We take a look at The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature’s opening night
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature opened on Tuesday with a star-studded line-up of guests, including addresses by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak and a video message from the Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai.
The five-day event began with a ceremony at the Cultural and Scientific Association in Dubai’s Al Mamzar, with discussions surrounding the festival theme – Metamorphosis.
Reaffirming its focus on young people, the festival was declared open by a large choir made up of Dubai pupils, after which Sheikh Nahyan gave the welcome address.
The Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development said that despite the rapid changes sweeping the literary world, the lessons from the classics will continue to endure.
“I cannot predict the future of books,” he said. “However, I know that despite centuries of metamorphosis, the words of the holy books, the words of Shakespeare, the words of Confucius, the words of The Odyssey, the words of humanity have survived centuries of change and still guide us today.”
The programme then took on a literary show format with its host, the British journalist Riz Khan, interviewing some of the festival’s high-profile guests.
The British politician and author Paddy Ashdown, who first arrived in Dubai in 1961 when he was in the armed services, jokingly described literary festivals as a welcome break from the cut-and-thrust world of British parliamentary politics.
“You get a better class of people at a literary festival,” he said.
“I am going to to introduce a new law into the British legal parliamentary system. I will call it the Electoral Reform Literary Festivals Bill, which basically says you can’t have a vote until you went to a literary festival. You will get much better governance this way.”
The Moroccan author Mohammed Achaari said his book The Arch and The Butterfly, which won the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, is about dealing with inner change.
“It’s a subject that has always fascinated me,” he said. “I wanted to pose the question of whether a human can rise again and reclaim their lives after experiencing something deeply traumatic. Through the character I wanted to say that you can do this through living, experiencing love, friendship and travel. These are all factors that can help us heal and change for the better.”
The British poet and humorist Pam Ayres then joined the guest couch and drew laughs from the audience as she discussed the pitfalls of being a grandmother.
The night reached a stirring conclusion with a special video message from Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani education activist who made world headlines after surviving a Taliban attack in 2012.
“When you read a book … and you learn from it, it really brings change in your life,” she said from her new home in England. “I always tell people to read a lot of books because it’s great and you learn about other people’s views and you really do feel like you are all living in one society.”
• The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City until Saturday. Go to www.emirateslitfest.com for details.
Updated: March 5, 2014 04:00 AM