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Ahlam Bolooki says culture is "a fundamental human right" Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The 15th edition of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature will be an experiential delight that appeals to readers and non-readers alike more than ever before, says the festival director Ahlam Bolooki.

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, one of the biggest celebration of stories in the Arab region and one of the top literary festivals in the world will be held from February 1-6, 2023.

The names of top authors, who will headline the upcoming Emirates LitFest, were announced in November [see below]. Abras will ferry speakers and audiences across Dubai Creek in Al Jadaf to enjoy the sessions and festival vibes at two venues, the Intercontinental at Festival City, and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library.

Speaking to Gulf News about how the Emirates LitFest is going to enthrall bibiliophiles and others alike, Bolooki said: “Authors will take people on a figurative journey around the world with sessions in English, Arabic, Hindi, Italian, Tagalog, Malayalam and Urdu. We will celebrate the rhythm of life with the iconic ‘Desert Stanzas,’ a night of poetry under the stars, with an international line-up. Admirers of spoken word will enjoy ‘Fresh Air, Fresh Lyrics,’ an open mic night in an outdoor setting. Festival-goers can also join internationally acclaimed musicians Mariela Shaker and Riyad Nicolas for a magical fusion of music.”

She said Hogwart enthusiasts can immerse themselves in the ‘Wizarding World’ with the graphic designers who brought to life the imaginative universe of the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts movies.

Meanwhile, pop culture fans will be spoilt for choice as the festival welcomes creators of horror Filipino komik series ‘Trese,’ Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo; cartoonist and creator of the popular webcomic ‘Strange Planet,’ Nathan Pyle; video game writer, Rhianna Pratchett, known for writing ‘Tomb Raider’ and comic book and science fiction prose writer, Saladin Ahmed.

Food for thought

“Filipino historian, Ambeth Ocampo, will give you food for thought as he deconstructs the history behind the delicious foods of the Philippines such as ‘dirty ice cream,’ ‘banana ketchup’ and ‘stinking fish’,” said Bolooki.

TikTok’s literary community Booktok-sensation Bolu Babalola will host a ‘galentine’ get-together, talking all things romance and of course, her debut novel ‘Honey and Spice,’ sprinkled with themed mocktails and snacks, plus an interactive romcom quiz,” said Bolooki.

The Festival’s Curator-in-Residence, Lemn SIssay has been instrumental in putting together several Festival sessions including a celebration of friendship with his fellow poets Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta and Tishani Doshi, plus an unmissable heart-wrenching conversation with novelist Kit de Waal as they discuss their dysfunctional childhoods and what gave them the power to triumph over this.

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Virtual sessions

Speaking about the changes post the COVID-19 pandemic, Bolooki said: “The safety of our authors and our audiences has always been a top priority for us, but we are also firm believers that culture is a fundamental human right. As such, in 2021, we were one of the first Festivals to have a full programme in a hybrid format, with locally based authors joining in-person and international authors virtually.”

“In 2022, most authors flew in with only a few appearing virtually. Our focus will always be on bringing the world’s best writers, speakers and thinkers to Dubai but we have also grown and evolved and learnt from the pandemic to embrace video technology, as it is a wonderful way to include speakers who are not able to travel for any reason, age, health, et cetera.”

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The festival's 2022 edition was held at Hilton in Al Habtoor City, Dubai Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News archives

For the third year in a row, virtual sessions will be made available to watch online from the week after the Festival through the ‘Month of Reading,’ starting from 10 February 10 to March 31, 2023. During this time, students will be able to watch the sessions at their own convenience. Virtual LitFest packages can be purchased from the website of the Emirates Literature Foundation.

Signature events

“With the change in government guidelines, we are bringing back our signature dinner events, and these get snapped up very quickly, so audiences need to have fast fingers and book them online quickly,” said Bolooki.

“We are also able to offer day passes and weekend passes ensuring book lovers can enjoy as many sessions as they want without breaking the bank. Back by popular demand, the ‘Emirates LitFest Fringe Stage’ will give young performers an opportunity to showcase their talents in front of an international audience, and a chance for families and friends to come to the Festival and enjoy performance events for free,” Bolooki added.

Youngsters can help author Flavia Z Drago solve the problems of Gustavo the Shy Ghost and Leila the Perfect Witch; meet Kevin, the Roly-Poly Flying Pony, the latest wonderful creation of Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre; or join a world of adventure with larger-than-life character Geronimo Stilton.

Full List of authors and main events at Emirates LitFest 2023

Old Friends and New (returning and new headline authors)

Jeffrey Archer

Brian Cox

David Koepp

Cecelia Ahern

Mohsin Hamid

Alexander McCall Smith

Bonnie Garmus

Bolu Babalola

Jo Browning Wroe

Greg Mosse

Emirati Spotlight

Sheikha Latifa bint Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Ali Al Saloom

Habib Al Attar

Sarah Abdulrahman.

World Literature (tales from around the world)

Geetanjali Shree

M. Mukundan

Reem Al Gurg

Jamil Jan Kochai

Ambeth Ocampo

Dr Ali Khan

Something wicked this way comes (Crime/ Thrillers)

Ragnar Jónasson

Catriona Ward

Roger Luckhurst

Kerry Daynes

Perfect #Pop Culture (Animation, Illustration, Film, TV)

Nathan Pyle

Saladin Ahmed

Rhianna Pratchett

Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo

MinaLima graphic designers

Rhythm of Life (Poetry and performance)

Harry Baker

Chris Read

Mariela Shaker

Riyad Nicolas

Afra Atiq

Danabelle Gutierrez

Arab World

Ahmed Eisa Al Asam

Mohammed Alnaas

Jalal Bargas

Shahad Alrawi

Tareq Imam

Inaam Kachachi

Yasmina Khadra

Ahmad Fakhouri

Mona Alturief

Current affairs

Omar Saif Ghobash

Reza Aslan

Marina Mahathir

Shashi Tharoor

Barkha Dutt

Live Your Best Life (Lifestyle, Health and Wellness)

Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Professor Rose Anne Kenny

Vex King

Simon Waterson

Alexandra Shulman

Kat Farmer

Rissa Manaquil-Trillo


History and Culture

James Fox

William Dalrymple

Shrabani Basu

Lucy Worsley

Kate Mosse

Manu S. Pillai

Fantastic Getaways (Adventure, Travel)

Benedict Allen

Santhosh George Kulungara


Marcus du Sautoy

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Jo Marchant

Building a Better World

Anna Turns

Mariam Almheiri

Bobby Chin

Lucy Easthope

Shahd Alshammari

Anthony Geffen

Business and Publishing

Ann Hiatt

Ghizlan Guenez

Rissa Mananquil-Trillo

Piyush Pandey

Annie Arsane Mattar

Family Fun (Children’s and YA Literature)

David Walliams

Ben Miller

Onjali Q Rauf

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Oliver Jeffers

Rob Biddulph

Julia Johnson

Maitha Al Khayat

Lemn Sissay

Greg Stobbs

You Only Live Once (One-off events, Special events)

Celebration of Gibran Khalil Gibran

Fables Around the Fire

Scrabble Tournament

Big Fat LitFest Quiz

Desert Stanzas

Screening of My Name is Leon



Alison Bonomi

Felicity Blunt