• Estimated crowd of 30,000 flock to events
• Workshops sell out in record time
• Authors offer praise for Dubai and audiences
The fourth edition of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature has been deemed an unprecedented success by organisers, authors and the public. It is estimated that more than 30,000 people poured through the doors of the Intercontinental Hotel Dubai Festival City and The Cultural and Scientific Association theatre to take part in the five day celebration of the written and spoken word, which concluded on the night of Saturday 10 March.
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in partnership with Emirates Airline and Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture). This year the LitFest hosted 130 authors from 30 countries and covered some 27 genres and topics in more than 200 events.
Sixteen of the 22 workshops were sold out. Organisers emphasised, however, that it was not these numbers alone that signalled success but rather the huge range of genres, types of events and activities on offer, as well as the spirit and buzz which permeated the venue.
A delighted Festival Director Isobel Abulhoul said, 'The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is for everyone – and we mean everyone – to enjoy, which is why we make sure our ticket prices are reasonable and we offer so many free events. Our objective is not just to be big. It’s to put on an amazing series of literary related events and activities with which we can all engage. It’s about taking part and to be good. It’s about discovering new authors and new genres and feeling the extraordinary satisfaction that comes from intellectual stimulation. It’s about taking a chance on a writer or speaker or language or topic you’ve never heard of just as much as finally meeting Jacqueline Wilson, Terry Wogan, Nicholas Sparks, Nawal El Saadawi or Michael Portillo. If we can give people this kind of experience then the big names and big numbers follow. The overwhelming response we’ve witnessed this year is testament to this.
'This year the theme was identity, and I think we’ve all had the chance to discover a bit more about ourselves. The programme was devised to offer as much choice as possible in recognition of the diversity of Dubai itself. I want to thank Dubai for taking the Festival into your hearts. I can’t wait till next March!'
Right from the start the venues buzzed with livewire debate and performance. Sir Terry Wogan charmed the crowd on Opening Night, followed by an electrifying performance by international and Emirati poets during which Guyana’s John Agard honoured Dubai with the world premiere of his new poem. The next evening was Heritage Night at the wonderful outdoor Arish Theatre, where David Nicholls and Mourid Barghouti thrilled and moved audiences.
Michael Portillo, who gave the 2012 George Orwell Lecture this year on the topic 'Democracy on Trial', spoke without notes, holding the undivided attention of the tightly packed room for an hour before inducing waves of laughter at his comparison of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet – of which he was a member – to a group of meerkats.
Nicholas Sparks was another huge draw, and his audience was moved to tears and cheers by the stories he shared about his personal challenges including the touching inspiration for A Walk to Remember, which is based on his sister and which he wrote in only eight days. Sparks went on to spend more than four hours with fans, signing books, posing for photographs and sharing pearls of literary wisdom and advice.
Signing records, however, stayed with the children’s authors Jacqueline Wilson, Darren Shan and Andy Stanton, who spent hours meeting all their young fans after their sell-out sessions. Many children went on to entertain themselves and others at the Young Fringe, the extraordinary Taaleem Poetry Award, the Oxford University Press prize and the Boeing Readers Cup prize giving and performance sessions. This was in addition to the two Education Days, where 100 authors interacted directly with schools and colleges.
The inimitable Nawal Al Saadawi delighted crowds with her rock star entrance followed by an intellectually rigorous discussion which stimulated lively debate for the rest of the evening across the Festival. More rock star appeal was in strong evidence when Bobby Chinn, Giorgio Locatelli and Suzanne Husseini took the stage to cook up a feast. More competition on the performance front came from the Adult Fringe, a first for 2012 but already confirmed for 2013.
Aspirant writers took inspiration from the experience of first time authors including Charles Ellingworth, Selma Dabbagh, Liz Fenwick and Alex McNabb, and rushed to meet the renowned literary agent Luigi Bonomi. So successful was Bonomi’s workshop How to Get Published that he agreed to conduct a second which was again swiftly sold out.
It was perhaps fitting that the Festival closed with two sessions featuring Emirati presenters, Maha Gargash and Dubai Culture’s own Fatema Lootah, who both focused on the heritage and identity of the UAE. Gargash spoke about capturing the past on film while Lootah explained the work of Dubai Culture in recording, preserving and passing on cultural and social traditions. This engendered lively discussion and laid the groundwork for future debate.
'The community’s response to this year’s festival was as inspiring as ever but it was equally rewarding to see how thoroughly the authors themselves enjoyed their interaction with the residents of Dubai,' said Sir Maurice Flanagan, Executive Vice Chairman, Emirates Airline and Group. 'To see authors and visitors from so many different nationalities coming together in the one place to discuss ideas from all over the world is cultural exchange at its best, and Emirates is proud to play a role in making this happen.'
Saeed Al Nabouda, Acting Director General of Dubai Culture & Arts Authority said, 'The overwhelming response from the public to the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is a clear demonstration of the deep-rooted literary heritage of Dubai. Hosting world-renowned authors as well as emerging talent, the Festival offered a true glimpse of the power of literature to connect with people from all walks of life.
