World Book Capital 2019 opens in Sharjah, handover from Athens

Sharjah, UAE 23 April 2019

Libraries on the beach, a celebration of reading through cricket, and spectacular outdoor performances will be part of a year-long programme in Sharjah, as it becomes the 19th UNESCO World Book Capital.   

Sharjah, UAE, is the first city in the Gulf region to hold the title, and the third in the Arab world after Beirut and Alexandria. The current UNESCO World Book Capital is Athens.

A colourful line-up of book-related events across the emirate will engage book-lovers of all age groups, interests and cultural backgrounds. Highlights include:


A spectacular outdoor opening ceremony sets the tone for the year, celebrating the famous Sheherazade story in a grand amphitheatre production, 1001 Nights: The Last Chapter. Developed by a team of over 500 theatre artists and acrobats, innovators, technologists and storytellers from over 25 nationalities, the show at Al Majaz Amphitheatre is thought to be the biggest of its kind. The lead creative team have worked on several Olympic ceremonies, including London, Beijing and Sochi (23 April).

Sharjah’s unique cycle of festivals will link to World Book Capital themes, including:

Sharjah International Storytelling Festival. International narrators of heritage and popular oral cultures meet and perform at this long-standing forum (26-28 September 2019).

In partnership with the Department of Culture, Sharjah World Book Capital will host the Sharjah Desert Theatre Festival. Outdoor performances, practical seminars, art exhibitions and folklore activities all inspired by the evocative setting of the desert (12-16 December).

The Islamic Arts Festival invites visitors to explore Islamic arts and their expressive depth as a universal artistic language. The event will host international art in special exhibitions at the Sharjah Art Museum. It will feature a variety of artistic shows, interactive events, seminars, specialised films and workshops (11 December 2019 – 21 January 2020).

The Sharjah Poetry Festival will host poets from the United Arab Emirates and the Arab world. It aims to enrich the cultural arena with poetry for this generation and care for the poet heritage of the region (5-10 January 2020).

Sharjah Light Festival is one of the city’s most anticipated events, a beautiful annual celebration taking in the most famous architectural landmarks in Sharjah for 10 days (5-15 February 2020).

The Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial celebrates the art of Arabic calligraphy, an art that is central to Arabic literary heritage. Visitors can expect a host of interactive activities and exhibitions (1 April – 1 May).

A year-round focus on Children’s Literature includes:

Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, which encourages learning and self-education from a young age. The festival hosts over 134 exhibitors specialized in children’s literature; attracts more than 306,000 visitors; and entertains then with 2600 educational and fun-filled activities fit for all ages (17 – 27 April 2020).

Book Fairs include:

Sharjah International Book Fair, the world’s third largest book fair. An 11-day annual event that celebrates knowledge, promotes reading and brings book lovers closer to famous Arab and international authors. Its comprehensive cultural programme serves students, researchers and academics, publishers, literary agents, leading intellectuals, and librarians. The fair also serves as a vibrant hub of literary events for children and families, and showcases talented artists, filmmakers, poets and playwrights on its well-established platforms (30 October – 9 November).

Focal Point Art Book Fair, aims to present a broad perspective on art publishing, focusing on independent and alternative publishing practices; which will be presented alongside a select number of the more established larger publishing houses. An initiative of Sharjah Art Foundation (8-10 November 2019).

Special initiatives will involve all the communities of Sharjah:

The Mobile Beach Library aims to make books easily accessible and promote reading as a fun pastime. Mobile libraries will be installed across all Sharjah’s beaches and books will be free to borrow. The collection will be multilingual, have a wide range of genres for Sharjah’s rich mix of peoples, including those from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines, and from the minority Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese communities.

The Reading Caravan will travel from place to place, setting up a Bedouin tent which will be transformed into a library wherever it goes.

Special celebrations of reading through cricket and Bollywood will take place, with more details to be announced.

Special Exhibitions include:

Hans Christian Andersen, at Sharjah Art Museum, with displays celebrating the Danish writer’s legacy, and accompanying workshops for children and adults (26 February – 25 April).

Evolution of Arabic Calligraphy. On display at Sharjah’s Calligraphy Museum are beautiful paintings with written texts, creative letters and forms made by some of the world greatest calligraphers (7 July – 15 October 2019).

Further initiatives to developing the publishing industries include:

World Creativity and Innovation Day, which aims to raise awareness of the role of creativity and innovation in solving problems -this will include creative workshops and seminars dedicated to developing artists, publishing houses and writers’ skills (21 April 2020).

The Inclusive and Accessible Books Conference, where a series of community initiatives will be launched to encourage the entities engaged in the book industry to facilitate access to books for persons with disabilities, with a range of educational sessions, practical workshops and innovation seminars (25-26 March).

‘Warsha’ children’s publishing workshop, a trailblazing initiative by the Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature that aims to support and inspire a new generation of writers, illustrators, publishers, and app developers who are passionate about creating Arabic books and apps for children and young adults. This innovative programme will offer workshops in illustration, writing, and publishing with the aim of building the capacities of young individuals in the creation of books that are both rooted in local Arabic culture and that meet international standards.

A large number of Arab and international creative novelists, poets and playwrights will be participating in the celebrations over the year, under six guiding principles: Unifying Communities, Fostering Knowledge, Honouring Heritage, Empowering Children and Youth, Raising Awareness, and Developing Publishing Industries.

The committee at UNESCO named Sharjah the World Book Capital 2019 in appreciation of the innovative, comprehensive and inclusive nature of Sharjah’s reading and publishing programmes, including creative proposals to engage the many communities and nationalities living there.

Sharjah has become well-known in the world of publishing for its International Book Fair, one of the three largest book fairs in the world, now entering its 38th edition. The city’s investment in publishing has grown significantly with the creation in 2017 of Sharjah Publishing City, a UAE-based free zone exclusively for the publishing and printing industries. Publishing City was created as a response to the growing need for a specialized publishing hub in the Arab region, and in the space of a year publishers from 17 countries have started operating out of the 40,000 sq metre facility, which also houses the Emirates Publishers Association.

Many of the events in Sharjah World Book Capital will focus on children’s books and reading, including the annual Sharjah Childrens Reading Festival, which now attracts over 300,000 visitors every year. Sharjah is home to a growing number of childrens publishers, including Kalimat, the UAE’s first publishing house dedicated solely to publishing Arabic children’s books targeting children. In the last 2 years, its associated charity the Kalimat Foundation has built partnerships in Sweden and Germany in order to provide immigrant children with Arabic books and help them preserve their first language.

Bodour Al Qasimi, Head of the Advisory Committee of Sharjah World Book Capital 2019, and Vice President of the International Publishers Association (IPA) said: “Sharjah World Book Capital opens an exciting new chapter in Sharjah’s pioneering achievements and efforts to host leading cultural events and initiatives locally, regionally and globally. The event offers a gateway to all 200 nationalities residing in the UAE to explore various sources of knowledge and culture. It will also be a unique platform for intellectuals, authors, publishers and artists to showcase their creativity and contribute to highlighting the irreplaceable value of books in promoting dialogue and empathy among civilisations around the world.”

On announcing Sharjah as World Book Capital 2019, the then Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said: “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 marginalized populations, as a motor for social inclusion, creativity and dialogue”

Sharjah’s year as UNESCO World Book Capital runs from 23 April 2019 until 22 April 2020, the United Nations World Book and Copyright Day, under the theme of ‘Open books, open minds’. Sharjah will then hand over to Kuala Lumpur.


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