The official ceremony for the 2019 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature (1-9 March 2019) took place today with a myriad of voices paying tribute to the Arab world’s annual homage to the written and spoken word.

Dana Al Blooshi, the young Emirati dynamo, who at 12 years old is the youngest author appearing at the Festival, began the proceedings. Dana is also the youngest Emirati to train with NASA and is involved in their programmes in the fields of aeronautics and space administration. She recently published her debut book 13 Amazing Women of Arabia in which she tells the stories of inspiring women from fields as diverse as science, government, fashion, business, sports and more. The book features H.E. Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, who gave a keynote speech on this year’s festival theme, United by Words. She said: “The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is a landmark event in the UAE’s cultural calendar. The festival has successfully cemented its position as a premier platform for writers, thinkers, intellectuals and innovators to come together and discover latest publications and projects. It also allows the UAE to present our best authors and writers to the rest of the world through a truly diverse cultural experience.” 

Al Kaabi stressed on the importance of literature in promoting values of pluralism, diversity and intercultural dialogue. “The festival is a great platform to cultivate thought and creativity. Through rich cultural discourse, we are able to promote the values of tolerance, which is in line with the Festival’s theme and the Year of Tolerance in the UAE.”

Two of the choirs from ChoirFest ME, Gems International School Treble Choir, and Sharjah English School Choir, brought a delightful and uplifting repertoire of music and song to the proceedings while a traditional oud player provided a background accompaniment to the event.

Festival director Ahlam Bolooki said that the ceremony encapsulated everything that the Festival represented: “Our 2019 Festival has had a marvellous start, celebrating stories that connect, entertain, inspire and intrigue. We chose the theme of ‘United by Words’ for 2019 because we wanted to emphasise the importance of inclusivity and tolerance, with sessions that speak to us all, no matter who you are or where you are from.  We’ve just completed the first half of the Festival, with fantastic sessions which I think showed the depth and range of the programme. Our Festival is truly a meeting of minds, a bringing together of ideas and topics that are relevant to us all, and we can look forward to the rest of the Festival which promises to be just as brilliant and inspiring.”

The programme featured two of the winners of the Festival student competitions. Cheryl Leah Mathew, from Delhi Private School and winner of the Oxford University Press (OUP) storytelling competition, read an extract from her winning entry, and Ward AbdulHalim Hasan from Dubai National School read her winning poem from the Taaleem Award for Poetry.

Himakshi Shastri, a student from Dubai College, also spoke at the event, talking about the importance of the Festival to her family.  Himakshi’s family has had a long association with the event and she is the grand-daughter of Ram Buxani who appeared at the Festival last year. Himakshi is involve in the Festival this year, reading her book Prized Words to youngstersin the Penguin Random House story.  

The Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development is a strategic partner for creativity. It aims to maximise the creative potential at the Festival of Literature, whether it is writing, poetry, drawing and illustration, or drama, enabling a variety of new initiatives to flourish. 

Ahlam Bolooki said of the partnership: “Your mind will be buzzing with thoughts that with just a little help can begin to take shape. Turn a dream into a reality!”

The event also marked the signing earlier in the day of an agreement between the National Media Council (NMC) and the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, to work more closely together to further support Emirati writers by implementing a wide range of initiatives.

This year’s Festival Personality is Abdul Ghaffar Hussain, a respected publisher, journalist and writer. His son accepted the award on his behalf from H.H. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Department of Civil Aviation, Chairman and Chief Executive Emirates Airline & Group, Chairman Dubai Airports and Chairman Emirates Literature Foundation.

The Festival programme is brimming with sessions to engage, entertain and inform, with topics encompassing fiction, history, current affairs, food, health, travel, biography, business and more.  There are opportunities to appreciate poetry, take part in creative writing workshops and generally indulge in intelligent and articulate discussion on a wide range of topics. Sessions appeal to all ages and nationalities, featuring outstanding authors, thinkers and opinion formers.

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is held in partnership with Emirates Airline and the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), the Emirate’s dedicated authority for arts, culture, heritage and literature. The Festival begins Dubai Culture’s flagship art initiative Dubai Art Season (DAS), which features a two-month citywide activation of art events.

 It is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.