JIBF Holds Memorable Week-Long Book Forum

Several hundred international book publishing professionals and authors gathered in mid-May for the newest edition of the biennial Jerusalem International Book Forum. Originally started as the Jerusalem International Book Fair, the event was reconstituted in 2019 into its current form, but still featured panel discussions, literary talks, workshops, and a fellowship program that had been the hallmarks of the fair. It was the first in-person JIBF since the pandemic.

The JIBF featured three tracks. On May 15, the Mayor of Jerusalem opened the JIBF’s four-day program for book publishing professionals; two days earlier at a local hotel, Yoel Makov, JIBF director, and production coordinator Sharon Katz, convened its weeklong program for the 29 book editors, agents, and scouts from 17 countries who were the recipients of the coveted Zev Birger Editorial Fellowships. May 15th was also the start of the public program including celebrated authors from Israel and abroad at the annual Jerusalem International Writers Festival, produced by Mishkenot Sha’ananim, an arts and culture center overlooking the Old City.

Registered JIBF attendees included the new group of Editorial Fellows, dozens of Alumni Editorial Fellows, and many other experts in the book and media worlds, including those who were participating in the nine discussion panels created by the Forum planners. Among the publishers who made the trip were Mitzi Angel (FS&G, US); Barbara Marcus (RH Children’s Books, US); Belinda Ioni Rasmussen (Macmillan Children’s Books, UK) ); Videl Bar-Kar (Global Head of Audio, Bookwire, Germany/UK); Andrew Franklin (Profile Books, UK); and Andreas Roetzer (Matthes and Seitz, Germany). Among the literary agents in attendance were Amy Spangler (AnatoliaLit, Turkey) and Natalie Jerome (Curtis Brown, UK).

Highlights of the four-day publishing program were the opening keynote by founding editor of Wired Magazine UK, David Rowan, on how publishing can benefit from the coming world of metaverses, blockchains and AI; and a panel discussion about the future of book fairs by the Frankfurt, Bologna, Greek, and Swedish book fair directors Other panels featured experts discussing audiobook and podcast opportunities, the rise and rise of children’s books, independent publishing, debut book marketing, and the reframing of cultural assumptions: Women, Identity, Diversity, and the Road Ahead for Publishing.

The JIBF opening night began with greetings from various officials, including remarks from the Stefan von Holtzbrinck, CEO of the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, a supporter of the JIBF for decades, and the sponsor of the Editorial Fellowship program since its inception in 1985. He greeted the audience with warmth and humor, praised the JIBF program and all its organizers, but ended on a cautionary note about world events and the importance of solidarity. He said, “I feel safer in Israel than in the center of Europe. And it’s also to be noted that many people in Europe now understand much better what it means if you’re surrounded by enemies that deny your existence…We know in Germany that a rocket with a deadly warhead can reach Berlin from Kalingrad in two-and -a-half minutes.”

The main event was the celebration of the awarding of the prestigious Jerusalem Prize to British author Julian Barnes who could not attend for medical reasons. Barnes recorded a greeting for attendees and wrote a warm and poignant acceptance speech which was performed by actor Udi Razzin. In his remarks by him, Barnes shared memories of many of the books he read during his childhood and how they expanded his reality by him, and his belief that “fiction, more than any other written form, best explains and expands life.” He called out “the regrettable tendency in Britain and other countries, especially in the United States, to wish to protect younger readers and students from being shocked, hurt, or even merely embarrassed by imaginative literature. There must be ‘trigger warnings’ given to the reader in advance…If I were a book editor and policy instructed that trigger warnings are now corporate, I should put exactly the same message on every book, from Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dostoievsky to Svetlana Alexievich and Ismael Kadare: ‘Trigger warning: this book contains truth.’”

A memorable coda to the evening was a candid, funny, riveting hour-long conversation with Nobel Prize laureate Olga Tokarczuk about her unexpected obsession and at times mystical nine-year journey researching and writing her award-winning The Book of Jacobs. She too spoke of this unbelievable moment in history and her naïve belief that war could no longer happen the way it had in the past. “But now we can see that people are still killed in a very cruel way.” We have a responsibility, she said, that lies with those of us who are watching. “The writers,” she said, “we are all soldiers now .”

Esther Margolis is the chair of the JIBF American Advisory Committee and president of Newmarket Publishing Management.

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