Astronauts Sultan Al Neyadi (L) and Hazzaa Al Mansouri (2nd L) sign the Race To Space books at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in March 2019 Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News archives

Dubai: Space enthusiasts, who closely followed the social media posts of UAE astronaut-turned-minister Dr Sultan Al Neyadi during his record-setting space mission last year, will soon have a chance to grab a compilation of his literally out-of-the-world photos and anecdotes behind them.

Not just that. Dr Al Neyadi’s fans will also get an opportunity to hear about his space adventures and get their copies of the book signed by him at the upcoming Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

The recently appointed Minister of Youth’s photo journal is one of the books to be launched at the Emirates LitFest that will be held from January 31 to February 6, announced Ahlam Bolooki, CEO of Emirates Literature Foundation, director of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and managing director of ELF Publishing, on Monday.

(L to R) Isobel Abulhoul, Ahlam Bolooki and Dania Droubi Image Credit: Supplied

Responding to a Gulf News question at a press conference, Bolooki said the book launch is in continuation of the ELF’s partnership with the Mohammed in Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) which had organised the ELF in Space educational series during Dr Al Neyadi’s six-month expedition onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The expedition saw Dr Al Neyadi creating history with the longest Arab space mission and first spacewalk by an Arab astronaut.

“We created 20 episodes as an educational series to cover all sorts of topics around space and questions that children had. Some of those episodes were live content that we were getting straight from International Space Station. So it was very exciting. And we created a platform through our education initiative, where schools not only in the UAE but internationally had access to this platform for free so that they could watch all 20 episodes. And it was a remarkable moment that students could see an era of astronauts up in space—someone who looks like them, talks like them, speaking in Arabic up in space and actually getting all of these questions answered in a fun, educational way. And having that access to Dr Sultan was remarkable.”

Titled ‘Out of This World,’ the upcoming publication by ELF Publishing not only showcases the breathtaking beauty of our universe from the vantage point of the ISS but also grants a rare insight into the personal reflections and impressions of the astronaut fondly referred to as the ‘Sultan of Space.’

Each page promises to offer readers the opportunity to embark on a journey that takes them beyond the physical limitations of this world and invites them to enjoy the wonders of space exploration.

The book will be launched at a session titled “Out of This World: Sultan Al Neyadi” at 3pm on Saturday, February 3.

The festival will also feature the UAE’s first astronaut Hazza Al Mansoori, it was announced.

(L to R) Badr Abbas, Ahlam Bolooki and Dr Saeed Kharbash Image Credit: Supplied

BookTok Awards

Al Bolooki said another highlight of the 16th edition of the Emirates LetFest will be the first-ever BookTok awards ceremony in the region.

BookTok, short for “Book TikTok,” is a community of users on video feed TikTok who are passionate about books and literature. The awards celebrate the books, independent book shops, authors and creators that are loved by the #BookTok community.

“The festival is delighted to be partnering with TikTok through which, for the first time ever, TikTok will be hosting the BookTok awards regionally. There are five categories of the competition and the winner for each will be flown into be honoured at the closing ceremony of the festival, which will include a concert by beloved Emirati musician, Rashed Al Nuaimi,” said Al Bolooki.

She said the awards recognise the innovative role of social media, especially TikTok, in promoting the love of reading and literature.

There award ceremony will be held as part of the special closing to the big LitFest weekend.

Other highlights

Another highlight of the LitFest will be a special event “Without Hope We Are Lost,” an evening of poetry and performance dedicated to the life and work of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

The Festival will bring together some of the world’s greatest writers, creators and thought leaders and welcome attendees to a space for enlightenment and inspiration with new events and experiences in the form of LitFest After Hours, Discovery Talks, LitFest Families and Youth Day. It will be held at the Intercontinental Dubai Festival City with 160 events.

Badr Abbas, Emirates’ senior vice president of Commercial Operations, Africa said: “Much like travel, storytelling in any art form has the power to transcend borders and introduce new and diverse cultures. The new additions to the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature’s line-up will not only enhance the event but will enrich the city’s position as a flourishing art and culture hub year round. Emirates remains committed to connecting with global communities through art, music and literature that enrich the lives of many.”

Reading Caravan

The Festival will see the launch of an extraordinary mobile library and event space called the ELF Reading Caravan. The Foundation has collaborated with Dubai Civil Defence for the Reading Caravan initiative.

Equipped with a curated selection of books and hosting various literary events, the ELF Reading Caravan aims to foster a love for literature among children and adults alike, enhancing community engagement and enriching lives through the magic of storytelling.

After the festival, the distinctive electric vehicle will traverse neighbourhoods across Dubai, delivering the joy of reading to doorsteps.

Bolooki said the Reading Caravan will also visit schools, the procedures for which will be announced later.

UNESCO recognition

In recognition of its landmark work and commitment to advancing education and sustainability, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has established official relations with the Emirates Literature Foundation for a renewable period of six years, Al Bolooki announced.

“This prestigious status, conferred upon the Foundation as a non-governmental not-for-profit organisation, underscores the success of its multifaceted initiatives, ranging from literary events to educational programmes, that are not just shaping the cultural scene in the region but also contributing to UNESCO’s overarching goals, including the promotion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

New office

The Foundation will be making the strategic move to a vibrant new office in Al Shindagha Historic Neighbourhood, which is the cultural epicentre of the city. This relocation also marks the anticipated relaunch of the Dubai International Writer’s Centre.

Commencing April 2024, the Centre will host a diverse array of year-round events, from engaging book clubs to dynamic book launches and captivating film screenings, further contributing to Dubai’s thriving art and culture scene.

Promoting local talents

The Festival has enhanced its partnership with Dubai Culture and Arts Authority to promote Emirati and UAE-based authors on the global literary stage. In this ‘Bil Emirati strand’ initiative, Dubai Culture will identify exceptional talents, and the Foundation, leveraging its influential standing within the Global Association of Literary Festivals (GAOLF) and its connections with almost 150 festivals worldwide, will secure coveted speaking and performance slots for these authors.

With two confirmed opportunities in 2024 and more in the pipeline, this collaboration signifies a significant stride in amplifying the voices of regional literary talents on international platforms.

Dr Saeed Mubarak bin Kharbash, CEO of the Arts and Literature Sector at Dubai Culture, said: “The ‘Bil Emirati’ strand, sponsored by Dubai Culture, seeks to highlight the experiences of Emirati writers and authors, in line with the Authority’s efforts to support and encourage their participation in various literary and cultural events globally, enabling them to express their different perspectives and opinions.”