now. When I flip through the exhibition catalog, I don’t see anyone who strikes me in this specter.
Frankfurter Buchmesse and the German Association of Publishers and Booksellers issued a joint statement expressing regret over the withdrawals, asserting that the voices of authors who speak out against racism and in favor of diversity, and who have decided not to not show up at the fair, we will miss it. The press release added that “freedom of expression and publication are, for us, of the utmost importance. They are the basis for engaging in free trade in our democracy and for having a book fair for all.
While India, Bangladesh and many other countries had set up large national booths to promote their publishers and authors, Pakistan was conspicuous by its absence.
India was the guest of honor of the FBF a few years ago and made an impression with its leading authors (apart from Arundhati Roy!) And its program of readings, music, dance, theater, film screenings and exhibitions, organized not only at the FBF, but all over Germany.
I attended the FBF that year and was convinced that Pakistan should be the guest of honor at a future event. I spoke to the FBF authorities and was told that it was only possible if the Pakistani government offered to send authors, illustrators, designers, poets, publishers, artists and performers, and to organize cultural and literary events.
We have many academics, poets and writers living in Germany who could help and our government – and indeed our Ambassador to Germany – needs to take this issue forward and approach the organizers. Being the guest of honor of the FBF is a great opportunity to bring our literature, our society and our culture to the forefront of the international scene and to promote a beautiful image of Pakistan.
We already have a base with the Allama Iqbal Professional Fellowship at the Institute of South Asia, University of Heidelberg which is supported by the Government of Pakistan. Pakistan should take advantage of its special relationship with Germany. Iqbal lived in Heidelberg for six months to learn German for his doctoral thesis. His poem, ‘Ek Sham Darya-i-Neckar Heidelberg Ke Kinaray Per’ [An Evening on the Banks of the River Neckar in Heidelberg], was written there. A street bears his name and a German inscription of the poem is mounted in a city park. As a literary and university center, Heidelberg had a great influence on Iqbal, and in one of his letters he called his stay there a “beautiful dream”.
Our other strong link is Annemarie Schimmel, the great German orientalist scholar who gave her name to an avenue in Lahore.
It is unfortunate that while the governments of India, Bangladesh and many other countries set up large national booths to promote their publishers and authors at FBF 2021, Pakistan was conspicuous in its absence. Of course, being the guest of honor is a major commitment – the invited country must send at least 50 authors and organize hundreds of cultural events in Germany before, during and after the fair – but having a national stand is relatively simple and affordable. for a government. Frankfurt is such a powerful platform for international networking and for the promotion of our heritage that it is essential to have a strong Pakistani presence there every year.
In the past, whenever I visited other book fairs, such as the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the London Book Fair, the Paris Book Fair, the Sharjah Book Fairs and Abu Dhabi, I again saw that Pakistan was officially absent, with only a few editors. who came independently. The only time I saw a good Pakistani presence was at the Sharjah Book Fair in 2012, when Pakistan was luckily the guest country and our publishers were supported by the Sharjah Book Authority.
International book fairs are ideal platforms for cultural diplomacy and we must harness them by fully participating and organizing large-scale events with a myriad of highlights that would draw crowds. We need to send a strong signal through our diverse and talented writers, performers and artists, and organize engaging programs to show our rich literary and cultural heritage to the educated and powerful audiences who flock to the international book fairs.
The writer is the Managing Director of Lightstone Publishers. She is the recipient of an OBE from the British government and a Sitara-i-Imtiaz from the Pakistani government.
she tweets @ameenasaiyid
Posted in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 28, 2021