The Frankfurt Book Fair has come under fire after they sliced an awards ceremony for a renowned Palestinian writer to make room for “more Israeli voices.”
Adania Shibli was due to receive the LiBeraturpreis literature prize at the Frankfurt International Book Fair on Friday. It was for the German translation of her novel Minor Detail.
Palestine-born novelist and essayist Adania Shibli, who divides her time between Berlin and Jerusalem, was due on 20 October to be awarded the 2023 LiBeraturpreis, an annual prize given to female writers from Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Arab world.
On Friday, however, the LitProm association that hands out the prize announced it would postpone the award ceremony “due to the war started by Hamas, under which millions of people in Israel and Palestine are suffering”. Juergen Boos, the Frankfurt Book Fair’s director, said in a statement that the organisation strongly condemned “Hamas’s barbaric terror against Israel,” adding, “Our thoughts are with the victims, their relatives and all the people suffering from this war.”
In the statement, Mr. Boos said that organisers had “spontaneously decided to create additional stage moments for Israeli voices” at the fair.
In its original announcement, LitProm said it had taken the step to postpone the award as a “joint decision” with the author. But Shibli’s literary agency has stated that the decision was not made with her consent and that if the ceremony had been held she would have taken the opportunity to reflect on the role of literature in these cruel and painful times.
In response, The Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) and the Emirates Publishers Association (EPA) on Saturday decided to withdraw from the Frankfurt Book Fair, scheduled to be held from October 18 to 22 at the Frankfurt Messe. Sharjah Book Authority said in an online statement: “Given the recent announcement by the organisers of the Frankfurt Book Fair, we have decided to withdraw our participation this year.
“We champion the role of culture and books to encourage dialogue and understanding between people. We believe that this role is more important than ever.”
Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, chairwoman of the Sharjah Book Authority, shared the statement on LinkedIn with her own comment.
“I strongly believe in the fundamental rights of civilians worldwide to live in safety, free from the dangers of armed conflict,” she said. “In times of crisis and conflict, I strongly advocate for the role of books, culture, authors, book fairs, intellectuals, and artists in promoting unity, de-escalating tensions, and making diverse voices heard.
“By doing so, we can improve the prospects for peace and harmony.”
The Emirates Publishers Association, which has offices in the authority’s headquarters, released a similar statement confirming it will not attend.
The Arab Publishers’ Association in Egypt, a non-profit organisation that represents more than 1,000 regional publishers, has also withdrawn.
An open letter, signed by more than 350 authors including the Irish novelist Colm Tóibín, the American-Libyan Pulitzer winner Hisham Matar, the British-Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie and the British historian William Dalrymple, admonishes the organisers of the Frankfurt book fair, the world’s largest trade fair of its kind, saying it has “a responsibility to be creating spaces for Palestinian writers to share their thoughts, feelings, reflections on literature through these terrible, cruel times, not shutting them down”.
Shibli’s novel, published in English in 2020 as Minor Detail, was hailed by LitProm as a “rigorously composed work of art that tells of the power of borders and what violent conflicts do to and with people”.
The novel, which was also nominated in the US for the National Book Awards as well as the International Book Awards, juxtaposes the true story of the 1949 rape and murder of a Bedouin girl at the hands of an Israeli army unit with the fictional story of a female journalist investigating the crime in Ramallah decades later.
The novel has proven particularly controversial in Germany, where the journalist Ulrich Noller left the LiBeraturpreis jury this summer in protest over the decision to honour the book.