Christine Lawson, Deputy Principal Officer, U.S. Consulate General Dubai at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Dubai: The annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai has helped strengthened the cultural ties and mutual understanding between the UAE and United States through arts and literature, said a senior diplomat from the US Consulate General.

Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the official opening ceremony of the 14th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Friday, Christine Lawson, deputy principal officer at the US Consulate General in Dubai, said: “Emirates LitFest has always been an amazing opportunity to boost the cultural exchange between the UAE and US.”

She underlined US participation at the annual literary festival has bolstered the “enduring partnerships between the two countries in the cultural arena.”

Lawson, who speaks Arabic, Spanish, and Romanian and who previously worked as director of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, noted the US mission in the UAE has been supporting Emirates Airline Festival of Literature since 2018 by sending around four to five authors from the US to speak at the literary festival in Dubai.

“This year, we have brought to the LitFest four authors (Alka Joshi, Sara Forden, Erin Entrada Kelly and Carlos Gomez) and an award-winning spoken word artist (Queena Bergen) who will also be performing at Expo 2020 Dubai,” she added.

Lawson also said the US mission in the UAE has previously sent Emiratis Eman AlYousef and Salha Obeid to the United States for the prestigious writing program called International Writing Program (IWP) at Iowa University. Several American writers and artists have also performed at Expo 2020 Dubai and expanded their reach in other emirates.

“We are also always looking for opportunities to expand our cooperation and cultural ehcange by having a number of robust programmes promoting literature and arts,” said Lawson, adding the US Consulate is also actively participating at Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival.

Christine Lawson, Deputy Principal Officer, U.S. Consulate General Dubai at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

American authors

Lawson said four prolific authors and a celebrated spoken word artist are gracing this year’s LitFest. Here are their brief profiles and how to catch them.

Alka Joshi - Born in India and raised in the US, Joshi is the author of The Henna Artist, which is being adapted into a Netflix series, starring Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire). Her debut novel, which she published at age 62, is a riveting story of a henna artist named Lakshmi living in Jaipur, India during the post-independence era. This is also a powerful narrative of struggle, self-discovery, and power set in 1950s Jaipur. The book has a sequel titled ‘The Secret Keeper of Jaipur’, which intertwines Lakshmi’s story with that of her protégé, Malik, and is set 12 years after the events of The Henna Artist. Catch Joshi speak on Saturday, February 5, at 2pm.

Sara Gay Forden – is the acclaimed author of the engaging novel The House of Gucci: Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed, which she wrote after covering the Italian fashion industry in Milan for more than 15 years. Forden is a journalist based in Washington, D.C., where she leads a team that covers lobbying and the challenges faced by big technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. Forden will talk about “the true crime story of one of the biggest fashion dynasties in history” on Saturday at 3pm.

Erin Entrada Kelly – Filipino-American writer of children’s literature, Kelly is a New York Times-bestselling author who won the Newbury Medal for Hello, Universe. She is a professor of children’s literature at Rosemont College and a winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Her books include Hello, Universe; The Land of Forgotten Girls; and her latest, We Dream of Space. Her workshop session at the LitFest on Saturday will delve on how to create realistic characters.

Carlos Andrés Gómez – An award-winning Colombian-American poet representing Dubai and New York City, Gomez will have a collaboration with ground-breaking musician Brent Shuttleworth. Their multi-lingual, multi-genre performance is in celebration of the power of the word and its ability to transcend divisions and boundaries. Gómez is a Colombian-American award-winning poet.

Queena Bergen – A creative entrepreneur and storyteller, Bergen has been competing in creative competitions since she was nine years old. She is among the featured spoken word artists doing a special event titled, Fresh Air, Fresh Lyrics: An Open Mic Night on February 9, together with Blank Space, Danabelle Gutierrez, Elizabeth Acevedo, Mark Fiddes, Qissa Go and Rochelle Potkar

‘Here Comes the Sun’

Recognised as one of the world’s leading literary festivals and the largest celebration of the written and spoken word in the Arab World, the Emirates LitFest started with ‘Emirati Cultural Day’ on February 3. The literary festival will run until February 13 at Hilton Dubai and Habtoor Palace Hotel.

This year’s festival is being held under the theme ‘Here Comes the Sun’. Besides the new venue at Al Habtoor City, there will also be special events at Expo 2020 Dubai and Caravanserai for LitFest.

The LitFest features experts from the worlds of science, history and art. There are also foodie events and performances from some of the world’s most accomplished spoken word artists. As always, there is an interactive programme for children, and workshops for all ages covering poetry, creative writing and storytelling, drawing and illustration.

The festival is compliant with all current covid regulations. Visitors are asked to wear masks and provide proof of vaccination, or a negative PCR taken within the previous 72 hours. For the full list of authors, visit the LitFest website.