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25 October 2017

Frankfurt 2017: A lightning tour

It was hard to miss the fact that France was this year’s guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Newly-installed French President Emmanuel Macron joined recently-re-elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel to open the fair on Tuesday, stressing the importance of literature to the continent: “Without culture, there is no Europe.”

Almost 200 of France’s top authors followed Macron to the Fair, while in the market square opposite halls 3 and 4, a giant inflatable Asterix towered over proceedings. Extending the guest of honour invitation to the entire Francophone world, the fair also featured publishers from Haiti and the French-speaking countries of sub-Saharan Africa, including Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Senegal, and Madagascar, on a dedicated stand.

Also noticeable by their presence were some of the giants of the internet era. Google’s Arts and Culture division showed off the results of their partnerships with more than 1,500 museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions as part of the fair’s Arts+ exhibition, devoted to those who bring culture and technology together in interesting ways.

Meanwhile, volunteer Wikipedians had their own stand, from which they extended a welcoming hand to publishers, offering them meetings and training sessions on how best to use the site, from editing their authors’ pages to citing images correctly. With on-site Wikipedians also translating French entries into German and vice versa, the stand also illustrated the growing trend towards Franco-German partnership.

Academic publishers from around the world were as well-represented as ever, and the university press sector looked particularly healthy, with presses from six continents including those from the Philippines, Estonia, Qatar, Cameroon, and the Faroe Islands alongside the traditional power-houses of the US, UK, and China. In a sometimes challenging environment, university presses seem to be on the up, with the British contingent including two of the newest scholarly publishers, Bristol University Press, and UCL Press, hosts of next year’s second University Press Redux conference. (Cambridge will host the third, in 2020.)

As ever, this year’s fair ended with the by-now traditional ceremony in which next year’s guest of honour – in 2018, the Eastern European country of Georgia – inscribes some text from its literary history onto the fair’s Guest Scroll. The chosen text, written in the distinctive Georgian alphabet, and with the language’s individualistic syntax, is an excerpt from a twelfth-century epic poem, The Knight in the Panther Skin, and talks of the need for generosity. The UK had a hand in the handover too, as British-Georgian singer Katie Melua provided a musical accompaniment to the ceremony.

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