Rethinking the Zimbabwe International Book Fair

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Features Writer
ONE of the dominant conversations, especially over recent years, has been around the future of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF).
The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with a fire that gutted one of the main gazebo structures of the Book Fair in the Harare Gardens in June last year compounded uncertainty over the event.
Launched in 1983, the Zimbabwe International Book Fair was established, among other objectives, to create a platform for selling books, buying publishing, translation and distribution rights, promote intercultural exchange in the field of literature on an international level, and scout for African literary talent.
While the world is coming to terms with the reality of, and learning to live with the pandemic, work on reconstructing the gazebo is still to start.
However, part of the answer to the fate of the Book Fair, came in the lessons from last month’s (March) Bologna Book Fair in Italy, which attracted 30 456 people from all over the world, proving there is scope for developing African reading culture beyond the classroom.
Zimbabwean poet, singer, songwriter, storyteller and writer, Chirikure Chirikure was among the participants at the Bologna Book Fair at the invitation of the International Publishers’ Association (IPA).
Chirikure was participating as a representative of the Nemashakwe Community Library and Information Resource Centre, a project he is spearheading in Gutu rural area. The centre is a community empowerment project basing on books, computers, borehole for water and solar system to power the centre in order to serve the community better.
The centre is training school leavers to run and manage the rural library scheme.
Among the emerging lessons from the Bologna Book Fair is that book fairs are very much alive and that Africa is “an extraordinary reservoir of potential new readers, ideas and creativity in the publishing industry, in particular for children and young people”.
Earlier, the 40th edition of Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) had proved a runaway success, attracting top authors, leading celebrities, and publishers and book-lovers from around the world. SIBF 2021 became the largest book fair held this year anywhere in the world, in terms of buying and selling of rights and hosting the largest number of publishers and literary agents networking in one place.
Chirikure and the chair of the Zimbabwe Book Publishers’ Association, Masimba Madondo, attended the SIBF.
However, the Bologna Book Fair had a special focus on Africa and 22 African countries and 43 industry professionals from the continent participated.
The spotlight on Africa programme was developed in partnership with the International Publishers’ Association (IPA), which manages the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund, and with the support and collaboration of the Italian Trade Agency and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs International Co-operation.
The exhibition area dedicated to Africa brought together publishing houses from the continent, together with a series of panel discussions dedicated to the African publishing scene and reading culture.
Alongside the panel discussions was an exhibition of selected books published recently by African publishers – dubbed the Africa Books Showcase, which presented the best of African publishing to the international publishing community.
Describing the site of the Bologna Book Fair as “massive”, Chirikure said the primary focus was business, where appointments are made well in advance, people are negotiating rights, showcasing their books securing translation rights and agreements on publishing were signed.
“The first two days are strictly for business, with publishers selling rights. Each hall has discussion corners for translators, illustrators, authors made up of up to 50 people,” he explained.
“I had people trying to follow up on the situation in Zimbabwe, but the greatest take-away for Zimbabwe was to get back to the original concept of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, which was to have a trade fair of books, where the first few days were set aside for business, buying rights for publishing and distribution.”
Chirikure believes the demise of other book fairs in the region make it imperative for stakeholders in Zimbabwe to get together and brainstorm on the future of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in order to breathe new life into the once vibrant event.

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