The 22nd annual Abu Dhabi International Book Fair returns to the capital on Wednesday. Organised by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, the sprawling six-day event will run at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
International book lovers are in for a treat with more than 900 exhibitors showcasing titles from the Middle East and Europe to South America. Acclaimed authors will also appear on panel sessions to discuss their latest works and current trends sweeping the publishing industry. We speak to the fair's director and three visiting authors about what this annual literary event holds in store for visitors.
The director: Jumaa Abdulla Al Qubaisi
The balance between consolidation and staying abreast of industry trends; that's the key to the longevity of the book fair, according to Jumaa Al Qubaisi, director of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
Speaking at a press conference last week to launch the event formally, Al Qubaisi explained the book fair had gone through many changes over the past two decades; moving from being strictly an industry-only affair to being a family day out.
This year, the fair introduces a slew of new initiatives to bring authors and readers together, such as autograph (Tawqee) sessions and the Creativity Corner where families can receive tips from authors and exhibitors regarding reading and writing practices. The Children's Corner will also have programmes dedicated to children with special needs.
The fair will continue to accommodate electronic book publishers, a move that, when instigated years ago, caused an uproar from some exhibitors, who viewed the addition as a threat to their trade.
Al Qubaisi is unapologetic, stating that the Arabic publishing world needs to come to grips with the emerging technology.
"They must realise that the presence of an area like this is a necessity and not just a luxury," he says. "Especially in the growing space that this type of publishing occupies and its ability to meet the needs of different segments of society for culture, education and entertainment."
The poet: Adel Khozan
For Adel Khozan, the book fair is more than just a literary event.
The Dubai poet, journalist and broadcaster views the gathering as a "yearly marriage" for local writers.
Instead of focusing on cramming as many book sales in the six days, Khozan says most local writers use the fair as an annual meeting point to discuss their progress.
"It's not about how many books people buy," he explains. "It's our chance to meet each other and collectively show the people our voice and our culture."
As well as publishing three poetry collections, Khozan wrote history books on visual arts in the Emirates and another on the country's rich theatre tradition. Recently, his poetry anthology Nothing After Laughter was translated into German. He credits the translation to a movement initiated by the UAE Government in the past five years to shed light on local authors and their works.
Khozan says the UAE literary scene is rapidly expanding as more writers are penning modern tales and poetry.
"There are good novels and short stories out there," he says. "There is also a growth in what I call 'social writers', who are using different things like stories and poetry and mix it all together to speak about today's topics and issues."
Khozan says translations of such works can play a major role in giving expatriates insight to Emirati culture. He points to his 2010 book of reflections, Maskan Al Hakeem (The House of the Wise Man), as an example.
"It is really my dream to have this book published in English. It has poetry, observations and personal prayers - it really gives you an insight about what I am thinking and feeling," he says. "We should do more to publish our local books in English. It is through our literature that people will know us deeply from the inside."
One author looking forward to meeting her readers is Taghreed Najjaar.
The Jordanian's panel sessions promise to be the most popular, with a fan base ranging from children to adults.
The reason is the 46 children's books Najjar has published over three decades. With a large number of books part of Arabic school curriculums across the region, the author has played a major role in the childhood of many across the Arab world.
Despite the language differences, Najjaar says children's books often deal with universal themes.
"I think from the ages of five to seven, we can all relate to the stories because children at that age have a lot in common, except for the setting of the books," she says. "But as the children grow, there is this regional thing that is represented in the book. But this does not mean that it can't be universal. The beautiful thing about books is that they introduce different cultures for children if presented in an interested way."
Najjaar points to the future translation of one of her books into Swedish as a case in point.
"The book is about Ramadan and it will be read in a place where they don't have it there," she says. "But it is a fun book. It's not just about information, there is adventure and something magical about it."
The travel writer: Tim Mackintosh-Smith
One writer making the short hop is the acclaimed British travel writer Tim Mackintosh-Smith. The reason for the quick journey is that the Yemeni capital Sanaa has been his home for nearly 30 years.
It is from this base that the Arabist and travel author wrote his award-winning Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land and the best-selling Travels with a Tangerine, a book that retraces the journey of the 14th-century Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta.
Mackintosh-Smith's sessions will focus on travel writing, a genre whose lustre has faded so much that some critics describe it as "dead".
While he won't go as far as declaring the genre terminal, Mackintosh-Smith says the popularity of guide books such as Lonely Planet and the internet could have some readers viewing travel tales as an indulgence rather than a necessity.
However, Mackintosh-Smith contends that it is only through travel writing that readers can come away with a real sense of the country and its people.
"It is not about conveying information," he says. "You want to talk about human condition. I know that sounds like a big thing but I think if you have a good subject like Ibn Battuta, you can talk a lot about how we see others. By looking at how we met people from other cultures and religions we can draw big pictures from this as opposed to saying he went here and did that."
Mackintosh-Smith realised the depth of travel literature in 2007 when shooting a documentary on Ibn Battuta for the BBC. He describes the television footage of his encounter with the 14th-century manuscript of the explorer's journey at the National Library of France as failing to capture the vastness of the moment.
"For me, turning the pages of this thing was like a sacred object - it was like coming face to face with a saint," he explains.
"That couldn't come across on television. We tried, but we just couldn't. But that came across much better in writing the book, I think."