Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

Next week, the region’s biggest literary festival will be held in Dubai, giving writers a chance to celebrate words and to network with industry superstars, Paul Muir writes
Author and academic Kamal Abdel-Malek is hosting two events at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai next week. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Author and academic Kamal Abdel-Malek is hosting two events at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai next week. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, the Middle East’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word, will play host to more than 150 writers, thinkers and speakers from 25 countries next week.

Organisers of the festival, which has adopted the theme of metamorphosis, aim to bring at least 30,000 people, young and old and from all different backgrounds, together with authors “to promote education, debate and above all else, a love of reading and writing”.

Taking part at the InterContinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City from Tuesday to March 8 will be Emirati writers such as the acclaimed poet and performer Rashid Saeed Khilfan Sharar; Nasser Al Jaberi, a columnist for Al Roeya (The Vision) newspaper and the author of Falsafat Murahiq (Philosophy of a Teenager); and Mohamed Al Mazrouei, an award-winning writer, artist and cultural commentator.

International participants will include the British journalist, author and TV presenter Jeremy Paxman; the Lebanese journalist and press freedom advocate Gisele Khoury; the Egyptian novelist and political and cultural commentator Ahdaf Soueif; and Briton Joanne Harris, the author of the award-winning novel Chocolat.

Another speaker will be the Egyptian author and American University in Dubai professor Kamal Abdel-Malek, who spoke to The Review in advance of the festival.

q How would you describe the literature festival?

a [It] is an annual celebration of creativity, a carnival of innovation, a cacophony of melodious tunes rising from the inner chambers of literary souls.

Five days of celebrating the creative word and the incredible mix of wordsmiths from all walks of the literary world: poets, fiction writers, authors of children’s books, cookbooks, and a whole host of skilled moderators and high-calibre media personalities.

They all come to Dubai to show their wondrous wares and what they are hiding up their sleeves.

What will you be talking about at the festival?

I will have two sessions: one on the Arabic language and its uses in the social media entitled Arabizi and the other is a one-on-one interview with the famous Anglo-Egyptian novelist, Ahdaf Soueif.

How valuable is the festival in terms of networking?

There is something about creative words and creative wordsmiths, whenever they’re all gathered somewhere, something ought to happen.

Creativity is contagious and, as is the case with any type of contagion, it spreads through contact with others.

The festival is the great home-ground of creative words and ideas and as a writer, you need this kind of space, to present and talk, to mix and schmooze and, more importantly in my view, to listen and get inspired. Remember that genuine beauty engenders genuine beauty and one form of artistic creativity may sire another.

What are the biggest challenges in getting published here and promoting your books?

There are no great difficulties getting published. The real difficulties lie in the area of distribution and the fact that public interest in reading books, particularly Arabic books, is quite limited. The astronomical sales of books in Europe or in North America are not known here.

What can be done here in the UAE – in addition to the festival – to make it easier for writers to succeed?

I think that the creation of the International Writers’ Centre will definitely add to the resources available to writers here in Dubai and in the UAE at large.

In this way, activities will serve the mission statement of the Emirates Literature Foundation to “promote literature and to foster an environment which is favourable to writers”.

I think that an international centre for the study of Arabic language abroad is a great idea to consider; a series of lectures on Arabic language and literature, and general culture; a series of short publications on Arabic language and literature for the benefit of local and international writers.

Q: Tell me about your latest project:

Currently I am writing a new novel entitled The Maiden of Kerkennah. It is a story of love, revenge and the power of metaphors.

pmuir@thenational.ae

Updated: February 27, 2014 04:00 AM

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