190120 student litfest
Student enjoying Youth Day at the previous edition of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. Image Credit: ELF

Since it was launched in 2009, the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature quickly gained and then solidified its reputation as one the great literary events around the world. It is the Arab world’s largest celebration of both the written and spoken word, and celebrates all aspects of books, writing, reading and the sheer richness of words in every form.

But this is a year too with challenges like no other. Coronavirus, the pandemic, the restrictions, the need to keep apart, have all necessitated changes in the way the annual celebration of literature takes place. But the pandemic and all that it has brought, the way it has touched our lives, its effect on our psyche, are all elements that enhance the joy of words — whether read in a quiet corner of isolation, whether used to express the emotions of the times are living through.

The pandemic too serves as a very poignant reminder too of the power of words, of their relevance, of their ability to unite us and enlighten our lives even in what appears to be the darkness of times. And yes, the pandemic has brought challenges to the Emirates Literature Festival, but it still remains a premiere event, one that attracts the biggest names in the world of written and spoken words. Indeed, the organisers deserve full credit for making sure that all of the logistical and public health challenges posed by the pandemic have been faced full on and overcome with innovative solutions, thinking outside the box and a positive “can do” attitude that underscores the event’s ongoing success. The organisers included a timely session on the pandemic, setting the record straight on our most pressing public health challenge in a century.

This year’s event attracted a line-up that includes Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and acclaimed authors Amin Maalouf and Elif Shafak. The event has also showcased emerging Emirati talents on the literary scene thanks to the involvement of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority.

The annual event showcases the best of the literary world but also serves as a reminder of wonderful words that are produced here in the UAE and across the Arab world. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is an accomplished author and poet, and this year’s event highlights his recently published children’s stories. It also launched the Young Voices of Arabia book supported by Shaikha Hissa Bint Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Goodwill Ambassador of the Voices of Future Generations for the Gulf Region.