Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai was one of the leading speakers at the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival which concluded on Saturday in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature concluded on Saturday following three weekends of live and virtual appearances and sold-out sessions from Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Elif Shafak, and Lemn Sissay.

Programme highlights also included internationally acclaimed authors and Booker nominees Avni Doshi (Burnt Sugar) and Oyinkan Braithwaite (My Sister the Serial Killer), behavioural specialist and author Thomas Erikson, and a dedicated day to Emirati talent.

Three weekends, three venues

For the first time, the Festival took place across three weekends and three venues: Jameel Arts Centre (January 29 to 30), the middle weekend at the event’s home InterContinental Dubai Festival City (February 4 to 6) and finally Alserkal Avenue (February 12 to 13). Also, the festival’s digital ticket provided access to more than a dozen live streamed sessions including Malala, Amin Maalouf, and Elif Shafak. It enabled creative professionals from as far afield as Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait and the US to view the sessions.

‘Against all odds’

Festival director Ahlam Bolooki said: “We are so grateful to everyone who made this festival happen, against all odds. Over three weeks, we have seen a wonderful celebration of stories in all their iterations and art forms, and we have rejoiced in the strong sense of community coming together. It has been a festival full of creativity, inspiring conversations, and awe-inspiring speakers, providing much needed nourishment for our hearts and minds.”

Royal launch

The ‘Spotlight on Emirati talent’ included a discussion between Hala Badri and Major General Mohammad Ahmad Al Marri on the UAE’s ‘Cultural Visa’ for creatives. Minister of Culture and Youth Noura Al Kaabi spoke on a panel about the future of the Arabic language. A highlight was the celebration of the new children’s books from His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, as well as the launch of the book celebrating the first regional winners of Voices of Future Generations entitled Young Voices of Arabia.

Live streamed

Booker-nominated novelist Avni Doshi compared notes with Derek Owusu on their critically acclaimed writing debuts in ‘Literary Fiction — On the Edge’, which was live-streamed to the Bergen International Literary Festival in Norway as part of their ‘Literature Live Around the World’ segment. This feature, showcasing 12 leading international literary events, was available to view worldwide, including at the festival in Dubai.

Final weekend

Highlights of the final weekend included Emirati diplomat and author Omar Ghobash, Lemn Sissay in conversation, and an inspiring festival finale celebrating poetry, with Dana Dajani, Lemn Sissay, Afra Atiq, Danabelle Gutierrez and Zeina Hashem Beck. The Alserkal Avenue community joined in with their own creative activations and events. These included Gulf Photo Plus’ panel about self-publishing photobooks, Short+Sweet Theatre 2021 with its Shakespeare week at The Junction, Wisdom Warehouse’s many creative writing workshops, and acrylic and water colour technique workshops at Thejamjar, and more.

Prize winners

The adult winner of the Montegrappa Letter Writing Prize (English) was Katherine Rich, who took first place with ‘A Message to Gabo’. The runners up were Teejay Button with a letter to the ‘Big Monster’ character in Giles Andreae’s I love you Little Monster, and Maria Vincent with her letter, ‘Thank You, Santiago’.

Benjamin Crossland was announced as the winner of the Emirates LitFest Writing Prize for unpublished novelists.

A Students’ Edition of the festival, featuring exclusive sessions from Ali Sparkes, Isabel Thomas, Julia Johnson, among others, is available to view from February 7 to 25 for schools that have registered to participate.

The title sponsor Emirates Airline and founding partner Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), make the Festival possible.