It was a great honor for the UAE when Sharjah was designated by UNESCO as the 2019 World Book Capital, in recognition of the city's determined and steadfast efforts in promoting books and literacy and elevating the cultural movement in the country. The Sharjah World Book Capital (SWBC) yearlong program under the theme "Open Books Open Minds" was inspired by the power of books to bridge gaps, dispel misconceptions and connect all people. The program, focused on inclusivity, targeted all members of the community including the large and diverse expatriate population, authors, publishers, and youth.
The activities implemented in 2019 were organized to achieve six main goals; raise more awareness about books and reading, foster an environment of knowledge, unify communities, honor the UAE's heritage, empower children and youth, and further develop the UAE's publishing industry. The various main events running throughout the year were implemented by many key international and local players including 6 international organizations, 11 local government organizations, 12 private organization, 3 NGOs and 5 booksellers and publishers.
SWBC provided the UAE community with a unique year full of literary celebrations and delights, which truly delivered on the values of cultural diversity. Some of the major accomplishments of SWBC included the following:
* As part of the year long program, SWBC organized inclusive activities targeting all social layers of society including low-income workers through 50 neighbourhood libraries filled with books in Urdu, English and Tagalog (the native languages of the communities); as well as events ranging from poetry readings, singing and storytelling.
* As part of the celebration, SWBC collaborated with Dubai Opera's adaptation of popular theatre performances (including 'Broken Wings', 'Le Petit Prince', and 'The Kite Runner'). The SWBC team distributed free books of the plays with the aim of fostering knowledge by encouraging attendees to relive the best moments at home by reading the books.
* Sharjah Used Books Fair, under the theme "Give Your Book A New Life", displayed over 10,000 books to provide access to books at affordable prices and empower readers from every socioeconomic background.
* The Kan Yama Kan (Once Upon Time) Book Donation Campaign was launched, enabling the sharing of books with children around the world, especially those in conflict or crisis situations.
* Sharjah Children's Reading Festival and the Sharjah International Film Festival for Youth and Children provided children with beautiful opportunities to learn about other cultures and perspectives.
* Many key annual events were integrated to celebrate SWBC and its themes and they include the 38th Sharjah International Book Fair, 19th edition of the Sharjah International Narrator Festival, and the 4th edition of the Silent Book Exhibition at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
* The 38th Sharjah International Book Fair included a series of panels in its Publishing Conference, held alongside the fair, which included a session on freedom to publish focusing on the wider cultural issues across the globe and with particular emphasis on publishing industries within Arab countries.
* Many book talks were held to exchange ideas, with diverse authors (such as chefs, poets and novelists) and audiences.
* Many workshops were held, which included a writing retreat for young and professional writers, a translation workshop for professionals, an Accessible Publishing Workshop to teach publishers best practices for delivering accessible content to people who are blind or otherwise print disabled, and activities for librarians.
* The dialogue was extended beyond Sharjah through SWBC's participation in global initiatives, activities and conversations at international book fairs including London Book Fair 2019, Turin International Book Fair 2019, Moscow Book Fair 2019 and LIBER International Book Fair - Madrid 2019.
* Establishing the House of Wisdom, a library and cultural center that blends traditional and digital sources of knowledge, interactive learning and contemporary pedagogy. The House of Wisdom Library will be a cultural center where the community can gather to enjoy cultural and reading activities while exploring different sources of knowledge and information.
* In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, SWBC partnered with audiobook platform Kitab Sawti to offer a free 3-month membership to 5,000 people around the world. Further, it donated 1,500 books to the Dubai Health Authority book hamper project which aimed to boost morale of quarantined patients and the front-liners helping them (doctors and staff).
The program of Sharjah World Book Capital 2019 and its focus on inclusivity served to strengthen, open and share its culture of reading beyond the UAE and throughout the world. It provided myriad opportunities for artists including poets, novelists, calligraphers, translators, among others, to gain exposure, exchange experience, engage in dialogue, and to refine their skills. It further served to empower and strengthen the publishing industry in Sharjah and the UAE.