Expanding the Emirates Lit Festival Throughout the Year

The Emirates is expanding its interest in books and writing yet further with the establishment of the Dubai International Writers’ Centre. Mohga Hassib visited:

By Mohga Hassib

Photo credit: Mohga Hassib.
The new Dubai International Writers’ Centre. Photo credit: Mohga Hassib.

The Emirates Airline Literature Festival, which takes place in Dubai each March, has just gone “year-round” with the opening of the Dubai International Writers’ Centre (DIWC) late last year.

The festival, now in its seventh year, will take place this year from March 3 to 7 with a “Wonderland” theme. Festival-goers are meant to lose themselves into the different characters and places in the worlds of books. The festival will offer an array of family-focused events, catering to both adults and children. It will host international writers who will deliver talks and conduct workshops in mostly dual Arabic-English sessions.

The new centre will also balance Arabic and English events.

“Our aim is always to keep equal opportunity between English and Arabic,” said Sam al-Hashimi, head of communications at the DIWC. “The writer’s center is for the community in Dubai, which is also multicultural and multiethnic. At the festival we have Mandarin, Hindi, French Spanish, so it’s a nice mixture of all languages, it’s not exclusive.”

The March festival will feature the Arab authors like Kaltham Ali Al-Ghanim, Mai Al-Nakib, internationally-renowned author and poet Mourid Barghouti, award-winning poet Zeina Hashem Beck, journalist and International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF)-longlisted novelist Badriah al Bishr, poet and artist Nabil Abou Hamad, chef and author Suzanne Husseini, popular Egyptian novelist Ahmed Mourad, and IPAF 2014 winner Ahmed Saadawi. Last but not least is Egyptian novelist Nawal el-Saadawy, who will deliver the prestigious Orwell lecture. The full list for the 2015 participating authors can be found at https://www.emirateslitfest.com/authors.

There will be a publishers’ strand at the festival where up-and-coming writers will have the opportunity to have their work reviewed by  author Jasper Fforde in Fforde’s Fantastic Feedback. Participants will also have five minutes with the literary agent Luigi Bonomi who will give them an honest feedback on the commerciality of their work.

“People really look forward to booking a session with him, because what you can do is send in the first 2000 words of your almost finished novel, he will read it ahead of time, you will book a slot with him and get five minutes with him, do a quick pitch, and tell you his feedback,” said al-Hashimi.

This year’s Festival Fringe is expected to be bigger and better for young festival-goers. The “fringe” element of the festival showcases performances, music plays and poetry recitals for both adults and children, which have a dedicated space. While other events require a ticket, the fringe is free.

“We are very family friendly, there is a very strong children’s strand this year, such as the TimeOut story corner and the Gruffalo books by Julia Donaldson,” said al-Hashimi. There will also be a Penguin Random House Scavenger Hunt and a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

What’s new for the 2015 festival is the graphic novel strand featuring writers and artists Zeina Abirached, Naif Al-Mutawa, Clément Baloup, Jan van Hamme, Satoshi Kitamura, and Nicolas Wild.

Inside the DIWC. Photo credit: Mohga Hassib.
Inside the DIWC. Photo credit: Mohga Hassib.

And what about March 8, when the festival is over?

With the writers’ centre, “We are hoping to extend the love of literature throughout the year, because the festival is happening only in March and it’s compressed in that one week,” al-Hashimi said. “There was definitely the need to expand beyond that. [To] connect with community, to inspire young and old minds…and we want this to be the place where people connect for the love of literature and poetry.”

Although it is similar to centres like Free Word in London, al-Hashimi said the DIWC will make its own blueprint. The nonprofit Emirates Literature Foundation board of trustees will select the list for participating authors each year.

A view from above. Photo credit: Mohga Hassib.
A view from above. Photo credit: Mohga Hassib.

“There is no copy / paste model. We are looking at what works overseas and trying to adapt it to the community here and see whether it works or not,” said al-Hashimi. “We have our first writer-in-resident [Tim Mackintosh-Smith] who will be in Dubai for three weeks at the writer’s center.” Every Saturday he will do a talk and translation workshops.

“We thought it was a key thing to have at the writer’s center, to have a writer’s center for writers, we are trying to connect the community with published authors who are successful and do this for a living, to get advice about their writing or inspiration.”

You can follow the festival on Twitter @emirateslitfest and at the hashtag #EAFOL15. To check out the full list of activities offered by the DWIC, visit http://diwc.ae/

Mohga Hassib did her graduate work at the English and Comparative Literature department of the American University in Cairo and taught academic writing at Misr International University. She has also been president and vice president of the AUC’s literature club.


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