Emirates LitFest: Not Just Big-name Authors Who Fill Big Rooms

At the beginning of next month (March 4-8), the sixth annual Emirates LitFest will open with more than a hundred writers from more than twenty countries:

litfestAlthough many of the events carry a hefty pricetag — the popular Desert Stanzas evening of poetry is 349 dirhams — there is also a “fringe” of free events and competitions that are open to the public. The organization itself, which hosts the annual festival at the InterContinental in Dubai Festival City and also runs other literary events, is a not-for-profit.

“Last year, by royal decree” the LitFest “became part of the newly-established Emirates Literature Foundation,” said the fest’s director of communications, Carmel Rosato.

“Although filling sessions is important, we have more considerations than just engaging big-name authors who will fill big rooms,” Rosato said. “We are intent on providing a range of stimulating session that entertain, inform, challenge and offer a different perspective. It does mean that our programme has real depth, with Festival-goers attracted by the content of a session and not just the well-known name. It also means that every year is different, with contrasting strengths and unique sessions, but, we hope, always with wide appeal.”

The Dubai-based Emirates LitFest tends to host fewer Arabic-writing authors than the Abu Dhabi or Sharjah international book fairs — and more popular authors — although this year the festival will host a few noted Arab authors: Palestinian-Jordanian author Ibrahim Nasrallah, longlisted for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction, will be there; so will and Iraqi novelist Alia Mamdouh, longlisted for the Sheikh Zayed Book Award; former IPAF winners Mohammed Achaari (of Morocco) and Saud al-Sanousi (Kuwait) will also speak at events.

Achaari will also give a two-day creative-writing workshop.

“We aim for a mix of nationalities from locally-based and international authors,” Rosato said. “An event like Desert Stanzas has two Emirati Poets, one German, one Chinese and two British.”

This year, among other new things the festival is trying, they will host a “Literary Idol” competition, which has been previously staged at festivals in Ireland and the US. Modeled after “Pop Idol,” English-language authors will have their submissions read aloud and critiqued by a panel of judges: Judy Finnigan, Sarah Odedina, Francesca Main.

Submissions are still being accepted, Rosato said, until a few days before the fest.

Last year, Rosato said, the festival boasted 30,000 visitors. “It’s growing influence can also be seen in the spread of visitors from other Gulf countries including Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain and farther afield.”