x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Festival of literature to tackle illiteracy

Inaugural event organised by Emirates Airline will see authors visiting schools and universities to encourage reading.

The writer Anthony Horowitz speaks about the upcoming Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature yesterday.
The writer Anthony Horowitz speaks about the upcoming Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature yesterday.

DUBAI // The inaugural Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature next year aims to encourage young people to read and write more. Organisers yesterday spoke of widespread illiteracy in the Arab world. "The statistics regarding illiteracy in the Middle East are frightening and the first thing we need to do is admit that there is an issue," said Saeed Al Nabouda, the chief projects officer of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority. "What we need to do is educate children and their parents on the beauty of reading, because at the moment many people do not understand the importance of it. "According to the Arab League, there are 100 million Arabs who still do not know how to read and write. We want to use this initiative to help improve this statistic." The festival has been scheduled for Feb 26 to Mar 1, and would be attended by more than 60 international and Arab authors. Among the international writers who have committed to attend are Anthony Horowitz, Margaret Atwood, Ranulph Fiennes and Wilbur Smith. Arab authors including Turki al Dakhil, Khaled al Khamissi and Ibrahim Nasrallah have agreed to come. The festival is to include discussions, debates, readings, book signings, workshops and an education day for students. Organisers said they would try to reach every student in Dubai on that day. If students could not attend the festival, authors would go to the schools and universities. "We are working with all educational institutions across Dubai where the whole purpose is, 'If you can't make it, don't worry, we'll come to you'," said Isobel Abulhoul, director of the festival and Magrudy's book shops. "We want to touch thousands of children on the same day... The festival is a celebration of literature and we want children to enjoy it and see its benefits, as they are our future." The Saudi-based children's writer and publisher Nahed al Shawa, who will attend the festival, said: "It is estimated on average that every Arab child reads one page a year, in comparison to European children who read 10 books a year." Shawa began reading at the age of 10 when her father gave her the classics. "There were no children's books available then," she said. So she started writing books for her own children. "It is so important for children to read. Every household must have books, and every parent should take 10 minutes out of their day to read with their children." Shawa said illiteracy among Arab youth was caused by lack of good books available; lack of encouragement from parents; and the lack of reading libraries. "There is a lack of authors too," she said. "We want to use the festival to encourage young writers to come out. My personal mission is to spread awareness." Shawa said lack of organisation in the Arab world's literary market made it hard for authors to be heard and make a name for themselves. Horowitz, who wrote the Alex Rider book series, as well as screenplays for Midsomer Murders, Murder in Mind and Foyle's War, was also at yesterday's launch. He said literary festivals were an important opportunity to encourage children to read and write through meeting their favourite authors. "It is important to have that human contact." Horowitz said UK studies have shown there seemed to be a link between children who do not read from an early age and delinquency. "It is vitally important for children to be reading at an early age and this festival provides that opportunity and that interest," he said. nsamaha@thenational.ae