JERUSALEM — The show must go on, they say, and so, despite the political situation on the ground, and the Iraqi war that forced a three-month postponement, the 21st Jerusalem International Book Fair will open here on Monday at the International Convention Center.
The highlight of the fair will be the awarding of the Jerusalem Prize, Israel’s only international literary award, which honors an author whose works best express the idea of the freedom of the individual in society. This year’s winner is playwright Arthur Miller, who was selected for “his efforts on behalf of the common good, for standing alongside the small,
gray individual and placing him in the center of society,” according to Avishay Braverman, president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and chairman of the prize committee, which included Hebrew University professor Dwora Gilula and writer Aharon Appelfeld.
Miller, 87, is best known for his plays “All My Sons” in 1947, “Death of a Salesman” in 1949 and “The Crucible” in 1953. He previously received three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. In 1956, he married Marilyn Monroe, but they divorced in 1961, shortly before her death. Previous winners of the Jerusalem Prize have included Bertrand Russell in 1963, Andre Schwarz-Bart in 1967, Eugene Ionesco in 1973, Octavio Paz in 1977, Milan Kundera in 1985 and Susan Sontag in 2001.
Held every two years since 1963, the Jerusalem book fair has become a fixture on the Jerusalem calendar, attracting publishers, authors, agents and other literary lovers who come to sell books, set up new projects and gossip about the business.
Unfortunately for organizers, not every country that usually comes will be represented. The usual number for the past few years has been around 60 countries, but that number is now expected to be less: Palestinian publishers, as well publishers from Morocco, Jordan and Egypt who have participated in the past will not be doing so this year.
“Those coming are the dedicated friends of the Jerusalem Book Fair who know how valuable a book fair it is,” said Deborah Harris, an independent literary agent on the fair’s board of directors.
To be sure, Harris said, some previous participants were scared to come because of the security situation, and said so. But most of the people she heard from said they weren’t coming for other reasons — budget cuts at their companies, the fair being rescheduled from late March presenting a scheduling conflict and family commitments.
“It’s also a week when there are graduations and sending kids off to summer camp,” said Harris, head of the Harris/Elon Agency. “So it’s not that they’re scared to come — people are just occupied with their personal lives in the month of June. The people who would like to be here,” Harris said, “are feeling really regretful that they can’t, and from the people who are coming, I haven’t heard one person who has a second thought — at least they are not verbalizing it — about any hesitation they may have.”
A regular event at the book fair is the presentation of the Friends of Jerusalem Award, to honor publishing people who have devoted themselves in some way to the book fair. This year’s award will be given to Peter Mayer, publisher of Overlook Press, and Rosario Carpinelli, editorial director of the trade and paperback division of Rizzoli.
“I think, more than anything, the feeling about this fair is that we want to make it as good, as successful and as enriching a fair as possible, as a tribute to the people who are coming, because this year it is particularly difficult to come,” Harris said. “That’s what the people who are coming deserve.”