London Book Fair hijacked by political statements

From the LBF website:

London Book Fair has appointed two charities as Charities of the Year 2024.

“National Literacy Trust is a charity changing people’s life chances through the power of words – from first words, through school days to training, jobs and beyond. In 2022, the National Literacy Trust reached over 1.3 million children and young people through their work in schools and the community. With the support of their partners, including from the publishing industry, they were able to gift over 500,000 books and work with over 8,000 schools and reach over 9,000 parents.

Meanwhile, Book Aid International is the UK’s leading international book donation charity, aiming to share the power of books and help create a more equal world. Celebrating its 70th year, it is supported by over 100 UK and international publishers. Every year it provides over one million brand-new books to communities where people would otherwise have few or no books and works with partners to support and establish safe reading spaces. In 2023, it provided 1,235,900 books to communities in 22 countries, giving over 13 million people the opportunity to read.”

Now, that’s great, isn’t it? What’s not so great is that two of the speakers on panels of seminars I attended at the LBF on 13th March chose to deliver a ‘statement’ in support of Palestine. The speakers were Rosalind Harvey and Ayça Türkoğu, both literary translators. By what right do panel speakers presume to make political statements? What if other speakers had chosen to take up some of their allotted time making statements in support of Israel? Or Ukraine? Or, for that matter, Russia? What if attendees at these seminars, instead of asking questions of the speakers, had chosen to deliver their own political statements? Would discussions about books have been able to elbow their way in between these statements?

Whether the statements made valid points or not – and those applauding in the audiences obviously thought they did – the fact that the speakers were allowed to make such statements was, in my view, completely reprehensible on the part of the LBF organisers, and I have complained. LBF should be entirely non-political and not a forum for people to express their personal views on current affairs.




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