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Visitors at an earlier edition of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, one of the cultural highlights of the year, opens today, with an exceptional line-up featuring Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai and renowned authors Elif Shafak, Amin Maalouf and Lemn Sissay.

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, the literature fest also features internationally-acclaimed authors and Booker nominees Avni Doshi (Burnt Sugar) and Oyinkan Braithwaite (My Sister the Serial Killer). There is also a day dedicated to Emirati authors.

According to the organisers, there will be live appearances and virtual sessions during three weekends across three venues: Jameel Arts Centre (January 29-30); InterContinental Dubai Festival City (February 4-6), and Alserkal Avenue (February 12-13). The Festival will be fully compliant with all COVID-19 preventive regulations and guidelines from Dubai Health Authority, including social distancing measures across all three venues and mandatory wearing of masks.

Live and virtual events

Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Youth, said: “Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is undoubtedly one of the most significant cultural events in the country and the wider region. I am very happy to know that the line-up of speakers, both live and virtual, is no less impressive than in the previous editions. I am sure the event will provide all cultural aficionados in the country and beyond a wonderful opportunity to listen to and interact with a host of creative geniuses from various spheres. I hope the event will also be an occasion for reflecting on the kind of literature produced in different part of the world in the backdrop of the pandemic.”

Festival director Ahlam Bolooki added: “We are beyond excited to have been able to stage the event this year with live appearances, in addition to welcoming a number of international authors who, due to current circumstances, are joining us virtually. What hasn’t changed is the breadth of subjects covered, the entertaining talks, incisive discussions and memorable performances.”

Sir Tim Clark, Emirates airline president, noted: “In spite of the challenges around us, we are proud to connect authors and storytellers with their audiences physically in Dubai, and virtually around the world at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. The lens of literature shapes the way we understand and experience the world, especially as we live through and make sense of this historical moment. Events like the festival add to the overall richness of our collective conversation about books and empower us to think differently about our future.”

Hala Badri, director general of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, added: “This year’s festival has many topics that directly impact our contemporary life. We hope this edition of the festival will enhance the public’s love for reading and instil in them hope for a brighter future.”

Book early

Organisers said due to social distancing, there will be fewer tickets available, so early booking was recommended. Tickets will be required for each event, including free sessions, to ensure visitor number restrictions are adhered to. Many sessions will also be livestreamed for those who are unable to attend physically or miss out on tickets.

The Festival begins at Jameel Arts Centre with a selection of specially curated, literary-themed events. The programme includes a host of live appearances, workshops, exhibitions and children’s activities, with sessions featuring 2020 Booker-nominated novelist Avni Doshi. There will also be book art and design workshops and exhibitions, calligraphy, poetry, creative writing and more. Many sessions are free to attend, including a packed programme of activities for children.

The Festival will continue with the big middle weekend at InterContinental Dubai Festival City from February 4-6. Featured authors include Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Elif Shafak, Amin Maalouf and Oyinkan Braithwaite (My Sister the Serial Killer). There will also be a special day dedicated to Emirati talent, sponsored by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority.

Alserkal Avenue (12-13 February) will be the venue for the final weekend that will feature acclaimed Egyptian writer Ahmed Mourad and a closing event by performance poets Lemn Sissay and Afra Atiq.

Ticket prices start at Dh60 for adult sessions, Dh40 for children’s sessions, and Dh100 for a digital pass to watch live-streamed sessions from home. A minimum of ten top sessions will be streamed live from the big Festival weekend at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City. Full list of authors is available on the Emirates LitFest website and on social media.