Michael Palin Image Credit: Arshad Ali/XPRESS

Dubai: The topics of power, dignity and passion were central to Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka's appearance at the first Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Tuesday night.

"What allows a school bully to become a dictator?" the Nobel Peace Prize winner asked of the concept of power.

"What gives one person a love of dominating other people? Is it a sense of inadequacy, is it greed? In all classes you see the domination being taken out," he said. "The concept of power is to make life uncomfortable for the individual. History revolves on the axis of power."

Max Easterman, who led the conversation, questioned Soyinka about his enforced exile, as an anti-authoritarian writer.

"There are many parts to a human being. In the interests of what I deduce, there's a responsibility to extract the benign commonality in most human beings," he said.

Soyinka continued that he's now friends with the men who signed his arrest warrant, after discovering the circumstances in which they had to sign the document.

The writer became caught up in the Nigerian civil war of 1967 to 1970 and spent 22 months in prison on accusations of conspiracy to attempt brokering peace between the Nigerian and Biafran sides. He later wrote about his experience in the memoir The Man Died published in 1972.

The first Gala Evening, held at the Cultural and Scientific Association, Al Mamzar, featured comedy, travel, music and poetry.

Michael Palin, comedian, travel writer and explorer, opened the evening with a talk about his "40 years without a proper job".

A slide show of what the animated Palin termed his "holiday snaps" from the best of his worldly travels had the packed auditorium in fits of laughter. Images of the Monty Python and his Flying Circus comedic actor washing an elephant, white-water rafting, milking a dri (a female yak) and riding on the top of an old train in Sudan, held the audience captive.

The Dubai Sinfonia, conducted by Martyn Bagnall, performed Georges Bizet's Carmen, Suite No. 1.

Poet Da'en Shaheen read Ya Khalifa by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Ya Khalifa is a eulogy to President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, written in one of the poetic forms that characterises Nabati poetry.


The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is held under the patronage of Shaikh Mohammad, in partnership with Emirates airline and Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture).

A specially commissioned piece of music was composed by Joanna Marsh, performed by the Dubai Collective, to accompany the poetry reading.

The Lit Fest is now in its third year, this year adding new features including workshops, cookery demonstrations and masterclasses.

Gulf News is sponsoring five sessions at the Lit Fest: BBC veteran correspondent Kate Adie; The Hub's Nick Gowing; chef extraordinaire Madhur Jaffery for a cookery session and in conversation; and Ibn Battuta expert Tim Mackintosh-Smith are the guests of the five sponsored sessions.

Emirates Lit Fest 2011 takes place from March 8-12 at The Cultural and Scientific Association at Al Mamzar and the InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City.

Attendees can also enjoy many fringe activities that are held as part of the festival, this year being held in Al Baraha 1, Intercontinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City.

Dubai The Festival of Literature this year has expanded its Education Day activities, to include a second Education Day conducted in Arabic and a new competition to encourage reading — the Boeing Readers' Cup.

Festival favourite the Montegrappa Students' Writing Competition will return, allowing children to continue to experience the joy of reading and writing.

"Education is at the heart of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and through the Education Strand, we strive to inspire and encourage students to read and write more," Isobel Abulhoul, Festival Director, said.

Education Day gives local schoolchildren a free taster of the Lit Fest. Both days will take place at the Cultural and Scientific Association, Al Mamzar.

Best-selling authors and poets Morris Gleitman, Gillian Cross, Francesca Simon, Roger McGough, Eoin Colfer and Philip Ardagh took to the stage on the first Education Day.

The second Education Day will follow today and will feature Hooda Shawa, Tariq Al Bakri and Jamal Al Shehhi. A total of 20 schools and 50 teams from around the UAE have been participating.