Dispatches from Frankfurt Buchmesse, the world’s largest book fair

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An employee sets up the Bastei Lübbe stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 19.picture alliance / AFP / Getty Images

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Canada was the guest of honor at this year’s Frankfurt Buchmesse, the world’s largest book fair, where typically 7,000 publishers come together to sell and buy rights to everything the publishing world has to offer. to offer. This year – the 73rd edition of the show, which ended on Sunday – 2,000 companies from 80 countries exhibited, including more than 30 Canadian companies and eight authors. This was a different fair than the one originally envisioned for Canada’s debut as a guest in 2020, but it still ranks as one of the biggest cultural diplomacy missions that this country (and certainly the industry of l edition) has known. Here’s a look at the highs and lows of the FBM 2020-21 from a Canadian perspective:

The best

  • The Canadian Pavilion: After an endless number of pivots, FBM 2020-21 succeeded with swaying models of mountains, meadows, trees and oceans on audio and video from authors explaining their books and the country . Did I always understand what was going on with the weird trippy music or did I know why I kept having the same three authors on the virtual panels – nice to see you again, Guillaume Perrault – well, no. But it was the first virtual pavilion at the fair and I heard many guests talking about it.
  • Singers iskwē and Deantha Edmunds and hoop dancer Dallas Arcand presented a Canada different from that of Celine Dion and Bryan Adams. And while the big names did not come out in force, the country did not suffer from their absence. The Indigenous performances were electric and Governor General Mary Simon, who attended the fair, said it best: “For too long Indigenous voices, Indigenous stories have been silenced, ignored, forgotten. Canada has a responsibility to ensure that these voices are heard. We have a duty to listen to and learn from Indigenous voices. This is an important step on the road to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, a way to reconcile the pain of the past with the hope of the future. I am so proud to see Indigenous artists leading the way… and in the spotlight where they belong. “
  • Hear Margaret Atwood at the opening ceremony talk about Canada’s literary beginnings (she’s an international star, well known to German audiences, where many of her books have been translated), then move on to Vivek Shraya (a trans, queer , brun, a multidisciplinary Alberta artist) pointed out the extent of Canada and warned the Germans that they were about to be challenged with their ideas about the guest country.

The unexplained

  • I understand. We have French / English authors, and it is an international fair where intercultural panels are de rigueur. But having authors from two languages ​​on a panel and translating into a third (German) made some of the events painful. Worse still than seeing some authors just sitting there with no translation units halfway through, there were panels where the panelists not only didn’t know what others were doing, but also had no idea what was going on. was happening in the genre of their own country.

Margaret Atwood at the opening ceremony of the Frankfurt Book Fair in the Festhalle.picture alliance / AFP / Getty Images

The lame

  • Can’t we have a better tchotchke than maple syrup? The Olympics had these cool red mittens; surely the literary community could have found something – a pen, a notebook, a tuque? Although this may only be the reproach of a Canadian who already has enough maple syrup in her cupboards. The international guests seemed delighted.

The difficult

  • The logistics of navigation from the Festhalle, the pavilion and the Canadian publishers in the Hall 6. If you did not have direct contact with FBM 2020-21 or did not know who to contact for events, then you do not have any direct contact with FBM 2020-21. were out of luck.
  • Trying to find your way around the city for other Canadian arts events was also a no-go if you didn’t know who to ask for dates, times and locations.

The worst

Black writer Jasmina Kuhnke withdrew from the fair at the last minute after learning that far-right editors would be allowed to exhibit and one of the publisher’s booths would be near the stage where she was appeared. “There is no place for the Nazis next to me, which is why I will not be attending this year’s fair. I’m not talking to the Nazis. I don’t listen to the Nazis. I don’t read Nazi books, ”she wrote. His decision sparked a debate on freedom of expression. The official position of the fair was that if German law allowed publishers to operate, then their stands could not be banned on the grounds of the fair. But the specter of the fair’s decision and the political climate in Hungary, Poland and Russia made many Europeans talk. It also helped bring out more Canadian programming, which featured Indigenous and POC writers.

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