Where in the UAE can you meet world-famous authors, be enchanted by performance poetry, participate in workshops and have a healthy debate about all things literary? The answer is right around the corner, at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature that’s running from March 3-11.
Over nine days, a variety of great minds will descend on InterContinental Dubai Festival City to share ideas, make friends and, best of all, immerse themselves in the glorious world of books. And there are plenty of activities for grown-ups and kids. This is what you’ve got to look forward to…
1 From small seeds, mighty acorns grow
What began as an important nod to reading and literature in the UAE back in 2009, with 65 writers and a four-day event, has now become a well-oiled and prestigious festival, which will see over 140 writers and influencers coming to the city to celebrate the written word. This year, the festival has a jam-packed run with international novelists and essayists rubbing shoulders with local writers, bookworms and performance poets, all with a common purpose – to pass stories on to each other and the thousands of word-hungry visitors who join them. The hectic programme includes workshops and masterclasses, film screenings, award ceremonies for new authors, and an entire schedule dedicated to children.
2 Home is where the books are
At the Intercontinental, which is the festival’s long-running home, you can spend your time reading for hours at one of the cute little coffee docks, or walk around the huge book fair to restock your personal library. There are plenty of activities to keep the tots entertained as well. Right next door, at the Festival City Mall, the stage is set for The Fringe festival, which will see music, dance and theatrical performances by hundreds of students from across the UAE. Naturally, you can top up your literary journey with a browse around the shops afterwards!
3 Words are priceless (kind of…)
Readings and workshops are priced individually and range from Dhs50 (for a reading) to Dhs450 for the Murder Mystery Dinner. Tickets for all the sessions can be booked through www.emirateslitfest.com. However, if you’re planning to participate in numerous events and want to keep the momentum going throughout the year, then it’s worth becoming a Foundation Friend. A family membership for two adults and two children under 18 years costs an incredible Dhs575 annually and offers a number of benefits such as ten percent discounts on
all ticket purchases, priority booking and reserved seating.
4 Little readers aren’t forgotten
Pre-schoolers love large picture books with bright splashes of colour and clever story plots. So they are in for a real treat this year as they meet some of the stars who’ve been the highlights of their bedtime stories. Watch out for Richard Byrne, who will be bringing his cheeky little heroine Bella and her cheekier sidekick Ben the dog, for a hilarious interactive session featuring live drawing and stories aplenty. You can even go on a hat hunt with Jon Klassen of the award-winning picture books I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat. The third part of the trilogy, We Found a Hat, features two shifty-eyed turtles, one fabulous hat, and a struggle between loyalty and temptation. That’s the stuff.
5 Hoodlums and heroes
When Horrid Henry comes to town, there is sure to be mischief at every corner. The much-loved scribe of the six- to nine-year-old set, Francesca Simon, is arriving to set the record straight about her dastardly trickster Henry and how he took on a life of his own. Other writers to wow the crowd of sassy six- and seven-year-olds include Julia Johnson of The Old Man and His Donkey fame and Andy Stanton of Marvelously Malevolent Mr Gum, who says, “It’s such a pleasure to meet Dubai’s young readers and fill their heads with nonsense and silliness (and hopefully a bit of inspiration, too).”
6 Tall tales for tweens
If you’ve got a kid who relishes good books in your squad, then be prepared for a week of wonder as they meet their idols. Ghouls and ghosts, heroes and villains jump out of the pages to spark imaginations and foster a life-long love of reading. Some of the genre’s great authors coming to town include Lucy Strange of the UK, who’s bringing with her the glorious mysteries of her much-touted debut novel The Secret of Nightingale Wood, which was chosen as Waterstones’ Book of the Month and one of The Daily Telegraph’s top books of 2016. You’ll also meet Piers Torday of the acclaimed The Last Wild trilogy, and Abi Elphinstone, the Scottish writer of super popular books The Dreamsnatcher and The Shadow Keeper.
