Poland reads! The 26th International Book Fair in Kraków®


Poland reads! The 26th International Book Fair in Kraków®

Borrowed from the opening lines of Birthday, a poem by Wisława Szymborska, the motto of the 26th International Book Fair in Kraków® was “So much world all at once!”, and it described it to a T. For 4 days, the EXPO Kraków Exhibition and Convention Centre turned into a venue of encounter with literature and dialogue between cultures and generations. It brought together people of different ages, hailing from many countries, cities and communities, who all arrived with a common goal: to celebrate books.

Here are some figures: nearly 500 exhibitors, more than 800 authors, 52,000 visitors, including 700 accredited journalists and online content creators. But the International Book Fair in Kraków® is much more than numbers; above all, it is the wonderful people who make it: exhibitors, authors and visitors. Not to forget the organisers, who lend an attentive ear to what the visitors say and always try to respond to their needs.

Literary fiction, non-fiction, religion & spirituality, science and popular science, mysteries, thrillers, children’s and YA books, fantasy, graphic novels, board games – the book fair catered to all tastes. The agenda brimmed with attractions. Visitors could attend a Women’s Literature Festival, Meetings with Young Adult Literature, Meetings with Fantasy and Science Fiction, a Mountain and Travel Literature Festival, Meetings with NON-FICTION or a Dark Stories Festival, and get their books signed by authors such as Katarzyna Bonda, Max Cegielski, Wojciech Chmielarz, Jakub Ćwiek, Max Czornyj, Jacek Dehnel, Jacek Dukaj, Anna Goc, Aneta Jadowska, Marek Krajewski, Roma Ligocka, Jakub Małecki, Katarzyna Nosowska, Łukasz Orbitowski, Grzegorz Piątek, Katarzyna Puzyńska, Radek Rak, Mariusz Szczygieł, Szczepan Twardoch, and Jakub Żulczyk.

A new generation of readers

The book fair has now been promoting reading for 26 years! “We are entering a new quarter of a century as we watch a second or even third generation of readers come of age; this makes us very happy”, said Grażyna Grabowska, the President of Targi w Krakowie, at the official opening. No doubt, many people would agree with Małgorzata, a visitor who weighed in: “we come here every year. I always take a day off from work to stroll down aisles full of books with my daughter. My daughter is already a teenager, but we also came here when she was very small. This is our tradition and, every year, we just really want to come: for the books and for the people we meet here.”

The International Book Fair in Kraków® sparks positive emotions in authors, too. “I also keep coming back just to feel touched, over and over again, because sometimes, grown-up people, and I mean “grown-up enough to have children of their own”, come to this book fair, and I’m here for the 18th time, and they tell me they were raised on my books, and this makes me happy but also rather moved. It looks like I am already of an age to be easily moved... But really, it’s such a great feeling that, a few hours later, when I’m already on my way back to Warsaw, I really feel that it was worth all the trouble and that it is still worth it to work for my wonderful readers”, said Grzegorz Kasdepke.

Already a tradition: the bugle call at EXPO Kraków

As tradition dictates, the 26th International Book Fair in Kraków® kicked off to the sound of Kraków’s bugle call, which reverberated through the halls of EXPO Kraków at noon. The opening was attended by Jacek Majchrowski, Mayor of Kraków, who said that “Kraków is a city where you simply can’t do without a book. And no wonder! After all, it’s been a UNESCO City of Literature since 2013. It is the cradle of the Polish printing industry, this is where the first publishers set up their business, this is where our Noble Prize winners, Miłosz and Szymborska, lived and wrote. This is also the city of Mrożek, of Lem….The book fair in Kraków is truly exceptional. It’s not only a place where books are sold, but also a venue for everyone involved in making them, including writers, publishers, illustrators, translators and many other professionals who work around books”, he added. During the opening, TwK named the new Ambassadors of the International Book Fair in Kraków®, a title first awarded in 2011 to honour people who actively promoted reading and support the idea behind the International Book Fair in Kraków®. This year, the prestigious titles went to Monika Białecka, a long-time supporter of the publishing industry and the book fair; Marian Łyko, Chairman of the Board at the Municipal Heating Company in Kraków, the sponsor of the main prize in the Jan Długosz Award competition; Łukasz Wojtusik, journalist and podcaster (“Alfabet Wojtusika”); and online content creator Vela Szulwińska (@lostreadingsoul), who was selected in an online poll. The opening was also an occasion to present the jubilee diplomas of the Polish Book Publishers Association, as well as name the winners of the “Friend of Books” title of the Polish Chamber of Books and the Gaudeamus awards of the Association of University Presses.

