The international round of book fairs and festivals is an
increasingly important platform for international cultural
relations work, writes Harriet Williams of the British Council.
The British Council was founded to create “a friendly knowledge
and understanding” between the people of the UK and the wider
world, by making a positive contribution to the countries we
work with using the cultural resources of the UK including
literature, publishing and English-language teaching.
Engagement with book fairs and festivals is a valuable part of the
overall cultural relations programme.
We work closely with the Publishers Association (PA), UK
Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the London Book Fair (LBF)
to engage with strategically important markets. Cultural
programmes organised by the British Council complement the
work of the PA and UKTI, which supports UK businesses in
developing international markets, whether through providing
financial aid to exporters or tailored support to small and
We have a regular partnership with the PA and the London
Book Fair in the LBF Market Focus Programme, and we have
also recently co-operated with the PA and UKTI in Doha. This
year we’re engaging on a much bigger scale by programming the
UK as Guest of Honour at Guadalajara International Book Fair
(FIL) in Mexico, and we are excited to see its impact.
Literature is perhaps uniquely well placed for use in cultural
relations, encouraging knowledge and understanding of other
people’s points of view, and promoting empathy. Book fairs are
effective commercially because they bring together publishers
with writers and translators, and because doing business in
person is still easier than digitally. Less obvious is the effect of
book fairs and festivals on cultural relations. Translation deals
are brokered, giving international readers an insight into cultures
different from their own. The Guest of Honour country is also
given a bump in press coverage, which reaches yet more readers.
So why Mexico, and why FIL? Mexico is emerging
economically, politically and with a keen interest in learning
English as a foreign language–an important market for the UK.
This year, 2015, has been designated a dual year of celebration of
the two countries, with a shared programme of cultural,
academic and trade projects. The ongoing bilateral exchange has
been supported at a high level, with a visit by Prince Charles to
Mexico to launch the year in November 2014 and a State Visit to
the UK by President Nieto in March 2015. Mexico was Market
Focus country at LBF in April 2015, where we worked with the
Mexican Council for Arts and Culture, Conaculta, to bring 11
writers to the UK to take part in conversations at the Fair, and
across London and the rest of the UK. This Market Focus
Programme also involved a series of bilateral exchanges, with
Mexican writers visiting festivals in Hay-on-Wye, Norwich and
Edinburgh, and UK editors, press and writers travelling to
Mexico for events there. The UK Guest of Honour at FIL (from
28 November) is the culmination of this dual year.
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