7 Illustrate this
Kids love to colour and, this year, the festival brings some of the industry’s brightest illustrators to the table. Get a chance to meet Sarah Mcintyre of Pugs of the Frozen North fame and Maitha Al Khayat, one of the UAE’s most prolific illustrators and writers of Emirati children’s books. Michael Foreman will also make an appearance with his little camel from Jamal’s Journey, along with a menagerie of memorable animal characters. Grown-ups can get in on the act, too, and listen to the intriguing story of doodle artist Kerby Rosanes, who is suddenly everywhere – from his colouring books Animorphia and Imagimorphia to advertising campaigns for Nike and Mazda, and cover art for Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight. We wonder, how did this exceptional artist come to capture people’s imaginations? And what does an artist, who prefers working in black and white, think of the colouring book trend?
8 Write your own
Grab a pen, get scribbling and who knows where it might lead. You’ll get the opportunity to do just that at workshops running throughout the duration of the festival. These are a great way for children to become confident about their writing and let their imaginations go wild. Writers such as Tanya Landman of the Sam Swann’s Movie Mysteries series, and Smriti Prasadam-Halls – one half of the dynamic duo to pen My Alien and Me – will help young scribes cook up a story, teach them valuable lessons in creating a hero, exploring myths and defining themes. Wait, there’s more! Candy Gourlay, author of Shine, which was on the longlist for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, will also be on hand to work with budding young writers. Her advice to aspiring authors? “Read, read, read. Live, live, live. Write, write, write.”
9 Discover our local language
For lovers of Arabic, there are plenty of sessions to keep the crowds entertained, with some of the best writers in the region bringing their stories to life. Hooda Shawa Qaddumi, author of the award-winning book The Birds’ Journey to Mount Qaf, sets the record straight on the amazing journey of one of the world’s most famous elephants in her session, The Elephant’s Journey (based on her book of the same name). Meanwhile, Amal Farah will wow the younger ones with her story about a little girl who wants to be a turtle (I Want to be a Turtle) and Sahar Naja Mahfouz will enchant with her tales from The Story Maker. Mahfouz tells us that reading helped to shape her taste in books, her writing skills and even her grammar abilities in her mother tongue. A session in Arabic is a great way to embrace the region we live in and make the language part of our lives.
10 For the grown-ups
It might look like the festival is just for the kids, but don’t be fooled. The children’s programme is actually secondary to the main schedule, which takes adults on an unforgettable literary journey with plenty of panel discussions and insightful conversations. This edition will have a strong focus on peace, tolerance and happiness, with a number of panels dedicated to discussing the challenges of turning noble goals into reality. There are too many participating authors to list here, but, just to whet the appetite, prepare to be mesmerised by Jon Ronson, Alan Titchmarsh, Jeffrey Archer and Sue Moorcroft. The foodie genre is exciting, too. Don’t miss afternoon tea with The Great British Bake Off champion Nadiya Hussain, lunch with Indian chef extraordinaire Nisha Katona and an enlightening supper with noted authors Sabrina Ghayour and Peter Frankopan as they discuss the impact of the Silk Road on our history and our cuisines.
11 Poetry please
A very entertaining part of the festival is its celebration of performance poetry and this year you can hear the innermost thoughts of some icons such as Palestinian Mourid Barghouti and Jamaican Kei Miller. A big highlight is a night under the stars at a traditional desert camp, with an Arabian feast around a campfire. Add to this a series of performances from some of the best poets in the world and voilà, you’ve got Desert Stanzas. Five writers will be waxing lyrical in the Dubai desert, while you relax on a Bedouin-style cushion.
Prices and timings vary. March 3-11. InterContinental Dubai Festival City. For the schedules, visit www.emirateslitfest.com.
What to expect
The estimated number of writers, thinkers and influencers en route to Dubai for this year’s edition.
The number of countries represented by icons from around the globe.
The number of children’s writers on hand to spark imaginations and inspire young readers.
The average number of visitors, young and old, who will enjoy participating in the literary fiesta.