Book Fair notes: A feast of titles awaiting diners

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari
The writer
The writer

Last Thursday, the ground floor of the Accra International Conference Centre, where the 16th Ghana International Book Fair was held, was a feast of books, scores of stalls and a riot of publishers’ brands.

But, I couldn’t help wondering, would the exhibitors make good sales?

For me, most impressive of all, there were myriads of titles by Ghanaian authors, notably books published locally; and many of them not textbooks, but fiction, especially children’s books.    

I found that very encouraging. All is not lost then, I concluded. Despite the huge challenges, Ghanaians are still writing, Ghanaians are still publishing. But, again, are Ghanaians buying the books?

As any author who has tried to, or is trying to sell a book that is not a textbook, a book in the recreational reading category, it is a very daunting endeavour. And I have first-hand experience of how frustrating it is, having recently written and published a book.

(My book, Conversations With My Father, is in the category of recreational reading, but it can also be classified as a supplementary reader on Ghana’s recent history.)

The Book Fair, which opened last Thursday, August 30, under the theme was ‘Revitalising the Book Chain for National and International Cooperation’, ended on September 2.

Delivered by Richard A.B. Crabbe, an International Publishing Consultant, the Keynote Address was a formidable, incisive presentation. Mr Crabbe, a Ghanaian but now based in the U.S., is a former Chairman of the African Publishers Network and also a past president of the Ghana Book Publishers Association (GBPA), the main organizer of the fair, with support from the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) and other partners.   

One welcome surprise of the opening ceremony: it emerged that the Mayor of Accra, Mohammed Adjei Sowah, who chaired the event, is an ardent book-lover! In his closing remarks, Mr Sowah proposed that the Book Fair should become “an Accra event”. All citizens of Accra should want to be part of it, he emphasized. He promised to support the Fair to become indeed an Accra Event. We hope to see this AMA pledge fulfilled!

However, contrary to my expectation, the attendance in the auditorium of the Centre where the opening ceremony took place was poor. The big hall was not even half full; and children constituted a big part of the audience. I wondered if the children understood the speeches.

Perhaps the organizers will consider, in future, compelling all the exhibitors and their representatives to be part of the opening ceremony. The auditorium would have been full if so many exhibitors had not been outside, at their stalls.

Thus the auditorium presentations and the excellent Keynote Address by Mr Crabbe, could not make an impact on all the participants to enable them benefit from his knowledge and his dissection of the theme.     

Also, disappointingly, there was no woman at the high table of five men, although it is an established fact that women play a big role in the book chain, as well as encouraging children to read.

Some of the quotes from Mr Crabbe’s presentation which struck a chord with me included:

•    “A viable indigenous publishing industry is critical to the economic development of a country as its supports its progress in literacy, education and empowerment.”

•    “Writers are the ones who incubate ideas and express them in ways that cause us to pause, think, reflect and, hopefully, learn. Theirs is often a lonely task ….”

•    “Let us encourage more writers to document what is happening now in Ghana and Africa. Otherwise others will do so for us and our grandchildren …”  

•    “Publishers need to encourage writing in our local languages …”

•    “We need to pay close attention to gender portrayal, particularly in children’s books, because young minds shaped in childhood will be the minds that take decisions that impact society later in life.”

•    “No one-size fits all approach will work …. A holistic and country-centric approach is therefore required to address barriers across the book chain ….”

•    “How about harmonizing curricula so that books can be used across West Africa? (After all,) we have the West African Examinations Council.”

•    “(And) we need to promote reading … Books can be great ambassadors; they go where no one in the book chain responsible for producing them can go.”

Given Mr Crabbe’s critical insights on the theme, what a pity that the opening ceremony was so poorly attended; and that the media coverage was so low.

The need for an annual book fair, the importance of rekindling the publishing industry promoting reading, of course cannot be over-emphasized.

But in this era, publishing houses and authors have to contend with the fast dwindling culture of reading books and spending money on buying books, with the growing attachment to reading Social Media.

And yet, there is the possibility that given the opportunity youngsters not yet addicted to Facebook and WhatsApp, can be encouraged to read books – and I don’t mean electronic books!

On Saturday, I paid my second visit to the fair, together with my household, including two preteens, a ten year-old and a twelve-year old.

It was early afternoon when we got there, and although the weather that day was not friendly, being drizzly, there was an appreciable crowd browsing around.

Noticeably, apart from a few of the stands, it looked like the majority of the exhibitors were not making good sales. Many of the attendants looked bored and had glum expressions.

Yet, on the whole, the fair appeared well organized. It included discussion panels, workshops and reading sessions, as well as an event to celebrate the late renowned poets Prof Atukwei Okai and Prof Kofi Awoonor.

Fair Chairman and GBPA president Mr Elliot Agyare and his team clearly went to a lot of trouble to ensure that visitors, families, could virtually spend the whole day there and have an enjoyable experience. Inside, there were snacks on sale, as well as a restaurant; outside there was even a khebab stand. The side attractions also included a children’s play area, complete with a bouncy castle, popcorn and cotton candy stand.  

My two preteens returned home happily with a number of books. Hours after our return, they were out of sight and the house was strangely quiet. Where were they?

To my delight, they were in their room, busy reading, engrossed in their newly-acquired books.

Perhaps all is not lost after all.  

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