Morocco re-joined the African Union earlier this year, and the festival reflected an eagerness to connect Morocco with other parts of the continent.

July Blalack, MULOSIGE, SOAS

The view from the outside of the Casablanca International Book Fair

The view from the outside of the Casablanca International Book Fair

This February, Morocco hosted the 23rd Annual Casablanca International Book Fair, featuring over 350 live exhibitors and spanning a ten-day period. The event took place across the street from the towering Hassan II Mosque, which sits on the edge of the ocean and has the distinction of being the largest mosque in Africa. Although circling the perimeter of the exhibition could be accomplished in 20 minutes, any book fan would be lost for hours among the maze of stands and rows upon rows of bookshelves. As the book fair was well-attended, the density of the crowd added to the feeling of being lost among an array of texts.

Morocco re-joined the African Union earlier this year, and the festival reflected an eagerness to connect Morocco with other parts of the continent. The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) was the book fair’s official guest of honour, and the 11 member countries including Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, The Congo, Rwanda, and Chad, literally took centre-stage. Each country had a stand labelled with its flag and staffed by a representing publisher. The event was bilingual, with all signs and information in Arabic and in French.

July Blalack with Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III, editor of Le Trésor Des Manuscrits De Timbuktu

July Blalack with Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III, editor of Le Trésor Des Manuscrits De Timbuktu

While exploring the Stand Invité d’honneur, a poster in the Cameroonian booth caught my eye. The association Les Editions AfricAvenir had published a collection of studies around Timbuktu’s manuscripts earlier this year, and the editor Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III was signing copies and discussing his work with a few curious researchers. Another representative from Les Editions AfricAvenir showed me around and recommended different French and English poetry collections. I decided to buy a copy of Le Trésor Des Manuscrits De Timbuktu, and had the chance to talk to Ndumbe about the project while he signed my book. The subject fit perfectly with the theme of the book fair itself, as Timbuktu has been a site of literary exchange between Morocco and other parts of Africa for centuries.

The Casablanca Book Fair also featured a remarkable selection of contemporary Arabic literature from publishers such as al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-ʻArabi and Dar al-Saqi, as well as classic Arabic and Islamic literature from various parts of the Arab World, including Cairo’s al-Maktabah al-Azhariyah lil-Turath. Local Casablanca booksellers were also represented, with standouts including Dar al-Thaqafah and LivreMoi.

July Blalack at the entrance of the 23rd Annual Casablanca Book Fair in Morocco

July Blalack at the entrance of the 23rd Annual Casablanca Book Fair in Morocco

The festival included a wide range of events, among them academic and literary discussions, book signings, poetry readings, award ceremonies, and even activities for children. To see photographs and videos from the event, or to browse the complete program, you can visit the official website in Arabic or in French.

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In this conference, we argue that oral traditions are a vital component of world literature, and not only as an antecedent to written literatures, but in their own right. The conference seeks to move past the characterisation of oral literature as traditional, locally constrained, and less aesthetically complex than written literatures. We will show instead that oral traditions are a modern and dynamic form of literary expression everywhere around the world, sometimes able to circulate across long distances.