The Frankfurt Book Fair officially opened yesterday, drawing a sizable amount of attendees, mostly from Europe, and offering a mix of in-person and online programming. Canada is the focal country.
The fair was once again not without some controversy. As reported by Börsenblatt, early this week, Jasmina Kuhnke, a Black author who was scheduled to present her debut novel, Schwarzes Herz (Black Heart), on a fair stage, criticized the fair for allowing extreme right-wing publishers to exhibit, a complaint that has been made by others in previous years. She singled out Jungeuropa, whose publisher has called for Kunhke to be deported from Germany. Fearing for her safety, Kuhnke decided not to attend the fair, and other authors supporting her say they won't appear at the fair.
In response, the fair and the Börsenverein (the German book trade association) issued a statement saying they "regret that individual authors have decided not to appear at Frankfurter Buchmesse. Their voices against racism and in support of diversity will be missed at the book fair." But they also reaffirmed their position that "freedom of expression and publication are, for us, paramount. They are the basis for engaging in a free exchange in our democracy and for having a book fair at all. [We] are committed to promoting freedom of speech and freedom of the press worldwide. That is why it is also clear for us that publishers who operate within the law can exhibit at the book fair, even if we do not share their views. In our constitutional democracy, banning publishing houses or their publications is the role of the courts and not individual actors like Frankfurter Buchmesse."
The statement added that "ensuring the safety of participants at the book fair is our top priority" and that it has "a comprehensive security plan that makes it possible for everyone to visit the fair safely."
The New Zealand book industry is expressing shock in the wake of Friday's announcement that the government's Ministry for Culture and Heritage is giving a NZ$500,000 (about US$360,000) grant to recommendations website Narrative Muse to "help Aotearoa audiences access books."
The site "presents itself as a matchmaker, a kind of Tinder app that seeks to put together people with the books they'd like to read. It's been floating around since 2016 and is headed by U.S.-born Brough Johnson," ReadingRoom reported, adding that Narrative Muse has been criticized for "its linking of recommended books to Amazon and iTunes" and lack of commitment to New Zealand writing.
"I'm aghast," said author Paula Morris, who sits on numerous boards in New Zealand literature, including the Māori Literature Trust and the New Zealand Book Awards Trust. "I looked at the site, because I'd never heard of it, and it's essentially what Amazon is doing already, which is if you like this you'll like this as well. Why is half a million dollars going into that?"
"I didn't even know the website still existed," said Jenna Todd, a bookseller at Time Out in Auckland and board chair of Booksellers Aotearoa NZ. Although she had written a few reviews for Narrative Muse in 2016, she had no idea her name was still on its website. The site's use of Amazon was why she stepped back from her involvement.
"It was strange to hear of this thing that I hadn't thought of for five years which doesn't even seem to have been in the collective consciousness of books people that I talk to," Todd noted. "It's never been part of the conversation or ever been talked about. So when I heard the news, I was just like, 'Wow.' It was mind boggling."
In a statement, Booksellers Aotearoa NZ wrote, in part: "Prior to this funding announcement Booksellers Aotearoa had barely even thought about Narrative Muse and did not consider them to be a potential partner when we were drafting our Strategic Plan. Their current business model actually damages our membership....
"Therefore we call on the Ministry of Culture and Heritage to be transparent about the nature of this funding: what is the project, what are the intended results, how does it meet the various criteria outlined in the Te Urungi process (especially the requirement that it 'safeguard mātauranga Māori').
"We also call on Narrative Muse to share their understanding of how their mahi will contribute to the health of the literary, publishing and bookselling sector in Aotearoa. There are still too many unanswered questions.
"We are not averse to innovation or disruption, and welcome new ideas, but nothing we have heard so far gives us confidence that this is what is happening. If we see an opportunity to benefit our members by working with a 'new look' Narrative Muse we welcome the opportunity to do that."
The International Publishers Association has announced a shortlist for the IPA Prix Voltaire, which recognizes "exemplary courage in upholding the freedom to publish and in providing a platform, through print or digital media, for others to exercise their right to freedom of expression." The winner will be named at an award ceremony during the 35th Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara in Mexico at the end of November. The finalists are:
Dar Al Jadeed Publishing House/Lokman Slim (Lebanon)
Independent Belarusian Publishers (Belarus)
Mikado Publishing (Turkey)
Samir Mansour Bookshop for Publishing (Palestine)
Raul Figueroa Sarti (Guatemala)
Kristenn Einarsson, chair of the IPA's freedom to publish committee, said: "The publishers that we recognize with this shortlist deserve our international support and remind us why the freedom to publish is so valuable. These five exceptionally strong candidates have, and continue to, risk their freedom and lives to promote the freedom to publish and we salute them." --Robert Gray