200209 lit fest
Students check out the titles during an earlier edition of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. The 2021 edition of the event commenced today. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Bringing together literature, art, film, food as well as live and virtual interactions with acclaimed authors, the 2021 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature started on Friday at Jameel Arts Centre here. Carrying the theme, ‘Change the Story’, the opening event was the first of three festival weekends, spread over three locations across Dubai, including Dubai Festival City and Alserkal Avenue.

Children and adults alike visited the event to enjoy art, literary conversations and workshops, and to browse the books on sale by Festival authors. There were also workshops on poetry, and storytelling and creativity.

Dubai-based Stephanie Robert held a workshop based on her latest book Stella’s Song while curator Shumon Basar held a Walking Talk (tour) titled ‘Age of You’, a kaleidoscopic exhibition that explores the ‘extreme self’ and what it means to be an individual today through the work of more than 70 contributors from the worlds of art, design, filmmaking, photography, performance and electronic music.

A Walking Talk through the Comics Display was also held with distinguished librarian and avid collector, David Hirsch, who shared his experience in mapping out comic book, graphic novel, and manga practices across the Arab world.

Open-air discussion

A fully-booked free session with Dubai-based Booker Prize-nominee Avni Doshi was held in the open-air amphitheatre. Doshi’s Booker Prize-shortlisted debut novel ‘Burnt Sugar’ attracted critical acclaim for its “feverish prose” and visceral portrayal of a toxic mother-daughter relationship.

Avni discussed her journey to publication, which saw early success in winning the Tibor Jones South Asia prize but also a lengthy redrafting process, during which Avni travelled between India, the United States and the UAE, followed by a competition among publishers to get the rights to the finished novel.

The day ended with a session with avid collector and archivist Camil Karam delving into his practise of collecting rare publications, posters and prints from across the Arab world. Karam sat in conversation with Nadine Ghandour and Uns Kattan of the Art Jameel team and discussed what collecting practice means in today’s climate. Karam also shared narratives, exchanges and personal relationships involved in the process.

Day 2 schedule

The Festival continues at Jameel Arts Centre tomorrow (Saturday) with more exhibition tours, walking talks, author sessions and workshops.

Highlights include: Annabel Kantaria’s sold-out ‘Novel Writing Trouble-shooting’ workshop; Maitha Al Khayat’s Naqshun drawing workshop (for children six-eight years old); Hafsa Lodi’s masterclass on how to give new life to your book online (in English); Simar Halwany’s silent book workshop (in Arabic).

There is also a night of poetry with Dannabelle Gutierez, who will share her take on ‘Poetry in a Constantly Changing Landscape’ in a free session in the amphitheatre (in English). It will be followed by the JARA Collective’s interactive Beyond Poetry session, featuring poets and artists Shamma Al Bastaki and Sarah Almehairi, and their very first chapbook author, Arthur de Oliveira

Read more

Free and open to all

Talks and performances taking place in the Jameel Arts Centre’s outdoor amphitheatre, plus special walking talks and tours of exhibitions, are free and open to all but prior registration is required.

Organisers said the Festival is fully compliant with all COVID-19 preventive regulations and guidelines. Due to social distancing, there will be fewer tickets available. Tickets will be required for each event, including free sessions, to ensure visitor number restrictions are adhered to. Many sessions will also be live-streamed for those who are unable to attend physically or miss out on tickets.

Full list of authors is available on the Emirates LitFest website and on social media.