A previous edition of Desert Stanzas that precedes public sessions of the festival Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, one of the world’s top ten literary festivals, begins tomorrow in Dubai at InterContinental Dubai Festival City and Mohammed bin Rashid Library.

The “crystal edition” is expected to be “exceptional”, organisers said, with the largest line-up ever, featuring over 260 authors and talents from around the world in more than 300 sessions and workshops covering a wide range of topics such as literature, arts, culture, and more. Among the best-known names are Brian Cox, the Emmy-winning patriarch of the hit streaming series Succession; master storytellers Jeffrey Archer, Cecelia Ahern, Mohsin Hamid, and Alexander McCall Smith; Indian politician Shashi Tharoor; renowned religious commentator Reza Aslan; multi-talented top children’s author David Walliams, and others.

An archived image of the official ceremony choir of the Litfest Image Credit: Supplied

Opening ceremony

Desert Stanzas, the festival’s signature event, will make its return on the opening night on February 1, featuring poetry renditions and narratives that encourage reminiscing, paying tribute to ancestral wisdom and cultures of the past. There will also be an homage to the preservation of the planet and the COP28 story, interpreted through performance.

A file photo of a poetry evening held under the event Image Credit: Supplied

Festival Director Ahlam Bolooki said: “The Festival cannot celebrate its 15th anniversary without our dear friends; the sponsors and partners who work tirelessly to guarantee the Festival’s success, the writers and talents who bring a sense of life and joy to the Festival, the audience who returns year after year to support our festival, and the team and volunteers who work day and night to deliver an extraordinary edition every time. This edition, the biggest and most special ever, is for them.”

She added: “I can’t wait to welcome everyone to our new venue sponsor, Mohammed bin Rashid Library, and to the original home of the Festival, InterContinental Dubai Festival City to celebrate our joint success, the fruits of years of hard work, and the community we’ve built together over the years.”

The Festival is organised with the support of Title Sponsor Emirates Airline and Founding Partner, the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture). The event 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.

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Special events

On the agenda are several special events like ‘A Dinner with Bobby Chinn’, a vegan feast crafted by the celebrity chef on February 3, showing how elegant dining can still have a focus on sustainability, with an exclusive menu at Zaytoun Restaurant in the InterContinental Dubai Festival City, accompanied by a chat with the man himself.

Top novelists from around the world will be joining the Festival, among them are the art-historian and BAFTA nominated broadcaster James Fox; the influential best-selling British historical novelist Kate Mosse; mathematician and author of popular mathematics and science books Marcus du Sautoy, Head of Business Marketing at TikTok MENA; Annie Arsane Mattar, the winner of the 2022 International Booker, Geetanjali Shree and more.

For the first time ever, the Festival has welcomed a guest curator - poet and author Lemn Sissay - who brings his own flair to selected events.

This year’s Emirati strand, sponsored by Dubai Culture, runs right throughout the programme, celebrating the culture of the country and providing an opportunity for Emirati and international authors to share ideas and have conversations on a range of topics that appeal to the multicultural audiences that fill the sessions.

Supporting talent

Dr Saeed Mubarak bin Kharbash, CEO of the Arts and Literature Sector at Dubai Culture, stressed the importance of Dubai hosting literature and culture festivals, saying: “Over the course of 15 years, the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature has been able to turn into an effective global platform that contributes to supporting local talent, highlighting their achievements and creativity, and presenting them to the world, through its activities and sessions that enrich the local and regional cultural scene, and its qualitative discussions that encourage cultural exchange between human societies, which falls within the framework of Dubai Culture’s commitments aimed at creating a sustainable cultural environment that attracts intellectuals and literature from all over the world.”

He added: “The authority seeks, through its partnership with the festival, to provide creative opportunities for all local and regnal creatives and talents, and to enable them to express their creative ideas and inspiring literary and artistic visions, which are in line with the spirit of the festival’s motto ‘Old Friends’. The opening of the festival’s 15th edition also coincides with the launch of Dubai Art Season, which presents a variety of initiatives that offer community members a chance to ‘Take a Walk on the Art Side’ throughout February and March 2023.”

‘Old Friends’

Many sessions will be inspired by the 2023 Festival theme of ‘Old Friends,’ which will celebrate the friendships created over the past 15 years.

While the majority of the sessions take place at the Interconnectional Dubai Festival City, the audience can enjoy taking the Abra boat trip in Dubai Creek and attend a few sessions at the Mohammed bin Rashid Library.

Mohammed Al Murr, Chairman of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Library Foundation, said: “We at Mohammed Bin Rashid Library share a common vision with The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature to foster creativity in a thoughtful manner, which support advancing the literary and intellectual scene at the local and regional levels. The Festival has successfully strengthened its position and given Emirati authors across various fields of literature an ideal opportunity to learn about diverse global cultures and reach out to others. It also represents a positive step towards boosting the infrastructure of the writing and publishing sector.”

He added: “MBRL is always keen to support various cultural events and prominent festivals, driven by its belief in the importance of the creative economy as an important component of knowledge economies. This is in line with the objectives of the Dubai Creative Economy Strategy 2025, aiming to transform Dubai into a preferred destination for international talents and the global capital of the creative economy.”

Ticket prices start at AED 25. Also new this year are day-long, weekend, student and publishing day passes starting at Dh199 and an all-access Crystal Pass with exclusive entry to the Green Room. Also returning is the Festival Fringe, with a host of free events and performances for the whole family.