It hardly seems possible that the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is preparing for the sixth annual event to be held in Dubai, UAE, 4-8 March 2014.
So much has happened in a relatively short space of time in terms of literary festivals, and it must be the unique influence of Dubai, where things have a habit of evolving very quickly!
The 2013 LitFest was a truly wonderful fifth anniversary for everyone: authors, audiences, sponsors and supporters, the LitFest Team and the wonderful volunteers. We launched several events for the first time, and Desert Stanzas was voted the most memorable and special evening of them all. I think it had something to do with the extra twinkly stars that shone that night, plus the visit by the festival patron HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who honoured the gathering in the desert with his presence. HH Sheikh Mohamed also issued a Decree setting up the Emirates Literature Foundation on the eve of the 2013 Festival – with perfect timing!
In May 2013, we were absolutely ecstatic to have been voted the best festival in the Middle East, and it was especially gratifying as the endorsement came from our peers in the events industry. It was a wonderful and defining moment to have had an international independent panel of industry judges vote and select the Festival as the winner.
I think that is a genuine accolade for cultural events in the UAE and an affirmation that audiences love live and celebratory events that have the written word at their heart. The award is a great tribute to our small team who work with such enthusiasm throughout the year to produce this marvellous event, the many volunteers who join us to make the event so outstanding, and the support of our many sponsors, particularly our title sponsor Emirates and partners Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, without whom the Festival would not be possible.
The winner of the Montegrappa First Fiction Competition, Annabel Kantaria, flew to UK in April and visited London Book Fair, and we look forward to hearing good news on her novel.
The student competitions – the Oxford University Press Short Story Competition, Taaleem Poetry Award and Chevron Readers’ Cup – were more popular than ever and hotly contested in both Arabic and English.
A new students’ competition will be introduced for 2014, and the team is so excited about this additional opportunity that will enable students to shine. More on that can be found under the competitions tab.
It needs to be stressed that the success of the 2013 Festival was due to the wholehearted support from the sponsors, the writers (the reason we have a LitFest), the community who makes up a greater part of the audiences, the large numbers of volunteers, and the performers in the amazing Fringe events.
Many of you have now visited our permanent home Dar Al Adaab in Dubai’s Al Fahidi Historic Area, a beautiful old pedestrian area close to Dubai Creek. You are welcome to drop in and see us any time, and please do check out the exciting, interesting programme of the Open Door Series presented by Costa Coffee, which runs throughout the year. For the 2013/14 Open Door series, we will be holding Arabic classes, intensive creative writing workshops, author visits, poetry and musical events, prominent speaker sessions, young people’s book group and so on. The full schedule will be posted on the website in September 2013.
What can we all expect for 2014?
A fantastic lineup of esteemed writers from around the world is guaranteed, thanks to the hundreds of authors who have already attended, and who have spread the word amongst the community of writers. Authors who have visited always remark on the fantastic diversity of audiences, their enthusiasm and intelligence, the number of young festival goers, and the chance to meet authors from the region and from around the globe.
There will be some exciting new sessions and different events for 2014, and we have listened carefully to the excellent feedback we received from 2013 so that we can ensure that festival-goers have the best possible experience at the LitFest.
A festival such as ours gives the audience a special opportunity to hear writers’ opinions live, up close and personal, to join in with their own views, never quite knowing where the debate will lead.
Uniquely, we have simultaneous translation in selected sessions, opening doors and taking us across cultural borders. This makes an enormous difference, particularly in allowing non-Arabic speakers to hear Arab authors whose work may not have been translated. Every year I get to hear stories from people who have taken a chance on an author whose name may be unfamiliar but whose work sounded intriguing. I find that given the chance to learn about another culture or an unfamiliar topic, people will embrace it gladly, and this is one of the most rewarding aspects of the Festival.
Ben Okri, the Booker Prize winning novelist and poet who attended in 2013, said ‘While nations may fight wars, they also read each other’s books. Literature is the greatest friend maker’. It certainly allows us to understand better other cultures, customs, histories, cuisine, fashions, and much more.
Our festival-goers bring their enthusiasm for intelligent debate, helping to create a festival which is about so much more than just literature. It is hugely rewarding to be able to provide such an event in the region, and to have it enjoyed so much by such a diversity of writers and audiences.
So finally, book the sessions you want to go to early to avoid disappointment, try something unknown and new, go to a session in translation and don’t miss the wonderful Penguin Fringe!
The next Emirates Airline Festival of Literature will be held 4-8 March 2014
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