The National - News
Online talks and physical events planned for the next Emirates Literature Festival
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature will go ahead in 2021, with a mix of physical and virtual events. Organisers of the UAE’s biggest literary festival announced the news on Sunday, after months of successful book-themed events staged online.
Isobel Abulhoul, chief executive and trustee of the Emirates Literature Foundation, confirmed the event would return next year, scheduled from Thursday to Saturday, February 4 to 6, in a “more blended format”. She said it would feature “a mix of live physical events, probably staged outdoors, and online streaming”.
The decision was made after examining the “success” of the festival’s online offerings during the pandemic, in which organisers digitally released content from previous years and produced a programme of live online events featuring big-name authors. Organised by the Office of Public and Cultural Diplomacy and the Emirates Literature Foundation, the eight-part Literary Conversations Across Borders discussed some of the pressing issues facing the world in the wake of the pandemic.
The programme reached more than 7,500 people in 63 countries, with online festival content racking up more than 75,000 views. “Like most other organisations, the move towards remote working was new territory for us and we wondered how we could reshape ourselves to provide the same inspirational experiences in these strange times,” Abulhoul says. “The team has adapted brilliantly to the new ways of working and unfamiliar technologies and, in fact, the impact of our online sessions has far exceeded our expectations. We are confident in being able to deliver a festival next year.”
The 2020 iteration took place in February, featuring literary heavyweights such as An American Marriage author Tayari Jones, crime writer Jo Nesbo and The Book
Thief’s Markus Zusak, as well as Oman’s Man Booker International Prize winner, Jokha Alharthi. In the months since, as the pandemic meant the cancellation of global literary festivals, the 2021 event was thrown into jeopardy. “We actually chose its theme, ‘Change the Story’, last year. Little did we know then how apt it was going to be for the 2021 festival,” Abulhoul says.
As well as its online programme and videos, the foundation had diversified its offerings in recent months. A new podcast, the Boundless Book Club, was launched last month to keep literature lovers up to speed with books recommended by the festival team. Existing podcasts featuring festival authors were also refreshed.
The foundation also released an e-book version of Tomorrow,
I Will Fly, the ground-breaking anthology written by Dubai prisoners, which was launched at the 2020 festival, and it developed an online creative writing course.
“[Working online] has meant that we have been able to capture an audience much more geographically diverse than we are used to, bringing our conversations and insights right into the heart of people’s homes,” Abulhoul says.