'The Festival was a perfect complement to Dubai Culture’s overall approach to promote a culture of dialogue and strengthen various art forms, while also inspiring our youngsters to pursue their talent in their chosen creative field. This was further highlighted through the poetry and heritage session introduced by the Authority this year. This year’s festival and the literary thought processes it has inspired will further build the literary base of Dubai. The Authority is delighted to extend its support to the Festival, and we are confident that in the coming years of the Festival, more Dubai-based talent will occupy a central place in the Festival as acclaimed authors.'
Authors were quick to send messages of praise to the Festival. Comments included:
The Festival represents the positive values that I cherish – multi-culturalism, civil society initiatives, and excellent organisation of events. I felt comfortable and I learned a lot in the company of other colleagues from different parts of the world, especially at the Arish for my evening. It was amazing.
The Festival is a vital crucible for a meeting of minds across literary genres. It is inspiring to be part of if and share in this human connection.
What a fantastic Festival. I have had an absolutely great time. Invite me back!
Dubai is a unique place, such a relaxed atmosphere in the city and at the Festival. The Festival is splendid, brilliantly organised, so friendly. I feel really at home, and welcomed by everyone. Yang Lian Great! Poetic! The moving profound part was the interacting within the Arabic world!
Dania El Kadi
I love it and everyone I spoke to loved it too. Two big things that were great – meeting with other writers, and being able to talk shop with others from around the world. The LitFestorganised that many of us went to see schools and that gave us a great opportunity to talk and interact with readers and future readers, so it was very special.
My image of the Festival is of hordes of young people coming in – a whole new audience being nurtured at this Festival. There were families arriving together, this is something very unusual, and Dubai is buzzing with words and excitement about other different kinds of words. My sense is how powerful and beautiful the word is. This is recognised even in calligraphy. I love what AC Grayling said: 'the sound of tyranny is silence.'
What I like about Dubai is that is it a unique place in the Gulf. It is a place where different nationalities can meet and share. In my session we were discussing the notion of identity. I’m 100 per cent for what Dubai has achieved, and to see that it is real. It is actually happening. It is a brilliant mix of cultures. Dubai is a melting pot and a cultural melting pot as well.
I got to meet and befriend lots of exciting authors, consolidated old relationships, eaten greatly and I’ve enjoyed meeting the locals at the Festival and at the school that I visited. I’ve learned what Dubai is for the first time – even basic things like the weekend here is Friday and Saturday and not Saturday and Sunday. I’ve learned who lives here and this sense that I had that Dubai is a business capital but it is also an artistic hub. That was new to me and that is because I met the locals at the Festival.
I thought it was fantastic at the Festival to see so many people getting excited about books, particularly all the kids sitting around queuing and reading in the hotel lobby. It is extremely important in the Gulf (& the Middle East) to have initiatives like this.
It was an extraordinary experience which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I am so grateful to Isobel and her team for embracing the idea of the Arish. It is like a dream come true. The Festival is a fascinating event where diversity of culture is celebrated. At the Opening Night poems were read on stage in Chinese, English, Arabic and Punjabi. We are enriched by all these authors and these experiences.
For more information please contact:
Mohammed Barghuthi, Communications Manager, Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
Mohammed.firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone: 04 353 4002 / 050 714 7170
Christina Bruce, Head of Communications, Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
Christina.email@example.com Telephone 04 353 4002
About the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is the Middle East’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word, bringing people of all ages and backgrounds together with authors from across the world to promote education, debate and above all else, love of reading and writing. The Festival creates a wonderful opportunity for UAE nationals, residents and visitors to meet world famous authors, attend literary debates, listen to readings, participate in workshops and experience the exciting fringe and children’s events. With simultaneous translation between Arabic and English for all sessions, the Festival is a meeting of minds where ideas are shared and friendships are formed – not least among the authors themselves.
The 2013 Festival will be held between March 5-9, 2013 at The Intercontinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City.
Details at www.emirateslitfest.com
Emirates is one of the fastest growing airlines in the world and has received more than 500 international awards for excellence. Emirates now flies to over 120 destinations in 72 countries. Emirates operates 170 wide-body Airbus and Boeing aircraft, and has orders for an additional 233 aircraft, worth more than USD$84 billion.
About Dubai Culture & Arts Authority
The Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) was launched on March 8, 2008 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President & Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. Dubai Culture plays a critical part in achieving the vision of the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 of establishing the city as vibrant, global Arabian metropolis that shapes culture and arts in the region and the world. The organisation has announced several initiatives that strengthen the historic and modern cultural fabric of Dubai. These include:
The Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Patrons of the Arts Awards: The first of its kind initiative in the Arab world honouring individuals and organisations who have made financial or in kind contributions through sustained support to visual arts, performing arts, literature and film in the region.
Sikka Art Fair: An annual art fair aimed at promoting Emirati and local artists in the UAE.
Dubai Festival for Youth Theatre: An annual festival that celebrates and fosters the art of theatre in the UAE.
Dubai Next: To encourage and sponsor initiatives that contribute actively to the development of the cultural events and activities in Dubai. Recently, Dubai Culture showcased Dubai's aspirations in culture to an international audience at one of the world's most prestigious platforms, the Art Basel 39 art fair.
The Holy Lands: A collaboration with the unique and creatively rich Reiss EngelhornMuseen of Mannheim to bring an exclusive collection of never before exhibited rare photographs to the region and more specifically Dubai.