On 23 April, the world celebrates books, in the words of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), as "one of the most beautiful inventions for sharing ideas and embodying an effective instrument to fight poverty and build sustainable peace.”
Copyright, which is the legal framework that precisely allows the book ecosystem to flourish, is also celebrated. Thanks to Copyright, thousands of authors and publishers around the world can invest time and money in publishing works that enrich society, with the certainty that their efforts will be rewarded.
The celebration goes back to ‘La Diada de Sant Jordi’, or the Festival of St George, which is Catalunya’s version of Valentine’s Day, when people give each other red roses—but also books. This one-day festival, held every year on the 23rd of April, is inspired by the legend of Saint George, who has been the patron Saint of Catalunya since 1456.
The 23rd of April 1996 was a special day in Barcelona. The 25th International Publishers Congress, which marked the 100th anniversary of the IPA, was being held in the city, with the attendance of almost a thousand publishers and accompanying guests from 47 different countries. It was on that day that World Book and Copyright Day was celebrated for the first time.
In November 1995, Federico Mayor—a Spanish scientist, scholar, politician, diplomat and poet who served as Director-General of UNESCO from 1987 to 1999—had sent a letter to Pere Vicens, president of the Spanish Publishers Association (La Federación de Gremios de Editores de España), informing him that UNESCO had unanimously decided to declare the 23rd of April as ‘World Book and Copyright Day’.
The date was chosen because on the 23rd of April 1616, three great writers of their time had passed away: Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. Mayor makes it clear in his letter to Vicens that, although this timely initiative was suggested by the Spanish government, its paternity can be attributed to publishers.
Sometime later, in November 2001, invited by Koïchiro Matsuura, who had followed Federico Mayor as UNESCO’s director general, Pere Vicens, who had by then been elect IPA president, had the opportunity to address UNESCO’s General Assembly to put forth the proposal for a World Book Capital.
Six years after the launching of the World Book and Copyright Day, IPA had the idea, inspired by the successful experience of the city of Madrid, to nominate the best city programme aimed at promoting books during the period between one ‘Book Day’ and the next.
Following IPA’s urging, with the help of a proposal by the Government of Spain and supported by many other countries, the UNESCO General Conference decided, on 2 November 2001, that the Organisation would grant its ‘moral and intellectual support to the conception and implementation’ of the World Book Capital City initiative using that year’s successful event in Madrid as a model and inspiration.
Madrid was retroactively designated first World Book Capital and there have since been 21 other cities recognized for their commitment to promoting books and fostering reading. This year World Book Capital changes continent, from the Latin American city of Guadalajara, Mexico, to the African City of Accra, Ghana.
UNESCO tells us the following about World Book Day: ‘Through reading and celebrating World Book and Copyright Day, on April 23, we can open up to others despite the distance, and travel thanks to the imagination. This day pays homage to books and authors and promotes access to reading for as many people as possible.’
Based on the book “The Fifth Quarter Century: The International Publishers Association 1996-2021”, to be released soon.