JEDDAH, 11 January 2007 — The second Riyadh International Book Fair has been scheduled to take place from Feb. 27 to March 9, with organizers expecting about 500 publishing houses from the Arab world to attend.
“We are going to announce the schedule for the literary events in the coming week,” said Deputy Minister of Cultural Affairs Abdul Aziz Al-Subayyil. “We don’t want to announce names and cancel them later if they could not make it at the times that are already fixed.”
This year’s fair will for the first time be organized wholly by the Ministry of Culture and Information. The ministry must approve the books being presented at the fair. Last year’s fair was organized by the Ministry of Higher Education.
The Riyadh fair this year is not scheduled to coincide with other international book fairs abroad. Many say this is a plus because it means no last-minute cancellations will occur as in the past at Jeddah’s book fair.
“We are currently working with the Ministry of Higher Education at a couple of our organizational committees to learn from their past experience,” said Al-Subayyil.
The ministry has yet to announce details about the fair’s location. It will be posted at the fair’s website: www.riyadhbookfair.org. Details including which days will be reserved for families only should be announced soon.
Like last year’s book fair, peripheral events, including lectures and readings, will take place.
Last year’s book fair in Riyadh was considered a success because Saudi writers and intellectuals were invited at the ministry’s expense from all parts of the Kingdom. Around 200 Saudi writers and academics of both sexes attended the 10-day event.
For the first time last year, women writers were allowed to attend book-signing ceremonies.
Poet Fawziya Abu Khaled and writer Alaa Al-Hathloul were the first Saudi women to receive that privilege, but some men identifying themselves as members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice shouted down the women with invectives. They were accused of being immoral for not covering their faces, even though they were modestly dressed, wearing hijab, and signing books for an audience of female fans. There were several other similar incidences at the fair.
Al-Subayyil expressed hope that the verbal clashes between conservatives on one side and intellectuals and book fans on the other wouldn’t take place this time. “We hope things will go well... The fair is open to all Saudis,” he added.
Despite the cultural clashes that occurred at the fair, it was the first high-profile opportunity for Saudis to purchase books that were previously unavailable in the Kingdom. In the past they would have had to casually carry books, or even smuggle them, into the country. In the past, book fairs have been an opportunity to buy titles which were not available at bookstores.
Al-Subayyil said the interest from Arab and foreign publishing houses is exceeding the fair’s current capacity to handle them.