The success of this year’s fair, running March 17-20, depends on the bookworms who come to delve into the volumes on display at the 2,150 exhibition booths, and on the relationship fostered between authors and their readers.
With the fair placing special emphasis on the literature of Serbia and Iceland, visitors can learn about writers who are stars in their home countries but remain relatively unknown in Germany.
German publishers will also throw hundreds of new publications into the mix, but prestigious prizes are up for grabs to writers from all over the world.
“As one of the largest festivals for both readers and authors, the Leipzig Book Fair has become a crucial calendar date for publishers and booksellers,” said Gottfried Honnefelder, head of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association.
Around 80,000 new titles appear in Germany annually.
“Of course, we can’t reproduce the entire book market in all its complexity,” said Oliver Zille, Director of the Leipzig Book Fair.
This 2011 fair will focus on poetry and fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. But the Leipzig fair differs from the Frankfurt Book Fair, Germany’s largest, in its comprehensive focus on Eastern Europe.
“This year’s fair features the largest selection of Balkan literature ever seen in Western Europe,” said Zille.
At the Serbian exhibition booth, about 60 authors – among them luminaries like Bora Cosic, David Albahari and Laszlo Végel – will showcase their most recent works, with 30 appearing for the first time in German.
Other Balkan states will also make their presence felt: a total of 120 authors from southeastern Europe have reserved over 100 exhibition booths with the hope of tapping into a voracious German readership.
The tiny country of Iceland, boasting an unusually active readership and one of the most productive book markets in the world, is also expected to garner interest.
“This year, Iceland is making a splash in Leipzig, in the context of the Nordic literature that traditionally occupies a space here,” said Zille.
But the exhibition grounds won’t be the only grand stage for literature during the fair. Boasting one of Germany’s richest literary traditions, the entire city of Leipzig will transform for the four-day event.
During the simultaneous “Leipzig liest” (“Leipzig reads”), Europe’s largest reading fair, over 1,500 authors are expected at more than 300 locations in the city.
Among them will be figures like Klaus Baumgart (Laura’s Stern, or “Laura’s Star”), Paul Maar (Sams) and Ingo Schulze, but also cooks, politicians, actors and musicians vying to show off their writing chops.
The two Germans awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Günter Grass and Herta Müller, won’t make it to Leipzig this year. But organizers are counting on news magazine Der Spiegel’s best-sellers Walter Kohl and Simon Beckett to help make up for their absence.
Gaining readership will not be authors’ only incentive in Leipzig, however. The fair is also the presentation site of some of Germany’s most prestigious book prizes.
At the opening ceremony, the €15,000 Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding will be awarded to Austrian novelist Martin Pollack (Kaiser von Amerika, or American Emperor).
Meanwhile, the €15,000 prize for the categories of Poetry and Fiction, Non-Fiction and Translation will be chosen from five nominees on March 17.
Prizes will also be awarded for the best piece of children’s literature, crime fiction, and world literature.
In 2010 the fair set an attendance record of 156,000, featuring 2,071 publishers from 39 countries, numbers which organizers hope to surpass in 2011.