City fest to celebrate literature
The complex is Dubai's largest mix-use development and organisers of the literary festival believe its road links and facilities will make it accessible and accommodating to festival-goers. "We did not want the festival to be on split sites as we want this to be a family event where everything is together," festival director Isobel Abulhoul told Emirates Business.
"Dubai Festival City has ticked nearly all our boxes."
Adventurer and author Sir Ranulph Fiennes will be among the literary giants attending the event that will complement the UAE's cultural calendar, which already boasts several film and art festivals. At last month's London Book Fair, Fiennes and half a dozen international writers were signed up, including Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswani, a dentist who has hit best-seller lists with titles such as Chicago.
Fiennes – author of 13 books, including To the Ends of the Earth and Atlantic of the Sands: The Search for the Lost City of Uber – will bring a huge amount of interest to the event, organisers say.
"Exposure to a world-class author is something people will remember when they are old and grey," says Abulhoul. "The authors want access to their audiences and thought-provoking discussions. We are now in May and have a lot of planning to do but we know we want a festival that is all-inclusive."
The language will be English but there will be Arabic lectures with English subtitles. "We are championing literature in general and this includes Arab literature. It is about celebrating literature."
The festival will run from February 26 to March 1 with 22 authors in total. Among those who have been confirmed are Paolo Coelho, Jeremy Strong, Lynne Truss, Anne Fine, Lauren Child and Tim Butcher. Booker Prize-winner Kiran Desai, author of The Inheritance of Loss, has yet to confirm.
Abulhoul, who is also director of Magrudy's bookshop, organised a media round table last week to throw up ideas for the event. Proposals spanned from clarity of dates and times, accessibility, workshops and big screens to relay discussions around the event.
"This festival is a very different prospect from a book fair, which you go to do business, this is more about fun," adds Jeremy Brinton, festival CEO. "We want it to be entertaining and there are many elements to this."
Dancers, performers, musicians and artists will participate in the festival to bring colour and flare to the four-day event.
Dubai Festival City also has a cinema, which it is hoped will show screen adaptations of books relevant to topics at the event.
The International Festival of Literature was boosted in December when Emirates Airline officially came on board as principal sponsor in a three-year deal. Dubai Culture and Arts Authority has also expressed their support for the event.
The event is expected to draw larger crowds than the Dubai International Film Festival and Art Dubai, according to organisers, who say the one thing they do not want is over-subscription.
Abulhoul says she will be attending this month's Hay Festival at Hay-on-Wye in England – an annual event set up in 1988, which brings together writers from around the world – to glean ideas for Dubai's festival. Hay Festival is also being sponsored by Emirates Airline for the first time this year.
Peter Florence, Hay Festival director and founder, says visitor figures had grown from 2,000 to 130,000 in its 20-year history.
"It is quite important to have the interests of the local community, visitors and guests at heart and their engagement," he says. "You have to always keep in mind what you are effectively doing, which is throwing a party. The most important thing is to have fun: it is like a clan gathering.
"It is a slightly weird form of entertainment where you go to have conversations and debate your favourite books but at the same time you want to be entertained and have access to everything."
Florence has also launched similar festivals in Columbia, Brazil, Italy and Spain.
The Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature will be officially launched next month, with a full list of authors and events being announced closer the opening in February.