Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2024: Ten sessions not to miss

Novelists, poets, graphic designers and non fiction writers from around world set to gather for event's 16th year

From left, Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo, the late poet Mahmoud Darwish and Palestinian American author Hala Alyan. Photos: AFP, Getty Images, Elena Mudd
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Literary fans have a lot to look forward to at this year’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

Now in its 16th year, the festival will run from January 31 to February 6 at the Intercontinental Dubai Festival City.

Book lovers will have the chance to attend a range of sessions hosted by international authors. Bernardine Evaristo, the Booker Prize-winning author of Girl, Woman and Other is among them. Others include BookTok sensations Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Romantic Comedy, and Rebecca Yarros, author of the bestseller Fourth Wing.

There will also be no shortage of local and regional creatives. Egyptian graphic novelist Deena Mohamed, author of Shubeik Lubeik, will be in attendance along with Palestinian American author Hala Alyan, known for her novel Salt Houses, and renowned Emirati artist Fatma Lootah. They will all be taking part in interactive sessions.

From delving into the past through fiction to paying homage to Palestinian literary legend Mahmoud Darwish and understanding art, culture and creativity, here are the ten sessions to add to your calendar.

Finding Joy In Creativity

From writer’s block to dealing with rejection and making ends meet, being a professional creative can be a difficult profession.

Memoirist Patrick Bringley, author of All the Beauty in the World; graphic novelist Malaka Gharib, known for her work It Won’t Always Be Like This; and Sittenfeld, the bestselling author of Romantic Comedy, will discuss the challenges and the moments of joy when it comes to the world of creative writing.

3pm-4pm on February 2

Stories of marginalised women

The protagonists in the works of Kuwaiti novelist Mai Al-Nakib and Singapore-based author Balli Kaur Jaswal are both women in crisis, written with empathy and detail.

In An Unlasting Home, Al-Nakib tells the story a Kuwait University professor accused of blasphemy. In Kaur Jaswal’s Now You See Us, domestic workers investigate what really happened when another maid is accused of murdering her employer.

The authors will discuss themes of power, justice and the untold stories of marginalised women.

3pm-4pm; Friday on February 2

All about art

Across styles and mediums, from the subtle to the powerful, art can be moving to experience – so why don’t we make more time for it?

During this talk with renowned Emirati painter Lootah and writer Patrick Bringley, whose memoir All the Beauty in the World records his time working as a guard at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the power and nuance of experiencing art will be explored.

12pm-1pm on February 3

Historical fiction

Time travelling through fiction is a thrilling experience. But how do the authors of historical fiction bring the past to life through word on a page?

Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela, Egyptian author Reem Bassiouney and Vietnamese poet and novelist Nguyen Phan Que Mai, will discuss the nuances of researching and writing about history in fiction.

Aboulela’s latest novel, River Spirit takes readers to the years leading up to the British conquest of Sudan in 1898. Bassiouney's The Confectioner depicts the political and religious tensions to twelfth century Egypt, while Nguyen’s Phan's Dust Child saga is set during and after the war in Vietnam.

1pm-2pm on February 3

The magic of fantasy writing

Three of the most captivating authors of fantasy in recent years are set to discuss all things magic.

Shannon Chakraborty, known for The Daevabad Trilogy; Sue Lynn Tan, writer of the bestselling fantasy romance Daughter Of The Moon Goddess; and Rebecca Yarros, whose Empyrean fantasy book series is a booktok blockbuster, will delve into fantasy tropes and conventions, world-building and the legends that influenced their stories.

3pm-4pm on February 3

Remembering Mahmoud Darwish

Palestine’s most celebrated literary figure was a poet and author whose words left a mark on culture and the quest for freedom in the Arab world.

In this special event, Palestinian poet Dana Dajani will be joined by performers from across the Arab world, such as musician Ammar Ashkar and theatre performance artist Jad Hakawati, to honour Darwish and the impact of his literary legacy.

8pm-9pm on February 3

For graphic novel lovers

Graphic novels are one of the most immersive and accessible ways to experience stories.

Two graphic novelists, Malaka Gharib, winner of the Arab American Book Award in 2020 and author of It Won’t Always Be Like This; and Deena Mohamed, known for her prize-winning graphic novel Shubeik Lubeik, will share the stories of their lives and particularly how Egypt, the country both are from, has inspired their works.

12pm-1pm on February 4

The power of the written word

Two powerhouse authors, Booker Prize-winning British novelist Bernardine Evaristo and renowned American poet, essayist and playwright Claudia Rankine, will be in conversation on stage about the power of literature.

Evaristo, the author of Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other and Rankine, who has written five volumes of poetry, two plays and a number of essays, will discuss their careers and how they have used their craft to explore themes of race and power.

1pm-2pm on February 4

Exploring culture

How does culture influence our identity? From art to food and religion, many of us use these signifiers to build communities and feel a sense of belonging or purpose. The result is, of course, a diverse offering of what culture is and what it means in various parts of the world.

Author Aanchal Malhotra will share her expertise as an oral and artefact historian along with filmmaker and explorer Nadir Nahdi and academic Martin Puchner, whose work explored the historical and philosophical facets of cultural identity.

3pm-4pm on February 4

Personal and political themes

Novelists Mai Al-Nakib, Hala Alyan and Awais Khan will be on stage to discuss their respective works where their characters are often caught on the intersection of the personal and the political.

The work of all three novelists see characters finding their place in the world and who they are within the greater context of their family, culture and home.

4pm-5pm on February 4

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, will run from January 31 to February 6 at the Intercontinental Dubai Festival City. More information on session times and ticket prices are available at www.emirateslitfest.com

Updated: January 16, 2024, 7:17 AM