This year’s IPA Prix Voltaire ceremony will take place on 30 November at the 35th Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara and is unique in honouring the freedom to publish, without which many forms of freedom of expression would be impossible. Publishers who provide authors with the tools to disseminate their written ideas assume the same risks as the writers themselves. The prize, which is held annually, celebrates publishers (individuals, collectives or organizations) who have demonstrated courage and integrity in defending the freedom to publish in the face of threats, danger, intimidation, and harassment.
Among this year’s 5 shortlisted candidates was Samir Mansour Bookshop for Publishing, a bookseller and publishing house that flourished for more than 20 years in the blockaded Gaza strip. Mansour's father had a bookshop and in 2000 Mansour junior set one up on his own, starting to publishing works by local authors. It was an important and meaningful part of the local community, selling and publishing hundreds of thousands of books in different languages in a variety of subjects, ranging from religious texts to children’s books and translated copies of classical literature. By publishing the works of local writers and voices, the shop and publishing house stood as a testament to the power of books and stories despite the difficulties and obstacles surrounding Palestinians in the Gaza strip.
Tragically, earlier this year on May 18th, the shop was struck by an Israeli missile and was completely destroyed. Almost 100,000 books, cultural resources for children and adults alike, were gone in an instant. Mosaab Abu Toha, poet and founder of the Edward Said library, stated that Gaza had lost “one of its main cultural resources” after the bombing. In the wake of what happened, a fundraiser by two human rights lawyers was started on gofundme, eventually raising more than $200,000 to help rebuild the shop. In addition, in August 2021, IPA President Bodour Al Qasimi pledged to donate all proceedings from the sale of the first edition of her book “World Book Capital” to the reconstruction of the bookshop and publishing house.
The resilience and courage demonstrated by the Samir Mansour Bookshop for Publishing, both throughout their decades of service to the Palestinian community in Gaza and after the tragic destruction of the shop, was paid tribute to through their nomination for the 2021 IPA Prix Voltaire. When asked for comment regarding the nomination, Samir Mansour thanked the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee for including the bookshop and publishing house in the shortlist and said, “Regardless of its decision of this year’s award winner… I want to say thank you for thinking of us while we are in the process of building the library, which was destroyed by the war. Today we are trying to get back on our feet again and we are facing some difficulties and pressures… so thank you again”.
The Prix Voltaire, which comes with a CHF 10,000 prize, is made possible by generous contributions from sponsors, all of which are publishing houses and organizations that share the values that the IPA Prix Voltaire embodies.