Acclaimed author Elif Shafak is among the big names at this year's Emirates Festival of Literature Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai is set for its big weekend (Thursday to Saturday) with a line-up that includes Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, acclaimed authors Elif Shafak and Amin Maalouf, and a day dedicated to Emirati talent (on Thursday), sponsored by Dubai Culture and Arts Authority.

The events at the annual festival at InterContinental Hotel Dubai Festival City will see live sessions featuring home-grown writers, poets and experts combined with virtual appearances from international authors. Tickets for some events are already sold out, but the festival’s Dh100 digital ticket, giving access to at least 10 live streamed sessions, including Malala and Elif Shafak, means that fans can still catch the action virtually.

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Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin discusses how to find the balance between strength and weakness in his novel

Other authors include internationally acclaimed writer and journalist Amin Maalouf with his timely work ‘Adrift: How Our World Lost Its Way’, and Thomas Erikson, author of the runaway bestseller ‘Surrounded by Idiots’, discussing the challenges of communication with self-development author Sherif Arafa.

Royal readings

The festival is also set to host the celebration of the recently launched children’s stories from His Highness Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on Friday. The festival is hosting the launch of the ‘Young Voices of Arabia’ book, supported by Shaikha Hissa Bint Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Goodwill Ambassador of the Voices of Future Generations for the Gulf Region. The book features the winning entries from the 2020 competition.

Emirati talent

The ‘Spotlight on Emirati talent’ day, Thursday, includes a discussion between Hala Badri and Major General Mohammed Ahmad Al Marri on the UAE’s ‘Cultural Visa’ for creatives. Minister of Culture and Youth Noura Al Kaabi will speak as part of a session about the future of the Arabic language.

The invitation-only official ceremony will feature festival favourite Afra Atiq performing a poem about the wonder of storytelling.

Booker Prize shortlisted Avni Doshi will be in conversation with award-winning Derek Owusu, comparing notes on debuts, making the awards lists, their writing journeys and more.

Varied sessions

Other highlights include Oyinkan Braithwaite with her smash-hit novel My Sister the Serial Killer, self-confessed ‘romcomisseur” Bolu Babalola breathing new life into mythical love stories, and Immanuel Kim, the translator of Friend by Paek Nam-nyong, with insights into North Korean literature and cinema. There’s also Satyarth Nayak celebrating the phenomenon of Bollywood star Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess, Edward Brooke-Hitching taking us on a tour of The Madman’s Library, and Malala’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai, the Co-founder and Chairman of the Malala Fund that champions girls’ rights to education all over the world.

Consultant Paediatric Neurosurgeon Jay Jayamohan, star of the BBC’s fly-on-the-wall series, Brain Doctors and Children’s Craniofacial Surgery will join medical expert Nafea Alyasi and Dr Rupy Aujla, author of Eat to Beat Illness on a panel debunking the misinformation surrounding topics from fad diets to the coronavirus outbreak. The route to wellness and good mental health will be examined by Heather Grace.

The conservation of the UAE’s wildlife is on the agenda in a fascinating panel discussing the plants and animals that make the mangroves, reefs and deserts of the UAE their home. Join Major Ali Al Suwaidi, president of the Emirates Marine Environmental Group and ‘the UAE’s last pearl diver’ and marine heritage expert Johannes Els, who will tell us about the steps being taken to conserve our natural world.

Victoria Montgomery Brown will discuss the lessons from her book, the Digital Goddess: The Unfiltered Lessons of a Female Entrepreneur with Afra Atiq, while Andy Fieldhouse will explain how to build more effective teams in his workshop and join a panel with Mimi Nicklin on empathetic cooperative workplaces.

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A session with Oyinkan Braithwaite will have her talking about her smash-hit novel My Sister the Serial Killer

Hisham El Kheshen and Mounir Al Hayek take part in an absorbing examination of the connection between the self and place, while Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin and Huda Hamed discuss how to find the balance between strength and weakness in their novels.

Other international names in the packed programme are Kuwaiti author Taleb Alrefai, and Egyptian writer Walaa Kamal who shares the story of his time on the road with a famous Egyptian band in My Days with Cairokee. There will also be poetry performances from Amal Al Sahlawi, Shamma Al Bastaki, Kareem Maatouq and Alia Al Shamsi.

Children’s programme

The children’s programme features interactive sessions and workshops including lots of science questions asked – and answered - by award-winning scientist Isabel Thomas. There are also festival favourite Julia Johnson, Maitha Al Khayat and Ameera BuKadra with a modern twist on traditional Emirati folktales, and storybook fun for younger ones with Ebtisam Al-Beiti.


The festival is introducing a new feature, the LitFest Launchpad, giving UAE-based authors a chance to launch their latest book to festival audiences.

The winner of the Emirates LitFest Writing Prize will be revealed, and as always there will be creative writing workshops and chats and advice from industry professionals such as publisher Allison K Williams, author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro From Blank Page to Book.

The festival’s big weekend follows last week’s opening at Jameel Arts Centre. The festival draws to a close with more events at Alserkal Avenue (February 12 to 13).


Due to social distancing, there are fewer tickets available. Tickets will be required for each event, including free sessions, to ensure visitor numbers are restricted.

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 10 top sessions will be streamed live from the big Festival weekend at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City.

The Festival will be “fully compliant” with all COVID-19 prevention regulations and guidelines from the Dubai Health Authorities, including social distancing measures across all three venues and mandatory masks.