Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and authors Elif Shafak, Amin Maalouf and Lemn Sissay are among the big names set to appear at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
The 2021 festival, scheduled to take place between Friday, January 29, and Saturday, February 13, will adopt a hybrid approach, hosting live appearances by a number of regional and international authors as well as virtual sessions embracing literature, art, science and film.
Many of the sessions, which for the first time in the festival’s history will be held across multiple venues, will be live-streamed for those unable to attend.
While safety precautions such as social distancing will be in place, organisers say the festival will still follow its tried-and-tested formula, with an entertaining and thought-provoking programme that includes literary talks, debates, poetry readings and workshops.
“The world has shifted since the 2020 festival,” festival director Ahlam Bolooki said during a virtual event unveiling next year’s line-up. “We have all been changed by the events of the past year. Although circumstances have meant that some of the usual elements of our festival are not possible for 2021, we are thrilled to be able to stage live sessions again.”
Bolooki said the curated programme captures the zeitgeist of the world at the moment and hopes the festival will deliver a dose of optimism.
The festival is partnering with Jameel Arts Centre and Alserkal Avenue to expand its 2021 event. It is set to kick off at Jameel Arts Centre before moving on to InterContinental Dubai – Festival City, where 80 workshops and performances are scheduled to take place, before concluding at Alserkal Avenue.
The final weekend will feature a community-focused celebration of film, food, creativity and all things literary.
The line-up is undeniably impressive. Malala Yousafzai, activist and youngest Nobel laureate in the award’s history, will be sharing her story before outlining her vision for the future, while award-winning Turkish-British novelist Elif Shafak will speak about the importance of bridging the gap between East and West.
Internationally acclaimed French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf, meanwhile, will be discussing his newest release Adrift: How Our World Lost its Way, examining recent history, as well as the reasons why civilisations drifted apart and how this impacts global threats.
US author Avni Doshi, who lives in Dubai and was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, is scheduled to appear at Jameel Arts Centre at the start of the festival. She is then set to take the stage at the Intercontinental to discuss her novel Burnt Sugar with British author Derek Owusu.
Emirati poet Afra Atiq and Palestinian writer Dana Dajani will join British award-winning author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay in a poetry performance during the closing ceremony at Alserkal Avenue.
Despite travel restrictions affecting some countries, the programme has not lost any of its international flavour. Insights into Korean literature and cinema will be provided by Immanuel Kim, one of North Korea's most popular writers who translated Friend by Paek Nam-nyong into English, the only "state-sanctioned" novel to receive an English translation.
Other international figures appearing at the festival include Nigerian-British writer Oyinkan Braithwaite, who will talk about her smash-hit novel My Sister, the Serial Killer; Indian author and screenwriter Satyarth Nayak, who will be talking about his book Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess, which details the life and career of the first pan-Indian female Bollywood superstar; and behavioural specialist and leadership coach Thomas Erikson, author of Surrounded by Idiots, who will address the challenges of cross-cultural communication.
Dubai's Andy Fieldhouse, author of Amazon bestseller Getting Teamwork Right, and Mimi Nicklin, empathy advocate and author of Softening the Edge, will also explore how to build more empathetic, co-operative workplaces.
'The Queen of Books', Irma Boom, will also be appearing at Jameel Arts Centre. Boom's experimental approach in creating more than 300 books has seen a selection held in the permanent collection of MoMA in New York and The Centre Pompidou in Paris.
There will also be a sharper focus on talent from the Arab world this year.
Egyptian novelist Hisham El Kheshen, author of Graphite, will discuss his latest novel Lebon's Friendship; Egyptian writer Rasha Adly, who has twice been longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), will talk about her most recent book, On the Edge of the Night; and Kuwaiti writer Abdullah Al Busais will discuss psychology and philosophy within fiction.
Also appearing at the festival are Omani author Huda Hamed, Lebanese novelist Mounir El Hayek and Nasser Iraq, an Egyptian novelist and short story writer.
The programme also features Alawiya Sobh, Lebanese author of four novels, including An Taashak Al-Hayat (To Love Life), which was longlisted for the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Literature.
Taleb Alrefai, the acclaimed Kuwaiti author, is also featured on a panel with Amin Maalouf, examining how to tackle difficult topics in fiction.
The festival will also host a conversation between two Emirati literary greats, Abdul Ghaffar Hussain and Mohammed Al Murr, while heritage expert Major Ali Al Suwaidi, "the UAE's last pearl diver", will be discussing the ways animals find their way with British psychologist, philosopher, sailor and navigator David Barrie.
Sultan Al Ameemi, the Emirati author of more than a dozen books, including short story collections, novels, and works of non-fiction, will also be present.
Owing to social distancing, there will be fewer tickets available for sessions, so early booking is recommended. Tickets will be required for every event, including free sessions, to ensure capacity restrictions are adhered to.
More information about the line-up and tickets is available at emirateslitfest.com