Zimbabwe International Book Fair honours national writers

July 2004 -

Starting at the end of July, Harare will be the site of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF). The book fair, whose 2004 theme is Voices: Dialogue Across Nations, has evolved to become the most important platform for African literature.

Zimbabwean literary celebrities, such as Dambudzo Marechera and Yvonne Vera, have become part of the international writer’s circuit, but have never been honoured at home. The 21st edition of the ZIBF changes all this. The high point of the annual book fair is the announcement of the 75 best Zimbabwean books ever, on 3 August.

This also signals the beginning of the actual book fair in Harare Gardens, a city park. Before the book fair’s formal opening, attendees will discuss current issues in the African book world during a three-day conference that starts on 31 July. The capstone will be the literary café on 7 August, in which writers and poets will present and discuss their works.

It is remarkable that the fair continues to grow every year in spite of the precarious situation in Zimbabwe. This year there are 287 stands representing publishers from Great Britain, the U.S, India, Nepal, the Caribbean and most African countries. Last year there were fewer than 200; in 2002 there were only 70. Still the crisis has affected the Zimbabwean book world. ‘Because of 500 per cent inflation, most people can no longer afford to buy books’, explains director Samuel Matsangaise. ‘People are just trying to survive. However, the book sector is fighting hard and is displaying enormous resilience in spite of the difficulties.’

The ZIBF is also attempting to reach the rest of the country with mini book fairs in Bulawayo, Mutare and other cities in Zimbabwe. ‘People outside Harare can hardly get books’, says Samuel Matsangaise. ‘Through the book fairs they are reminded that books are valuable. We want to keep this realisation alive.’

The ZIBF is supported by Hivos.