Snapshot for 3 May 2019

Snapshot for 3 May 2019

Two horses on opposite sides of the world made book industry appearances in recent days.  Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates celebrated the start of its tenure as UNESCO World Book Capital with a spectacular staging of a ‘sequel’ to the Arabian classic ‘1001 Nights’ which featured dancers, acrobats, aerialists, a 51-piece symphony orchestra, a ship wreck, two trampolines and yes, a live horse.  The stallion cantered in from stage right, seemed to acknowledge the VIP audience with a raising of its head, and happily trotted off stage left.

Slightly less dramatic, though perhaps riskier in terms of in-store displays, was the visit by ‘Dusty’, a Rocky Mountain Horse, who visited Scout & Morgan booksellers in Cambridge, Minneapolis as part of Independent Bookstore Day and strolled perilously close to the shelves.  Local author TJ Akers has written Dusty’s Adventures which is self-published by Dusty’s owner.  It isn’t clear how many – any? – horses have been inside a bookshop before, but the pictures online are a delight.  Dusty’s visit helped a mood of celebration among US indies which saw 580 stores participating in Independent Bookstore Day, up from 507 last year.

Much more will be heard from Sharjah too, since the emirate is to be Market Focus at The London Book Fair next year giving wide exposure to Emirati authors and Emirati culture.  Among initiatives already announced is a writer in residence exchange programme, organised by The London Book Fair, the Sharjah Book Authority and the British Council.  Next year will be doubly special for the emirate too, since it also marks the 40th anniversary of the Sharjah International Book Fair.

Diversity and inclusivity continue to set the agenda on both sides of the Atlantic.  Here, Comma Press, the Northern Fiction Alliance and The Bks Agency organised the inaugural ‘Get a Job in Publishing’ Conference at Manchester Metropolitan University.  This was aimed at attracting more diverse candidates to the industry and tackling the geographic hold of London.

Hachette CEO David Shelley has already acknowledged the lack of representation at the publisher and says it aims to recruit more broadly, and to have at least one BAME candidate on interview shortlists.

In New York, two industry bodies – People of Colour in Publishing (POCinPub) and We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) – held a Town Hall meeting at which POCinPub talked about its mentorship programme that has connected more than 20 veteran editors with junior professionals and that will run until June.  WNDB said that it would continue to engage with publishers to expand diversity in their publishing programmes.  WNDB executive director Nicole Johnson said: “It’s still special when kids get a book with a character in it who looks like them.”

In Washington, white supremacists disturbed a reading at indie Politics and Prose in Washington DC by Jonathan Metzl, author of Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing American’s Heartland (Basic Books).  The ugly incident coincided with – and arguably underlined the need for – the first National Antiracist Book Festival, which took place at Washington DC’s American University.  The festival is the brainchild of Ibram Kendi, director of the university’s Antiracist Research and Policy Centre who won the 2016 National Book Award for Stamped from the Beginning: a Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.

Thanks to Frances Gurry, director-general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the industry now has a new, contradictory sounding phrase: ‘regulatory competition’, meaning competition between regulatory regimes.  For example, Gurry told the Bookseller that if the EU has legislation like General Data Protection Regulation, “because Europe is such a big market, it effectively becomes the law for the world”.  He suggests that large bodies or countries – Europe, the US, China – are able, “by being the first mover, to make the international rule”.  He wonders whether Europe’s Copyright Directive will create “an international rule de facto.  It’s not a legal rule internationally, but will it create best practice that others will follow?”.

There has been much sadness at the death of 29-year-old Faber author Lyra McKee who was killed while observing rioting in Londonderry.  Her publisher at Faber, Alex Bowler, described her as “a writer of exceptional gifts and passion, an inspiring, determined seeker of truth”.

There have also been tributes to the Australian poet Les Murray, who has died at the age of 80.  Published by Carcanet in the UK, Murray won many prizes including the TS Eliot Prize and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.  The UK poet Andrew McMillan said he was “one of the last of the great 20th century poets, perhaps the last, who … became a symbol of their nation.”

Murray was a famously large man who could also be very funny.  He once said: “Some are born to fatness; others have to get there.”


Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.

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