Seven of the best sessions running at Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2023

Love, fables, warrior queens and more are waiting to be explored at the returning event

Emirates Airline Festival of Literature returns to Dubai on Wednesday. Pawan Singh / The National
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The 15th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature begins on Wednesday, welcoming a diverse array of guests. With numerous sessions running daily until Monday and several creatives attending, it's easy to feel overwhelmed trying to pick which to attend.

Held in two locations this year — at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City and the Mohammed bin Rashid Library — it features a wide range of talks, with authors discussing everything from the art of storytelling and love in the modern age, to social issues and spirituality.

Under the theme of Old Friends, the festival revisits its own story by inviting some of its earliest guests to reminisce, while welcoming newcomers to look forward to the future of storytelling.

Here are seven sessions book lovers won't want to miss.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet: film screening and talk

The animated film The Prophet, adapted from the 1923 book by celebrated Lebanese-American writer, poet and visual artist Kahlil Gibran will be screened. It will be followed by a discussion with director Roger Allers, alongside producers Clark Peterson and Haytham Nasr.

The story follows exiled artist and poet Mustafa as he embarks on a journey home with his housekeeper and her daughter. As the characters evade authorities who want to stop Mustafa's words — which they fear could stoke insurrection — viewers enter the spellbinding world of the poet’s imagination.

The main characters are voiced by Liam Neeson and Salma Hayek, who also served as a producer on the film. Hayek has also recorded a special video message for the session. The session will delve into the production of the film and how Gibran's words were translated into the animated format.

Date/Time: February 2, 6pm to 8pm

Venue: Al Baraha III, InterContinental Dubai Festival City

Brian Cox: Shakespeare, Success and Succession

Celebrated theatre and screen actor Brian Cox will be talking to an audience about his life. His memoir, Putting the Rabbit in the Hat, released in October 2021 candidly recounts how he emerged from a working-class Scottish household to become one of the most respected Shakespearean actors of his generation.

Asides from his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, Cox's film and TV performances include his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in the 1986 movie, Manhunter, and most recently his role as Logan Roy in HBO's Succession.

Date/Time: February 2, 8pm to 9pm

Venue: Al Riwaq II, InterContinental Dubai Festival City

Warrior Queens, Rebels and Courtesans — How Women Shaped the World

In this session, Kate Mosse, founder of the #WomanInHistory campaign to celebrate women’s achievements, and historian Manu S Pillai, whose books examine India’s past, are set to discuss the importance of researching history's forgotten women — many of whom shaped history without receiving acknowledgement — and sharing their stories with modern audiences.

Date/Time: February 2, 6.30pm to 7.30pm

Venue: Al Baraha II, InterContinental Dubai Festival City

Mohsin Hamid: The Last White Man

British-Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid will be discussing his latest book, The Last White Man.

The novel follows the story of Anders, who wakes up to find his skin colour transformed from white to a "deep and undeniable brown". It is something that isn’t only happening to him, but to many others.

The novel brings to the forefront how race, power, love and humanity are often viewed during times of change.

Hamid is also the author of bestselling novels Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Exit West.

Date/Time: February 3, 6.30pm to 7.30pm

Venue: Al Riwaq II, InterContinental Dubai Festival City

Fables Around the Fire

Fables and myths are part of the collective traditions of storytelling across time, cultures and countries.

From the Queens of Yoruba to the Dwende of the Philippines, this discussion on the power of folklore will be held under the stars in the Mohammed bin Rashid Library amphitheatre.

Authors such as Ben Miller, Budjette Tan, Bolu Babalola, Dubai Abulhoul and Nicholas Jubber will narrate myths and tales from each of their cultures, followed by a conversation about mythology and folklore.

Date/Time: February 4, 8pm to 9.15pm

Venue: Amphitheatre, Mohammed bin Rashid Library, Al Jaddaf

Past, Present and Future of Islam

Emirati diplomat and author Omar Saif Ghobash, Malaysian social and political commentator Marina Mahathir and Iranian-American religious scholar Reza Aslan are set to discuss the global importance of Islam.

With about two billion followers worldwide and growing, Islam is composed of many ethnicities and nationalities. With various challenges on the horizon, including climate change and a growing youth population, the panellists will explore the past and present of Islam and what its future may look like.

Date/Time: February 4, 10am to 11am

Venue: Al Baraha III, InterContinental Dubai Festival City

It Must Have Been Love But is it Over Now?

Love across ages and cultures is a rich and diverse theme. But how has the portrayal of love changed over the last 50 or 100 years? And how has romance changed from the heyday of the mid-20th-century Mills & Boons novels to contemporary romcoms and vampire romances?

All these questions, and more, will be answered, as famed authors Bolu Babalola, Cecelia Ahern and Katherine Webber — who have explored love in one shape or form — discuss the one topic we just can't seem to get enough of.

Date/Time: February 5, 6pm to 7pm

Venue: Al Baraha II, InterContinental, Dubai Festival City

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature will be running from February 1 to 6 at the Intercontinental Dubai Festival City and the Mohammed bin Rashid Library. More information and tickets are available at

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Updated: February 01, 2023, 8:14 AM