11 must-see sessions at the 2021 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature: From Malala Yousafzai to Elif Shafak

Festival starts on Friday and runs until February 13

Elif Shafak and Malala Yousafzai will both make virtual appearances at the 2021 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. AFP, Reuters
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The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature begins on Friday, taking place over three weekends in a format that reinvigorates the popular annual event.

This year's festival, which runs until February 13, will adopt a hybrid approach, hosting live appearances from several regional and international authors, as well as online sessions embracing literature, art, science and film.

A number of literary heavyweights are scheduled to appear at the event, including Elif Shafak, Amin Maalouf and Lemn Sissay, and Dubai's own Booker Prize-finalist Avni Doshi.

Many of the sessions, which for the first time in the festival's history will be held across several venues, will also be live-streamed for those unable to attend. Sessions will open at the Jameel Arts Centre, move on to the InterContinental Dubai – Festival City, where 80 workshops and performances are scheduled to take place, before wrapping up at Alserkal Avenue.

Here's our pick of 11 of the best sessions at this year's Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

Avni Doshi: 'Burnt Sugar'

Avni Doshi made headlines last year after her novel Burnt Sugar was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi published by Hamish Hamilton. Courtesy Penguin UK

The Indian-American writer, who lives in Dubai, is believed to be the first author residing in the UAE to be nominated for the prize. Doshi will be appearing on the first day of the festival to discuss her journey to publication, elaborating on her lengthy redrafting process, followed by the competition among publishers to get the rights to the finished novel.

When: Friday; 5.30pm-6.30pm

Where: Amphitheatre, Jameel Arts Centre, Jaddaf Waterfront

The Future of the Arabic Language

In this session, Noura Al Kaabi, the UAE's Minister of Culture and Youth, will lead a talk that unveils a major new study that explores how Arabic is faring relative to other languages, also discussing trends that the publishing industry should be aware of, and whether people are reading in Arabic for pleasure.

Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth. Courtesy UAE Ministry of Culture & Youth

When: Thursday, February 4; 12.30pm-1.30pm

Where: Al Baraha 3, InterContinental Dubai – Festival City

Publishing in a Time of Crisis

In this session, Emirati writer, critic and researcher Fatima Albreiki, who is the founder of Sama House for Publishing, Production &Distribution, will meet Talal Salim Alsaabri, Emirati publisher and founder of Jumeira Publishing House, to discuss the industry's response to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the innovations that have arisen as a result of this challenging time.

When: Thursday, February 4; 12.30pm-1.30pm

Where: Al Baraha 1, InterContinental Dubai – Festival City

Sultan Al Ameemi: The Human Face of Literature

Emirati writer, poet and researcher Sultan Al Ameemi will discuss how literature can help us achieve inner peace and make us more loving and understanding with "the other". Al Ameemi has published many novels and short story collections in the UAE. His novel, One Room is Not Enough, was longlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

When: Thursday, February 4; 4pm-5pm

Where: Al Ras 1, InterContinental Dubai – Festival City

Amin Maalouf: 'Adrift'

Renowned Samarkand novelist Amin Maalouf will appear at the festival to discuss his newest release, Adrift, which attempts to make sense of a world laboured by political upheavals and economic recessions.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, MAY 1, 2016.  Lebanese-born French Novelist Amin Maalouf wins the Cultural Personality of the Year, at Sheikh Zayed Book Award. Photo: Reem Mohammed/ The National (Reporter: Roberta Pennington / Section: NA) ID 72832 *** Local Caption ***  RM_20160501_ZAYEDAWARD_16.JPG

In Adrift, the Lebanese-French author uses his personal experiences to map out some turning points in regional geopolitics while addressing the global threats that face us as a species.

When: Thursday, February 4; 8pm-8.30pm

Where: Al Ras 3, InterContinental Dubai – Festival City

Bolu Babalola: 'Love in Colour'

In this session, British writer Bolu Babalola will share the inspiration behind her critically acclaimed book, Love in Colour: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold. The anthology of love stories takes on Western and astern mythology with a fresh approach, highlighting myths from West Africa and beyond.

When: Friday, February 5; 12.30pm-1.30pm

Where: Al Ras 1, InterContinental Dubai – Festival City

Oyinkan Braithwaite: 'My Sister, the Serial Killer'

In My Sister, the Serial Killer, Nigerian-British novelist Oyinkan Braithwaite humorously blends familial responsibility and love with sibling rivalry. Braithwaite will be discussing her dark-comedy novel in a not-to-be-missed session during the festival's second weekend.

When: Friday, February 5; 5.30pm-6.30pm

Where: Al Ras 1, InterContinental Dubai – Festival City

Elif Shafak in Conversation

With her ability to tell thoughtful, personal and insightful stories, Turkish-British writer Elif Shafak has become one of contemporary literature’s most formidable figures.

WB1ACT Edinburgh, UK. 22 August. 2019. Turkish-British novelist, Elif Shafak attends a photo call at Edinburgh International Book Festival. Pako Mera/Alamy Live News

Shafak, who has published 18 books that have been translated into more than 50 languages, will appear virtually at the festival to discuss her writing approach, as well as the importance of bridging the gap between the East and the West.

When: Saturday, February 6; 4pm-5pm

Where: Al Ras 3, InterContinental Dubai – Festival City

Malala Yousafzai in Conversation

Despite an attempt on her life by the Taliban in 2012, Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai has been an unwavering advocate for girls’ rights to education.

Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace prize laureate Malala Yousafzai attends an event about the importance of education and women empowerment in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on July 9, 2018. - The event is promoted by a private bank and the Malala Fund, that aims to build a global movement to ensure girls at least 12 years of schooling. (Photo by Miguel SCHINCARIOL / AFP)

Now a fresh graduate from the University of Oxford in politics, philosophy and economics, Yousafzai will appear virtually at the festival to give insights she learnt from her fight against the systematic exclusion of children and girls from education, and the necessity of mustering a revolutionary voice.

When: Saturday, February 6; 5pm-6pm

Where: Al Riwaq 2,InterContinental Dubai – Festival City

Immanuel Kim: 'Friend: A Novel from North Korea'

This session offers the rare chance to learn more about the literary culture of North Korea. The talk features North Korean literature specialist Immanuel Kim, who is also the translator of Paek Nam-nyong's novel Friend, which is one of few from the country to reach an international audience, and the only state-sanctioned novel to receive an English translation.

Kim's online session will explore the social contexts that led to the publication of Friend, and give insights into how North Korean authors approach their characters' emotional and psychological lives.

Where: Saturday, February 6; 6.30pm-7.30pm

When: Al Baraha 1, InterContinental Dubai – Festival City

Lemn Sissay: 'My Name is Why'

Lemn Sissay will attend the festival to discuss his riveting and inspiring memoir My Name is Why. Up until he was 17 years old, the English author didn't know what his real name was, having been brought up in a number of foster and care homes against his mother's wishes.

In this session, Sissay will reflect on the response to his memoir, while delving into his writing life and what his experiences have taught him.

When: Saturday, February 13; 3.30pm-4.30pm

Where: Concrete, Alserkal Avenue

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Read more:

Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2021: Malala Yousafzai, Amin Maalouf and Elif Shafak among line-up

Elif Shafak’s ‘The Architect’s Apprentice’ chosen by Duchess of Cornwall for new book club

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