DUBAI // The celebrated Canadian author Margaret Atwood finally took to the stage at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature last night and got a chance to meet her UAE fans - two years later than originally scheduled.
The writer made headlines in 2009 when she pulled out of the inaugural event after being informed that a fellow writer's invitation had been withdrawn because a book featured a homosexual character.
As the vice president of a writers' group called International PEN, Atwood said it was her duty not to attend the 2009 event due to concerns over censorship. It later emerged that the author, Geraldine Bedell, had not in fact been invited.
last night, book fans gathered to hear Atwood speak as the headline guest of the second gala evening to mark the opening of the third annual festival.
Dressed in a salmon-pink Indian embroidered shawl over a long dress, Atwood last night read some of her poetry alongside Rosie Goldsmith, the writer and producer, and Nujoom Al Ghanem, one of the UAE's most published poets.
Speaking of the furore surrounding Bedell's book, The Gulf Between Us, Atwood said, "That was very odd affair wasn't it? If I had known the truth I would have come two years ago. The story was originally in The Times and when I realised, I took the story back and back, and then found out the truth, that of course the woman was never invited in the first place. I think it was just a publicity stunt but it did not work for her. I think it backfired."
Atwood added she had not suffered a backlash from her Middle East fans as a result and had enjoyed giving the videolink speech she gave in lieu of a personal appearance two years ago.
Al Ghanem also read excerpts from some of the Canadian poet's books, Cat's Eye and Alias Grace, which had been translated into Arabic.
The evening was followed by a performance of Memory from the musical Cats, and the overture from Giuseppe Verdi's La Forza del Destino by the Dubai Sinfonia orchestra.
Then came readings from five poets from around the world. Simon Armitage, a poet and novelist from the UK, spoke alongside Benjamin Zephaniah, a British Jamaican Rastafarian poet, Dha'en Shaheen, an Emirati journalist, Yang Lian from China and Nathalie Handal, a French American of Palestinian origin.
The three days of events start today at Dubai's InterContinental hotel.