Tunis International Book Fair – ‘To read is to live twice’
Tunis - “We read so that we live twice” was the slogan of the 33rd Tunis International Book Fair, which featured 784 publishers from more than 29 countries.
Hours after its March 24th opening, the fair was swarming with people of all ages, challenging the notion that reading is unpopular in Tunisia.
Visitors were greeted by a live recreation of Virgil’s mosaic, which depicts the Roman poet being attended to by Clio, the muse of history, and Melpomene, the muse of tragedy. The mosaic was the inspiration for the fair’s logo.
“The logo celebrates Tunisia’s history and rich cultural heritage,” said Chokri Mabkhout, Tunis International Book Fair director. “It is meant to remind people of the continuity of Tunisian knowledge and culture.”
“The choice of the slogan — ‘We read so that we live twice’ — reflects our belief in reading as a creative act that enables us to be born again with every new book, as we recapitulate with the authors about the themes, challenge their ideas or agree with them,” Mabkhout said.
He added: “We read to live twice because books help us dream and make us want to change our reality. We are a people who worship life and the love of life includes a bond with books. It is a call to deepen these ties and open our minds to the world.”
While the book fair is a tradition for Tunisian families, it is also a means for the government to highlight the region’s cultural heritage, said Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.
“Today we celebrate a group of the best creative minds of Tunisia,” Chahed said in an opening speech. “The book fair is a highly important cultural event in our country. It represents the openness of cultural exchange with other countries. It is also an event that expresses the concomitance of life and knowledge for Tunisians.”
“The edition’s slogan is an invitation to celebrate thought, knowledge and openness to the world,” said Chahed, who noted that the government had doubled funding allocated to purchase Tunisian books.
The Tunis International Book Fair offered visitors a rich and diverse cultural programme, featuring 30 panel discussions on literary works, ten poetry reading sessions and 49 debates with prominent thinkers and writers.
“The parallel cultural programme is a cultural and literary festival in itself,” Mabkhout said. “This year we had 80 guests from different countries and 170 Tunisian thinkers and writers are participating in the panels, which tackle sensitive issues of concern for Tunisians and Arabs.”
He pointed out that many activities paid tribute to writers and poets, including Tunisia’s Béchir Khraief, France’s Charles Baudelaire and Morocco’s Fatma Mernissi.
The fair honoured iconic literary and artistic figures from the Arab world, such as Tunisian novelists Jalila Hafsia and Hassan Nasr, Palestinian writer and film-maker Liana Badr, Egyptian critic Jaber Asfour and Moroccan poet and novelist Bensalem Hammich.
“This year’s edition also featured Lebanon as the guest of honour,” Mabkhout said. “No one can deny the role of Lebanese publishing houses in promoting Arab literature. Lebanon is also a host of Arab enlightenment and modern culture, which makes it a valuable choice for the committee.”
Tunisian Minister of Culture Mohamed Zine El Abidine said the fair’s budget had been tripled this year.
“What is important is that such an event would help place Tunisia back in a leadership position in the Arab World. It enables Tunisia to regain its place on the international cultural scene and reintroduce its cultural heritage, writers and books,” he said.
“Tripling the budget allows the fair to have new visions and ideas. The directing committee wanted to conceptualise the fair as a cultural festival of books. While the main pillar is the book, poetic and cinematic programmes are also highlighted.”
As part of its programme, the fair marked 50 years of Tunisian cinema by screening eight Tunisian films based on books.