“This is going to be the best book fair we’ve had,” says Trevor Naylor about the Tahrir Book Fair that opens on Thursday at the Tahrir campus of the American University in Cairo (AUC).
It certainly will be the biggest book fair AUC has ever organized, seeing that it takes its name from the site of the Egyptian revolution and tries to make up for the cancellation of the Cairo International Book Fair.
Walking through the grounds and gardens where the exhibition will be held, Naylor, associate director of sales, marketing and distribution at AUC Press, points out to his office at the AUC. As he now vouches through experience, it is a stone’s throw from Tahrir Square.
Given its proximity to recent events, the fair provides an opportunity to revisit the site of the revolution. And as fate would have it, the book fair will be coinciding with another reflective event that will take place on April 1 at the square, a “Save the Revolution” protest.
The AUC will also have big boots to fill. Naylor remembers setting up tables for the Cairo International Book Fair on January 24, the eve of the revolution. The cancellation of the fair slated to have opened on January 29 came as a disappointment to Egyptian and international booksellers. The AUC has decided to step in and host the event in honor of the “cultural and intellectual significance of the Cairo International Book Fair.”
Unlike previous years where former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak inaugurated the fair, this year the Tahrir fair will be opened by newly-appointed Minister of Culture Emad Abou Ghazi.
While a tent will be dedicated to Arabic book sellers such as Shorouk, and many local stores such as Kotob Khan, Diwan, Qirtasseyya, and Volume 1 will showcase books and stationery, many international booksellers will not be making a second trip back to Egypt this year.
Pathfinder, a press house with titles on revolutionary figures and times, and Rimal a Cypriot that publishes books on the Middle East will be among the international names present.
In response to the revolution, the AUC Press has also produced an anniversary calendar titled “Tahrir!” with pictures from around the square taken by AUC Bookstore Manager Dax Roque. The calendar begins in April 2010 and ends in March next year, commemorating the anniversary of recent historic events from the “Revolution Day” and “Friday of Anger” — Jan. 25 and 28 — to Mubarak’s resignation on Feb. 11 and the “Day of Victory” on Feb. 18.
The AUC Press will highlight its latest publication, Galal Amin’s “Egypt in the Era of Hosni Mubarak, 1981-2011.”Alongside books, Oum and Dounia’s selling memorabilia and Turath selling scarves will add to the festive atmosphere.
Open discussions will also be another attraction at the book fair where 15 authors will participate in a moderated discussion on outcomes of the revolution titled, “Egypt: To Where?” (March 31, Oriental Hall, 11 am). Another discussion on education and literature will take place on Sunday (Oriental Hall, 11-1pm), followed by a talk amongst booksellers and publishers (2pm-4pm).
Quite in keeping with the revolution an impromptu addition has been a Cairo Geeks Tweetup on Saturday, where tweeps will get together around the book fair (2:30 to 6:30 pm). The buzz will therefore simply be in the silent pleasures of reading and browsing but also in the open discussion around the fair. But there’s more.
Cultural events are sponsored daily by Sawy Culture Center, and a performance from the Azerbaijani embassy is to be expected.
Saturday will feature various arts and crafts activities alongside a children’s workshop in AUC Press’ pavilion area. The events will close with poetry reading, and musical entertainment from the Egyptian band Massar Egbari.
International authors and publishers of the former Cairo book fairs may be absent. Yet reading and shopping near the square, the Tahrir Book Fair is just one more opportunity to witness daily events break entrenched patterns, even as AUC breaks from the tradition of previous Cairo International Book Fairs. Egypt is still partaking in history being made, starting by picking up the pieces around Tahrir Square.
The Tahrir Book Fair will be held in the gardens and grounds of the AUC Tahrir Campus, open daily to the public from 10 am-6 pm from March 31 to April 3. Admission will be free of charge, with a valid photo ID.