The organizing committee of the Tunis International Book Fair announced that Columbia University in the City of New York and the Lebanese Republic will be the guests of honor for 2017. The 33rd Tunis International Book Fair takes place on March 24 - April 2 in the city of Tunis, Tunisia. The University’s participation in the book fair shows the growing ties between Columbia and Tunisia. Honored guests at previous fairs have included France and Egypt, among others.
Participation in the book fair by Columbia University Press marks a first in North Africa, and has been praised by both Minister of Culture Mohamed Zine el Abidine and the fair’s director, Chokri Mabkhout. The Press presented its most recent publications, and two of its directors attended. The growing interest in English language and American education in Tunisia guaranteed an important turnout at the Press’ booth, with most of the books sold just three days into the fair. Books in Tunisia are generally published in either the languages of Arabic or French but rarely in English, which gives participation by Columbia University Press an added importance. Some high-level visits to the Columbia University Press booth include the U.S Ambassador, the Ambassador of Iran, the Secretary of State for Higher Education, and the President of Time University among many more academics, intellectuals, and politicians.
The conferences’ section of the book fair hosted world-renowned scholar Gayatri Spivak from Columbia’s Department of English and Comparative Literature. Spivak, one of Columbia’s most distinguished professors, will speak about “destinerrance” and the philosophy of Jacques Derrida. “Destinerrance” is a philosophical term by Derrida, and it refers to the concept that a message or communication is forever traveling – never fixed – and so in one sense the meaning of a message is itself never absolutely determined but forever subject to interpretation. A large audience attended Spivak’s lecture on Saturday March 25th, at 4:00 pm, whereby she also met with different activists and women’s groups.
Several other events have linked Columbia and Tunisia this year. Columbia has helped launch an entrepreneurship competition that brought together Tunisian students of business and engineering, organized in collaboration with CGC | Amman. In April, the winning team will travel to the Columbia University campus in New York City. In January, Tunisian scholar and statesman Yadh Ben Achour was honored as the first Columbia Global Centers' scholar-in-residence, and he spent the last week of January on campus in New York, where he delivered a World Leaders Forum lecture, as well as participated in several meetings and conferences with Columbia students and faculty.
The book fair is not the first recognition of Columbia University by the cultural and academic community of Tunisia. Decades ago, Habib Bourguiba Jr., the former Tunisian foreign minister, presented a facsimile of a historically significant ceramic tile mosaic depicting Virgil writing The Aeneid to the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA); that mosaic still decorates the entrance to that school’s Lehman Library. The original mosaic is in the National Bardo Museum, and its image is the logo for the 2017 book fair.