HAVANA, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- The 27th edition of Cuba's International Book Fair is about to open in Havana, with the event having transformed the capital and its people into a true cultural hotspot.
Preserving a passion for books and reading has been a priority for the Cuban government since it started organizing book fairs in 1982 in order to provide millions of locals with cheap access to thousands of global texts.
After becoming the first country in Latin America to eradicate illiteracy in 1961, Cuba continued betting on reading as a means to achieve the cultural preparation required by its citizens.
Hence, developing reading habits and buying books became symbols of cultural growth and guides for creative efforts. This became especially true after the creation of the National Press in the 1960s, which became a catalyst for the development of the book market, as well as the public's interest in literature.
These first steps laid the foundations for the 1982 International Book Fair of Havana (FIL), considered the most significant event of the Cuban literary movement.
At its inception, the fair was held every two years and dedicated to a specific topic, with some Latin American countries coming as observers.
Then came the traumatic 1990s, known as the "Special Period" after the collapse of the Soviet Union as well as tighter U.S. sanctions on the Caribbean nation.
However, these years of hardship and scarcity made the Cuban literary event acquire even greater popularity and size.
In 1998, the fair changed its organizational structure and included a guest country of honor in each edition, with Mexico becoming the first nation to feature.
Two years later, it also began dedicating the event to prestigious Cuban authors or intellectuals, with local writer and poet Cintio Vitier becoming the first to be so honored.
In the early 21st century, the event adopted its current format and started to be held at the San Carlos de la Cabana fortress, a Spanish- era construction built at the entrance of Havana's bay.
Each edition had exceeded the previous one in terms of public attendance, the number of local and foreign exhibitors, and the growing participation of renowned literary figures, intellectuals and international guests.
From 2002, the book fair ceased to be an exclusive event held in the Cuban capital and it was extended to the rest of the country.
Therefore, it currently takes place in two stages, the first one lasting around 10 days in Havana before embarking on a three-month tour of the island.
The event was conceived as a place for dialogue between Cuban authors and their global counterparts, as well as allowing visitors to speak directly with writers, publishers and distributors.
In the 2017 edition, the event was attended by more than 1.8 million people, including 500 intellectuals and participants from 46 countries, while 746 new books were presented and close to 1.1 million copies were sold.
On February 1st, the 27th edition of Cuba's International book fair will open with China as the guest of honor, coinciding with Spring Festival festivities around the world.
So far, more than 440 authors, exhibitors and intellectuals from 40 countries have been confirmed as attending.
This includes the participation of well-known Chinese publishing groups, a wide artistic delegation and prestigious writers. They will seek to promote China's ancient culture in Cuba, as well as its most contemporary authors and texts.