“Nothing can ever happen twice”

Wisława Szymborska looked down from the entrance to the book fair, reminding visitors that “Nothing can ever happen twice”. All smiles, our guests seemed to be aware of that and tried to make the most of all the attractions prepared for them by the organisers and exhibitors. “The International Book Fair in Kraków® is one of the largest events in the Year of Wisława Szymborska and at the same time one of the last. It is the most important book fair in Poland, and even more so this year on account of its patroness: none other than Szymborska herself. Szymborska is present here in her own books and the books written about her, her biographies and many novelties. The novelties were created with one goal in mind: to encourage people to read or reread Wisława Szymborska’s poetry” emphasised Michał Rusinek, President of the Wisława Szymborska Foundation.

The book fair promotes reading!

The International Book Fair in Kraków® is interesting for individual readers but also the industry at large. Every year, it attracts librarians, booksellers, illustrators, translators and other publishing and printing industry professionals. It is an ideal venue for sharing their experiences and delving deeper into the intricacies of the book publishing, promotion and sales. Year after year, the industry agenda keeps expanding to feature more interesting content, as confirmed by Jerzy Misiurski, Director of the Stefan Janas Public Library in Opoczno: “The book fair keeps getting better year in, year out, and I’m not sure if you realise but you are making history and you are making reading trendy. This is maybe the best thing about it. Thank you for that”.

During the 26th International Book Fair in Kraków®, visitors could attend meetings and workshops organised, e.g. by the Polish Chamber of Books, the National Library, the Voivodeship Public Library in Kraków, the Kraków Festival Office and Rynek Zabawek. TwK also inaugurated a new Literary Agent Zone, which brought together literary agents from Poland and beyond, and held a new edition of Word2Picture, which aims to connect the publishing sector with the film industry.

Online to offline

This year’s edition once again belonged to the young, who finally laid to rest the common stereotype that they don’t read. Seeing their passion and determination to wait in line only to get a book signed by their favourite author, the heavy bags of books they dragged back home and the smiles on their faces as they left EXPO Kraków, it is quite evident that they do, in fact, read – and read a lot. “Interest in YA literature is off the charts, because reading books has now become trendy. Young people read for entertainment and that is very, very uplifting. We know that they have many other sources of entertainment to choose from today. So why do books seem to be winning? Because they’re about love. This really floats our boat, this is what interests us. It just brings young people together. They feel part of a group, which is something that really matters for them. They can talk about these books, share their reviews, publish, talk with authors and meet one another. Long story short: large communities are formed around these books”, observes Agata Wołosik-Wysocka from Wydawnictwo NieZwykłe and adds, “How do we encourage reading among teenagers? We just need to give them something that they are really interested in”.

A sense of belonging is very important for young people. “We think meetings with people are the greatest thing about the book fair. We know that, in a way, we socialise all these bookworms; every year, we organise events, meetings with people who read Moondrive and other publishers. They come here and tell us ‘we met last year at the book fair’, ‘we are back’, ‘we want to take a picture with you’, ‘we’re going to have our bags signed’, so this is like a community that can meet here, share a hug and take a picture together. So these meetings are like the most important thing…It seems like before, a lot of people were too embarrassed to admit they were readers, but now, they are no longer afraid to say so, and this is really cool”, say Agnieszka Gontarz and Magda Wojtanowska from the YA publisher Moondrive.

