Timeframe: 15 years of Dubai's Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

The event has become a staple for writers, bookworms and culture enthusiasts

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In 2009, the first Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature was held from February 26 to March 1.

Under the theme of There Are Places Only Books Can Take You, the first festival welcomed 65 authors from around the world to Dubai to meet their fans and readers, discuss the craft of writing, and engage in discussions about the world of writing and pertinent themes in history, contemporary life and the future.

It was an impressive line-up.

Award-winning Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinese-British author Jung Chang, Scottish poet and playwright Carol Ann Duffy, Pakistani-British poet Imtiaz Dharker, Emirati poet Nujoom Al-Ghanem, historical fiction novelist Philippa Gregory, Iraqi poet Fadhil Al Azzawi and Libyan writer Ibrahim Kuni all took to the stage. As did renowned Irish author Frank McCourt, whose appearance was one of his final public outings before his death later that year.

The next event will be held from February 1 to 6 and will be celebrating the roots of the festival under the theme of Old Friends. While the line-up of authors is equally diverse and impressive as the first edition, the programme shows how much the festival has grown in the past 15 years.

While becoming a staple event in Dubai’s arts and culture calendar, the festival has solidified itself as a platform to support creative writers in the region.

From writing workshops and competitions that include the Emirates LitFest Writing Prize, to booking time to pitch a writing idea with an international literary agent, and the launch of the Emirates Literature Foundation Seddiqi Writers’ Fellowship, the festival’s programme and activities throughout the year help create an infrastructure for creative writers from diverse backgrounds in the UAE.

“We have to discover the most compelling writers, help them to perfect their stories and the package and then launch it into the world," Penguin Random House chief executive Markus Dohle previously told The National in regards to publishing more diverse Arab stories, written by Arabs.

"And I think this region has a lot to offer, both in fiction and nonfiction because of the rich history and culture here.”

From welcoming international authors and speakers to Dubai, celebrating regional authors and displaying the UAE’s literary history, the festival was one of the first events to reshape Dubai as more than a city of impressive skyscrapers and malls, but a city that has always had a love for words and stories.

Bestselling author Kate Mosse, who will be attending the festival in February, was also an invited guest in the first year.

“Glorious, welcoming, exciting, the most fantastic mixture of authors from all over the world,” Mosse told The National about her first experience of the festival and Dubai.

“I fell in love with Dubai then and we have been visiting most years as a family ever since. What stuck out was the camaraderie between authors, the care the organisers took to make sure we experienced local culture.”

A literature festival is, foremost, about books, reading and stories. But it is also about the connections we make, the commonalities we have through shared universal experiences, through stories and storytelling.

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature has fostered the space to share a love of words and stories, but it has also been a vital component in shaping Dubai’s cultural landscape.

Updated: January 27, 2023, 6:01 PM