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Emirates Lit Fest concludes

Saturday , 19 March 2016

With more than 40,000 people attending a wide variety of events, the 2016 edition of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature was the perfect way to kick off the ‘Year of Reading’…



From March 1 to 12, more than 150 writers, poets, illustrators and other public figures from 30 countries took part in the eighth edition of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.


The event was the UAE’s first international literary event of 2016, which has been declared as the ‘Year of Reading’ by UAE’s President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.


With 300 sessions on offer, the calendar for the latest edition of the Emirates Lit Fest was jam-packed. The Festival, which is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE’s Vice-President & Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, and in partnership with Emirates Airline and the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, included poetry recitals, talks by authors, writers’ exchanges, panel discussions, workshops, masterclasses, competitions and more.


Screenings of film adaptations and theatrical performances of Shakespearean plays were held at Dubai Festival City’s Novo Cinemas. Emirati culture was highlighted in a brand new segment, titled ‘Spotlight on the Emirates’, at the Dubai International Writers’ Centre in Al Shindaga Historical Area. Plus, the festival’s first-ever Literary Cruise and Time Travel Dinner were held.


Teeming with events


The events weren’t limited to traditional literary fare. For example, one series of workshops, ‘Lights, Camera, Action!’ took participants through the process of scripting a screenplay, writing a production proposal and gearing up for production.



Chris Hadfield


Another session featured a panel discussion on UAE’s upcoming unmanned mission to Mars and what the Emirates Mars Mission hopes to achieve. It wasn’t the only space-related session, though. The first Canadian to walk in space and command the International Space Station— who is also the only person to have ever recorded an album in space—Chris Hadfield, held an entertaining session that was open to all age groups.


Robert Lindsay


There was even a talk by the Tony, Olivier and BAFTA award-winning actor Robert Lindsay (known to many for his work as the grumpy but lovable dentist, Ben Harper, on the British sitcom ‘My Family’). Lindsay recently came out with a book, ‘Letting Go’, in which he talks about his childhood influences, career trajectory, showbiz encounters and personal life and relationships.


A lovely and inspirational full-circle moment came when Tom Callaghan, who had been inspired to write his debut novel, ‘A Killing Winter’, by a 2011 Emirates Lit Fest workshop, featuring British crime author Mark Billingham, came back for a second year in a row, to hold his own session. Callaghan’s work has been nominated for the Edinburgh First Book Award.


Many children’s sessions were held, including the fun-filled ‘A Muggle’s View Of Harry Potter’


There were plenty of events for children and young adults as well, from ones that brought Shakespeare to life to others that tapped into contemporary children’s literature, like ‘A Muggle’s View Of Harry Potter’, which saw four ex-Hogwarts pupils create a fun-filled experience for kids. There was even a special workshop from Watani, in which children got the chance to learn more about the UAE’s history and culture, and a meet-and-greet session with children’s authors.


With the festival offering you the chance to learn everything from how to set up a social media plan from scratch, in a session featuring Heba Al Samt (founder of Emiratweet) to how to whip up some delicious dishes, in a session featuring well-known British chef John Torode (who was promoting his cookbook, ‘My Kind Of Food’); ‘how to get fit in 15 minutes’, in a session featuring Joe Wicks; how working women can strike a good work-life balance, in a session featuring Mai El Khalifa, Asma Hilal Lootah and Isobel Abulhoul; and ‘How to embrace your restlessness’ and listen to your intuition, in a session featuring Jo Simpson—it seemed like there was almost too much going on this year!


Kiran Chhabria, Meera Syal


The latest edition of the festival featured only one Indian, UAE-based Kiran Chhabria. Chhabria, who is best known as the Director of Jumbo Electronics, came out with her debut novel, ‘Kitty In The City’, in 2015. She was part of a ‘Beating Burnout’ session at the Fest, along with David Allen and Jo Simpson, on the subject of how to take back control of your working life.


Kiran Chhabria 


Chhabria encouraged those in attendance to identify what’s important to them and to then go about achieving those things in a systematic manner, which includes delegating. She also highlighted how little things can go a long way towards making us happy and advocated adopting a more grateful outlook.


Indian-origin British comedian, writer, playwright, singer, journalist, producer and actress (best known for being part of the team behind ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ and for ‘The Kumars at No 42’), Meera Syal (CBE) held a talk on surrogacy during the festival. Her latest novel, ‘The House of Hidden Mothers’, is about the complex issue of surrogacy in India.


Meera Syal


During the talk, Syal spoke about how belonging to an immigrant family shaped her experiences and outlook on life. She credited her parents with supporting her artistic dreams and recalled how they’d narrate old stories to her. Syal also spoke about something many comedians highlight—the use of humour as a defence mechanism.


Oasis In Time: Honouring Sir Maurice Flanagan


Syal also participated in the first ‘Special Event’ of the festival, ‘Wahat Al Zaman’, or ‘Oasis In Time’, which was dedicated to the late Former Executive Vice Chairman of Emirates Airline, who was additionally a co-founder of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and a trustee of the Emirates Literature Foundation, Sir Maurice Flanagan.


Meera Syal & Robert Lindsay at ‘Oasis In Time’


Sir Maurice, who was also a poet and a writer, was posthumously awarded the festival’s ‘Personality of the Year Award’. Also at the event, which was sponsored by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, were British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, John Sampson, Chris Hadfield, Robert Lindsay, Anthony Horowitz, Ali Abu Al Reesh, Abdullah Ali Hassan, Reem Al Kamali and Sir Maurice’s son, Julian Flanagan.


The Festival Children’s Choir performed the UAE National Anthem and the Festival Anthem at ‘Oasis In Time’


The gala evening began with the Festival Children’s Choir performing the UAE National Anthem and then debuting the Festival Anthem, ‘Time’. His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE’s Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, delivered the keynote address, which was followed by literary and musical performances, including a recital by Julian Flanagan of one of his father’s poems.


CEO and Trustee of the Emirates Literature Foundation and Festival Director of the Emirates Literature Festival, Isobel Abulhoul, said, “The loss of Sir Maurice Flanagan was felt greatly by all who knew him, but he leaves behind so many brilliant legacies—the Festival being one of them. Sir Maurice was not just a mentor and supporter of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, without him, there would have been no Festival. He had a vision and his unwavering dedication to it is the reason why the Festival has become such a globally successful event.”




Having attended the very first edition of the Emirates Lit Fest back in 2009, what was really lovely to see was how full the sessions were this year. The turnout was great, even on weekdays. And, despite the major festival venues not being directly accessible via the metro, many young people came out. With the sheer volume of events, it was, both, surprising and encouraging to see an eager audience—comprising a whopping 40,000 people—attend so many sessions.


More coverage


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