UAE bibliophiles, rejoice: Hay Festival is coming to Abu Dhabi in 2020

The four-day literary festival will be held at venues around the city

Hay Festival is coming to Abu Dhabi next year
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One of the world’s biggest literary festivals is coming to Abu Dhabi.

Hay Festival, which started in Wales in 1987 and has since been held in 30 locations around the world, arrives in Abu Dhabi for the first time next year, running from February 24 to 27.

The four-day event, featuring talks, spoken word, music, comedy and theatre, will be held at venues across the city, including Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Omani author Jokha Alharthi, who won this year's Man Booker International Prize for her novel Celestial Bodies, will speak at Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, alongside Nobel Laureates Shirin Ebadi and Ahmed Galai. Syrian poet Adonis will also appear at the event, where he will celebrate his 90th birthday with a poetry gala, bringing poets from around the world together.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Jokha Alharthi, Author, attends the winner photocall for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize at The Roundhouse on May 21, 2019 in London, England. Jokha Alharthi's book Celestial Bodies won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)
Jokha Alharthi attends the 2019 Man Booker International Prize in London

Other guests include Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat, winner of the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Saudi Arabian novelist Mohammed Hasan Alwan and Indian poet Tishani Doshi.

We're here to celebrate diversity and plurality, of course, but we are also here in the context of an extraordinary golden age for Arabic literature

A number of authors and speakers will visit schools and universities during the festival, while tickets will be free for people in full-time education. A full programme is expected to be announced in November.

“We’re here to celebrate diversity and plurality – yes, of course – but we are also here in the context of an extraordinary golden age for Arabic literature,” said Hay Festival Director Peter Florence at a press conference held at Manarat Al Saadiyat.

“We come here to learn to forge partners, to develop friendships and to share in that exquisite ambition that writers have to open the world.”

Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, said that the festival, announced in the UAE's Year of Tolerance, “celebrates the lasting and productive collaboration between the peoples of the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates”.

“The UAE is a global society, founded on the values of tolerance and co-existence. We recognise the importance of sharing ideas, education and cross-cultural interactions, for which Hay Festival is celebrated worldwide. We look forward to welcoming audiences young and old to four days of invigorating conversations, opening minds and enhancing understanding.”

He added: “Hay Festival Abu Dhabi will, God willing, be a great cultural success … We will spare no effort in providing the best possible experience for the audience.

“Let thoughts and ideas resonate with all who attend and let the spirit of tolerance ... spread out to the world.”

Abu Dhabi joins Segovia in Spain and Arequipa in Peru as cities hosting the festival in the coming months. It is hoped that this will become an annual event. The only previous Hay Festival in the Arab world ran in Beirut for three years, from 2009 until 2012.

Three decades ago, Florence and his parents, Norman Florence and Rhoda Lewis, conceived of the idea for a literary festival in their small, rural Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye. In the years since, more than 4.5 million people have attended Hay events at 125 festivals in countries including Croatia, Mexico and Peru.

The flagship event in the UK continues to attract some of the biggest names in the literary world, with Arundhati Roy, Elif Shafak and Leila Slimani among the authors who attended this year. Emirati poet and film director Nujoom Alghanem was also in attendance, only two weeks after she represented the UAE with her video installation, Passage, at the Venice Biennale.

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi was announced by Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan (centre), Minister of Tolerance, at Manarat Al Saadiyat
Hay Festival Abu Dhabi was announced by Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan (centre), Minister of Tolerance, at Manarat Al Saadiyat

“Thirty-four years ago, my family was gathered around the kitchen table and we were talking about the possibility of inviting some friends over,” said Florence at the press conference. “My father thought that we should invite the greatest minds, in order to interrogate the big questions of the day.

“My mother put her hand on the table and said, ‘Yes, yes but if we’re going to do this, it’s going to be a party.’ Rather wonderfully, over the past few decades, that idea of a party has prospered all around the world.

“[Hay Festival Abu Dhabi] is going to be a beautiful expression of this idea that we need to engage with people who think differently, and whose culture is different to ours, because in this extraordinary, diverse world, our obligation is to try and give and share as much as what we know and as much as what we care about as possible.”

Tickets for Hay Festival Abu Dhabi will go on sale in November. More information is available at