Emirates Airline Festival of Literature off to a poetic start

Recapping the first day of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature that including children, poetry and a pair of realistic horse puppets were all part of the fun at the opening night.
The Handspring Puppet Company performed a scene from Michael Morpugo's War Horse at the literature festival. Sarah Dea / The National
The Handspring Puppet Company performed a scene from Michael Morpugo's War Horse at the literature festival. Sarah Dea / The National

Children, poetry and a pair of freakishly realistic horse ­puppets were all part of the fun at the opening night of the Emirates Airline Festival of ­Literature.

Many of the guest authors who will appear during the festival were at March 3’s event held in the theatre of The Cultural and Scientific Association in Dubai’s Al Mamzar, which also included a special address by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the UAE’s Minister of Culture, Youth and Community ­Development.

After a performance of this year’s festival anthem – sung by a choir of Dubai school­children wearing traditional clothing – Sheikh Nahyan officially opened the event. Praising the growth of the festival under its director, Isobel Abulhoul, he said the accessibility of literature today presents new challenges of choosing which books to read.

“This is why this literature festival has came to our rescue,” he said. “Isobel Abulhoul has assembled more than 150 writers of immensely varied works. You will hear them, talk to them and exchange views with other intellectually curious readers and you will distinguish what is worth reading.

“And thanks to the inter­national nature of the writers and audience, you will all gain an ever-better understanding of the diverse viewpoints that marks the global society that is the United Arab Emirates.”

Abulhoul then took to the stage to talk about this year’s festival theme – Wonderland – which is aimed as much at young readers as adult book ­lovers.

“A key goal of the festival, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is to encourage as many young readers as possible to pick up a book and read for pleasure,” she said.

“We need to make it easier for them to discover Wonderland, too. To join us on that enchanted journey through the pages to reach the end.”

It was a message echoed by Naif Al Mutawa, the creator of The 99, a comic-book series about Islamic superheroes that was recently adapted into an animated TV series.

The Kuwaiti author and psychologist said the borderless world of imagination found within the pages of books had been a cure for the troubles of his childhood. “I spent my life writing stories to promote tolerance,” he said. “It probably lies in my struggle in coming to grips with that little boy inside of me that was bullied because of his weight, height and, eventually, the way he thought.”

The festival also strengthened its poetry credentials with a pair of diverse performances. An evocative video of the poem All For One, written and performed by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, was screened. The piece extolled the unity of the UAE: ­“Already when we unified in ’71 we were one folk/ The hearts united first, and then the homes/ United we remain – within the minds of men, true Arabs/ In our bloodlines that endure and never die.”

The British poet Lemn Sissay recited his stirring poem Let There Be Peace, in which he declares: “Let harsh memories burst into fireworks that melt in the dark pupils of a child’s eyes.”

The night culminated in a short performance by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. In town to present selected scenes from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s classic War Horse, the six puppeteers did an amazing job of bringing all aspects of the two horses to life, from the uncanny-sounding whinnies and neighs to the ­muscular twitches and neck movements.

• The Emirates Airline ­Festival of Literature continues ­until March 7, with most of the ­author sessions and panels at the ­InterContinental Dubai Festival City. For the full programme, visit www.emirateslitfest.com


Published: March 4, 2015 04:00 AM


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