Edyta Prusinowska, a young writer, did not hide her enjoyment in meeting her readers in person. “I only attend one book fair per year, and I choose the International Book Fair in Kraków. I must say it’s a moment I always wait for, because I don’t get to meet my readers on a daily basis”.

The YA literary scene is popularised by scores of BookTokers and Bookstagrammers, who review books online, and flock to the book fair to meet the authors in person and relay their impressions of the event. “I have a special fondness for this book fair. For us, it has a special atmosphere. We have focused more on book content since we’ve attended it. Earlier, we just read for pleasure, but then we started to share our passion on our channel. Two years ago, we just decided that if so many people could talk about books here, so could we”, confessed Iga and Kamila Pierzchała (@znaciskiemnaszczeście).

Vela Szulwińska (@lostreadingsoul), the new ambassador selected through an online poll, also weighed in: “For me, the most important thing about the book fair is that it brings the whole book community together. Some people think that a book fair is just about buying books, but I don’t, I think that it is much, much more. It’s all about meeting the authors, your followers (if you have a book media account) and the friends you have met on book media. And it’s amazing that you can exchange messages with someone for a long time and then meet them all in one place at the book fair”, she emphasised.

An event on everyone’s lips!

Even though the book fair only lasts four days, excitement is in the air many days before. Want to know how popular it is? Just look at the statistics. The Facebook fan page of the International Book Fair in Kraków® generated more than 269.5 thousand views and 5.5 thousand reactions; the Instagram account had nearly 40 thousand views. Bartosz Renans from Nasza Księgarnia told us: “I came to Kraków a few days earlier and I immediately felt the vibes in the air. Everyone is talking about the book fair and telling me they’re going. Posters are pasted all over the city. Radio stations also talk about the book fair. So it’s really like you’re being bombarded with information from all sides. The book fair is a celebration, for sure, but what makes it really festive for us is that we can meet our readers, and not just talk with them online or over the phone. At the fair, we learn about their tastes and find out what they think about our books. It’s a confrontation between us and our products on the one hand, and the opinions of our readers, the people who matter most to us, on the other.”

Michalina Kołacińska from Dwie Siostry said: “This is the largest and the most prestigious book fair in Poland, to be honest. And it is the most similar to international book fairs, in Frankfurt or Bologna, for instance, in terms of organisation, popularity, recognisability. This is why we keep coming back and will continue to do so. It’s also great that the organisers really make an effort to make sure its visual identity and communication are widely seen much, much earlier. They really invest in recognisability and build up a lot of tension and expectation in people, who then can’t wait to see what happens, what it’s like, who’s going to come – fantastic!”

The organisers are also applauded by Marcin Baniak from Wydawnictwo Literackie: “TwK, I can say this with great pleasure, makes a great effort to publicise the event really nicely. They are very active on social media, without which you really can’t imagine any book promotion. Everything is well planned in advance and you can see the immense work the organisers put in. This is a special year for Wydawnictwo Literackie, for the International Book Fair in Kraków and for Kraków at large because, not only are we celebrating the 70th jubilee of Wydawnictwo Literackie, but also ten years since Kraków was named a UNESCO City of Literature. So it is a really special time and, well, we are here at the book fair, that’s one thing. Another is that we have invited excellent authors. Thirdly, we have great books on offer. And last but not least, we have organised more events than in recent years”, said Marcin Baniak from Wydawnictwo Literackie.

At a press conference before the event, Robert Piaskowski, the Plenipotentiary of the Mayor of Kraków, called the International Book Fair in Kraków® the “showcase of Kraków – a UNESCO City of Literature”. President Grabowska said: “There’s no doubt that we have contributed to Kraków’s earning that honorary title, but the title is not given to one once and for all. It requires of us a commitment to constant growth and quality improvement. Ever since the first book fair, we’ve wanted it to be more than just a venue for the publishing industry, a place where readers can encounter books and their authors, we’ve wanted it to be a celebration of books. Our events have long gone beyond the premises of the venue, they have even stepped beyond the borders of Kraków. Many readers, and I know a few of those, put small change in their money boxes, so that they can later spend it on books. Others take days off especially to come to the book fair, or travel with their entire families from far away just to get here. For years now, without any pressure from teachers, young people have visited the book fair in droves, not just to get an autograph or take a selfie, but to buy a book. Everyone is waiting for these autumn days, when they come here and commune with writers and their books in a unique celebration of books.”

