Held under the theme ‘Here Comes the Sun’, one of the world’s leading literary events, opens today with a host of unique sessions featuring some of the biggest literary figures in the UAE and from across the globe.
The first day is dedicated to Emirati talent, with sessions covering everything from literary fiction and poetry to probing discussions about the cultural economy, women blazing their own trails, and the careers of the future. One of the highlights of the first day is a conversation with HE Omar Saif Ghobash (left) on the UAE’s journey to Expo 2020, and his personal journey in writing his first novel. Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor will also speak about his astounding journey and share his insights on business and life. Freej-creator, Mohammed Saeed Hareb will share his story, while Dr. Habib Al Attar and Sameera Ahmed will discuss the stigma of working in the arts.
Big names in the packed first weekend programme include the multi-talented actor Ben Miller who will talk about his latest action adventure for children; the man behind the ‘lockdown’ internet sensation #DrawWithRob, Rob Biddulph; and ‘Bake Off’ star, mental health campaigner and author Nadiya Hussain, who will share how she has managed the stresses and strains of a life transformed since winning the hit show.
Other sessions focusing on self-care, mental health and self-improvement will feature psychotherapist Sasha Bates who blends the personal and the professional as she comes to terms with the loss of her husband in The Languages of Loss: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Through Grief, and Jessica Moxham, a champion for disability rights and parenting, who will speak about what having a disabled child has taught her in The Cracks That Let the Light In. Also featured are Mathilde Loujayne and Ruzina Ahad, pioneers of a new generation of self-help books for the Muslim women of today.
Top novelists taking to the stage will include Brit Bennett (The Vanishing Half), Alka Joshi (The Henna Artist), Toshikazu Kawaguchi, who has achieved cult status with his life-affirming tales of café-based time travel in Before the Coffee Gets Cold, and Pakistani actress and model Mira Sethi talking about her first book of short stories, Are You Enjoying? There’s also Selma Dabbagh, who will chair a panel to decipher the symbols for romance used by women writers in the Arab World, and Avni Doshi, who will speak about the process of storytelling through the senses.
Anime fans can find out where graphic novelists and animators get their ideas from, with sessions featuring Fumio Obata, Ken Arto and Fadel Saeed AlMheiri. Jessica Cerasi, curator of the 2019 Venice Biennale who will pose the question ‘Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art?’ based on her course at the Tate Modern. Lucinda Dickens Hawskley will discuss What Makes Great Art with Myrna Ayad, former director of Art Dubai. Renowned high-end jewellery designer Azza Fahmy will recount her journey from the bustling shops of Cairo to becoming one of the most admired jewellery designers in the Arab world.
Marina Wheeler, an Anglo-Indian with roots in what is now Pakistan, explores the story of her mother’s early years, shaped by the Partition, in The Lost Homestead. Rapahel Cormack will offer a taste of the cosmopolitan counterculture in Egypt during the inter-war years of the last century. The history strand also features paleoanthropologist Ella Al-Shamahi, who will be giving a highly entertaining talk on the history of the handshake, and Salma Serry and Daniel L Newman who will be delving back in time with unique insights gained from the history of cookbooks, in a session taking place at the Jameel Arts Centre.
Ashraf Al Ashmawi will take the audiences back to Egypt in the twentieth century in his latest novel, and he will discuss the art of writing historical fiction with Lulwah Al Mansouri and Sultan AlMousa.
Instapoet Nikita Gill will perform her widely acclaimed one-woman show ‘Maidens, Myths and Monsters’, revisiting legendary Greek heroines through storytelling and poetry. Dubai Abulhoul and Hadil Ghoniem will discuss their favourite childhood tales and how they influence their writing today.
Hana Al Hashimi and Mona Ali Khalil will examine ‘The Future of Diplomacy after COVID-19’ and Al Arabiya news anchor Fatima Daoui will share her thoughts on how the next generation of women in media can fight for their success. There is also advice on ‘How to contribute on Wikipedia’ for budding Wiki-editors and workshops galore for all ages on a host of topics from poetry, writing and publishing to sustainability
The Festival also features art and craft workshops aplenty in Arabic and English for children of all ages in addition to a host of entertaining sessions throughout the weekend. For little ones, Polly Dunbar, author of the award-winning picture book Penguin, looks at two of life’s big questions – what being safe means and how to be calm – in Rawr! A lion is a lion. Julia Johnson and Maitha Al Khayat will explore the tradition of pearl diving through storytelling and illustration ahead of the launch of their new collaboration, Aisha’s Pear.
For pre-teens, award-winning author of the Shapeshifter series Ali Sparkes will delight with the final book in her most recent fantasy adventure – Night Forever – which reaches its heart-stopping conclusion at the top of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Award-winning Erin Entrada Kelly is a Filipino-American writer of books including Hello Universe, The Land of Forgotten Girls, and her latest, We Dream of Space, a story of three siblings discovering that life rarely goes smoothly. YA author S. K. Ali brings to life the engaging character of Janna Yusuf, in her novel, Misfit in Love, and will be sharing her inspiration for the stories and the themes she explores at the festival.
The Festival’s first weekend wraps up with two unique events on Monday 7 February. Audiences can enjoy a three course meal and celebrate the anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birthday with an invitation to Miss Havisham’s wedding, starring special guest Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, the great-great-great granddaughter of the man himself.
There is also a magical evening at Dubai Expo with stars of the spoken word, the incomparable Carlos Andrés Gómez and Dubai’s own Dr. Afra Atiq, accompanied musically by Nashville-based singer/songwriter Brent Shuttleworth.
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is 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.