The organizers of the 73rd edition of the Frankfurt Book Fair have all reason to be satisfied. Despite the ongoing pandemics and after last year’s digital version of the fair, they managed to send a meaningful message out into the world: thanks to massive and well managed hygienic measures, the professional and general public were able to meet live again and support the book culture.
Frankfurt Book Fair, held between 20 and 24 October, opened its gates with the motto Re:connect this year. Over the course of five days the exhibition center welcomed 36.000 visitors of professionals from 105 countries, and over 37.000 further book lovers. The book industry has already classified the event as having the largest direct attendance since the start of the pandemics. Was it a mere experiment or did it set a positive example for similar events?
The book fair managed to survive the critical year 2020 as it moved online. Empty exhibition halls, and the absence of viewers, meetings and cultural debates with the public as well as spontaneous book talks meant that the typical atmosphere and emotions were missing. 2020 proved that many of the book fair’s events could be held online; however, the joy stemming from personal encounters and the key role they play within the book sector proved irreplaceable. That is why euphoria was so palpable this year.
The organizers are evaluating the most recent edition and they are pleased with the relatively high attendance, far exceeding their expectations when we take into account the ongoing uncertainty around traveling. All five days of the book fair were full of high-quality program and events with world-known authors and personalities from the cultural sphere.
The exhibition center in Frankfurt was once again alive with thrilling discussions full of pressing social topics like racism, discrimination, gender, and freedom of speech or censorship. A debate about possible restrictions of admission and presentation of right-wing publishers at book fairs has been opened. More than 60 internationally acclaimed authors presented their most recent books on The Blue Sofa; there was Peter Wohlleben or Antje Rávic Strubel, winner of the German Book Prize 2021, to name a few. The well-known writer Michal Hvorecký represented Slovak authors. His novel Tahiti. Utópia, translated by Mirko Kraetsch came out in German in spring 2021. The author introduced the book in a brilliant interview with Thomas Böhm.
Selected book titles promoted by LIC – The Slovak Literary Center represented the Slovak literary scene in Frankfurt. The Slovak stand represented more than fifty Slovak publishing houses and their books and authors. The exhibited titles presented a current selection of original Slovak fiction, Anasoft Litera Award finalists, the newest books for children and YA, and a selection of professional literature, schoolbooks, dictionaries, encyclopedias and guidebooks. Books published abroad with the help of the grant system SLOLIA are traditionally an integral part of the presented Slovak literary portfolio.
LIC promotes Slovak literature abroad not only by exhibiting books but also by negotiating with foreign publishers. The Frankfurt Book Fair is a unique place for meeting not only local publishers, but also publishers from all around the world. Even though the presence of many was uncertain until the last minute due to the pandemics, the first three days of the fair were full of negotiations about the possibility of publishing Slovak books abroad. Several spontaneous talks and offers happened by chance, many with promising results. Interestingly, Slovak literature is beginning to be quite attractive in multiple countries. General visitors of the Slovak stand were mostly interested in children’s publications, thanks to attractive illustrations and design.
Book fairs are extraordinary places to meet – whether the meeting is planned in advance or spontaneous. You can bump into old acquaintances or colleagues you have not seen in years, and get to know valuable new contacts or popular personalities, even people whose name you recognize only from imprints. Translators of Slovak books published abroad play a very important role in the creative process. The translators into German Marie-Theres Cermann, Slávka Rude-Porubská and Ines Šebesta were present in Frankfurt. We are left with the hope that we will re:connect in Frankfurt again next year and that good books will keep on bringing people together.