Book World Prague brought together cultural professionals from Central and Eastern Europe
For the first time in its history, Book World Prague welcomed representatives of literary centres and agencies within the programme section entitled Central and East European Book Market. Its aim is to act as a platform for meeting professionals from the book industry from Central and Eastern Europe. A similar section can be found at other important book fairs around the world. This year's initiative is the first step towards CEEBM becoming not only an organic part of the largest book fair in the Czech Republic, but also a "shopping window" of the Central and Eastern European book business.
Over sixty interested individuals registered for the intensive two-day program. In addition to representatives of Czech and Slovak literature, guests came from Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania and Ukraine. They were mostly representatives of literary centres, but also publishers or authors themselves, many of whom play multiple roles. Representatives of Czech publishers, literary agents, journalists, translators and prominent cultural figures were also invited.
Thursday's launch of CEEBM followed the opening ceremony of the fair in the beautiful premises of the newly renovated Bohemia Pavilion. RADOVAN AUER, Director of Book World Prague, welcomed the guests with a new and joyful announcement about zero VAT for books, which was acknowledged with applause by the present representatives of the CEE literature community as this made the Czech Republic the first to do so within this literary region. "Our new project is to build a Central and Eastern European centre for the sale of rights, which we are implementing with the support of the PPF Foundation," said Radovan
Auer at the grand opening of the centre. "We want to become a mirror of literature of Central and Eastern Europe. We reached out mainly to national institutes; we want to share ideas here and build a respected business centre. I am glad that a number of foreign experts responded to our invitation, and I will look forward to the results that will be produced here within the next two days." Jana Tomas Sedláčková from the PPF Foundation added, "The Czechs are talented and are able to stand up to global competition, they just need a platform where they can present themselves. Which is why the idea of creating a centre for the international book market was born. We believe that this activity will provide a platform that will help Czech authors enter the international scene."
The afternoon programme included presentations by individual participants on the situation of the book market and the condition of literature and readership in general in the above-mentioned countries. Several consistent trends across all language areas were mentioned, such as the rise of audiobooks and stagnant e-book sales; the overview of the turbulent rise of translations from Ukrainian was useful, and information that Bulgarians read a lot but do not buy books or that Croatia provides author status, including social and health support, was surprising. The evening debate on the influence of politics on literary creation was leisurely hosted by journalist Petr Vizina. Foreign participants showed great initiative and spontaneously took turns at the microphone to share personal experience related to the topic.
Participants were most interested in the Friday morning discussion about whether a certain genre can define the literature of a specific country and whether andhow it can be turned into an "export article", similar to what happened with Nordic crime fiction, Japanese manga or Polish literary reportage. The panel included GUILLAUME BASSET, Dramaturg of Book World Prague, PAVEL MANDYS, literary critic and publicist, and FILIP OSTROWSKI, founder of the Absynt publishing house. One of the key findings, which turned out to be common to the entire Central and Eastern European area, is the lack or complete absence of literary agencies compared to larger language territories. The discussion continued in the lobby, while in the main theatre of the Bohemia Pavilion translators and authors from the CELA (Connecting Emerging Literary Artists) project, which has been carried out in cooperation with the Czech Literary Centre for several years, and local publishers discussed the so-called speed-dating. The debate part of the programme ended with a panel on the EU Literary Prize in the Professional Forum theatre. For both days, the Bohemia Pavilion also served as a place for individual meetings of Czech publishers with foreign guests or for meetings of the literary agents present.
Since its launch, the CEEBM project has provided an important space for sharing experience, exchanging best practices and developing cooperation. If we support the interest of both Czech cultural professionals and foreign guests, we can create an inspiring source of information and contacts in the coming years which all the book industries of the represented countries can use to further cultivate a professional book and literary environment.