Book Fair Streaming Service

Those who could not make it to Kraków, but wanted to partake of the book fair and its extraordinary atmosphere, could tune in to the Virtual Book Fair Platform and join a variety of events, meetings and panels. The Book Fair Streaming Service, hosted by well-loved book journalists, such as Małgorzata Bugaj, Justyna Dżbik-Kluge, Adam Szaja and Łukasz Wojtusik, gave coverage of the event.

Jan Długosz Award

60 titles, 10 finalists and 1 winner: on the first day of the International Book Fair in Kraków®, during a festive gala at ICE Kraków, the TwK announced the winner of the 26th Jan Długosz Award competition. The award went to Konstanty Gebert, author of “Ostateczne rozwiązania. Ludobójcy i ich dzieło” [“Final Solutions. Genocide Perpetrators and Their Work”], published by Agora. The purpose of the competition is to promote academic and popular books in the field of the humanities. Presided by Prof. Dr hab. Władysław Stróżewski, the jury consisted of Prof. Dr hab. Andrzej Chwalba, Prof. Dr hab. med. Dominika Dudek, Prof. Dr hab. Małgorzata Kossowska, Prof. Dr hab. Andrzej Mączyński, Prof. Dr hab. Ryszard Nycz, Prof. Dr hab. Jan Ostrowski, Prof. Dr hab. Leszek Polony and Prof. Dr hab. Piotr Sztompka. “Konstanty Gebert’s book was chosen as exceptional, not only because of the importance of its theme. Not only because of its excellent, multifaceted treatment of the subject matter. And not only because of excellent writing. The book was chosen in particular recognition of its message for our times, the way it fits in with the current social mood and its warning for the future”, Prof. Dr hab. Małgorzata Kossowska said in her eulogy.

Changes, changes, changes!

In response to visitors’ needs and suggestions, the organisers made a few changes this year. The most important was an additional Tent Hall, Carpathia, where top authors signed their books, which meant that an extra 3000 m2 were added to the premises. Admission limits were introduced, alongside free vouchers for selected meetings with authors, who signed their books in so-called Author Zones. Entrance and exit zones were also changed. Separate lines were set up for online ticket holders and those who bought theirs at the box offices, as well as for seniors and people with disabilities. This year, for the first time, visitors could go out and get back in, thanks to a system of stamps that allowed them to re-enter EXPO Kraków on the same day. Several new points were added to the book fair map. The Danube Room and the Vistula Room were fitted with filtered water dispensers and the food court was expanded to include an outdoor food truck area. The organisers also added a Book Shipment Point, where visitors could send the books they bought at the fair by the Paczkomat service. The ticketing solutions that worked last year were repeated, including free admission for seniors (65+) and National Senior Card holders, children under 7, people with disabilities and their carers, as well as discounts for high school and university students, Large Family Card and Kraków Family Card 3+ holders, family tickets and 4-day passes.

See you next year!

Let us end this report by repeating Szymborska’s words: “So much world all at once”, as they seem right on the money in light of what’s going on in the world today. “Books are like windows opening onto the world, understood as a space, a history marked by successive generations and worldview differences. What’s beautiful is that everyone can find something for themselves in books. And the same can be said of the International Book Fair in Kraków®” stresses Małgorzata Downar, Project Manager at the International Book Fair in Kraków®.

The next book fair will take place next year. In the meantime, the organisers are inviting everyone to BookGame, a board game convention scheduled for 1-3 March 2024 at EXPO Kraków.