Astronauts and YA superstars: LitFest line-up announced

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature announces its full list of attendees for its 2016 event that includes more than 140 names from 30 different countries

Author of the hugely popular YA series ‘Alex Rider’, Anthony Horowitz, children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson, Egyptian scholar Youssef Ziedan and former astronaut Chris Hadfield were just some of the names confirmed to be talking at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature next year.

At a press event to announce the full line-up for the festival, the audience were given a preview of what to expect next year; namely, a diverse range of names and activities that spanned far beyond literature.

With an expected attendance of 40,000 across a two-week period, new features of the programme include Poetry Live!, an event where poets including Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage and Grace Nichols recite their work to a young audience who are studying the poets at school.

The programme will also feature a new fine-dining concept, the Literary Cruise, where philosopher AC Grayling will extol the importance of literature during a cruise down Dubai Creek, and In the Round – Poetry and Storytelling Evening, which will take place around a campfire to celebrate the rich heritage of oral storytelling in the region.

I go back to the same community and things are not there any more. It’s moved. In my writing, I try to capture the fast change that we have seen this society take, and preserve the heritage and communities of this country

Maha Gargash, an Emirati documentary filmmaker-turned-writer

Also, there is a strand based around Shakespeare, with career villain Steven Berkoff (James Bond, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) bringing the Bard’s most infamous characters to life in his one-man show Shakespeare’s Villains, and Kuwaiti playwright Sulayman Al Bassam discussing his efforts to adapt the plays and sonnets into Arabic.

literature festival dubai reading books
Participants in the upcoming LitFest 2016 at a press event to announce the full line-up for the festival

Authors from and residing in the UAE will take centre stage in the Spotlight on the Emirates strand of the festival, which will feature sessions such as a three-day filmmaking masterclass from Nujoom Al Ghanem, or a Watani workshop from Shaima Al Marzooqi.

Maha Gargash, an Emirati documentary filmmaker-turned-writer, will be into debuting That Other Me, her second novel, during LitFest. She said that her reason for writing and filming was to capture lost communities of the UAE.

“I used to write, present and script my own documentaries, and started to dabble in short stories as I had various things that I wanted to talk about.

“A lot of what I used to film in my documentaries…I go back to the same community and things are not there any more. It’s moved. In my writing, I try to capture the fast change that we have seen this society take, and preserve the heritage and communities of this country,” said Gargash.

Isobel Abulhoul, the festival’s Director, said the varied line-up was to reflect her primary intention for the event: to appeal and engage the non-reader.

“If you are already a reader, wild horses couldn’t keep you away. But if you’re not, you might think, what’s in it for me? All of our efforts go into engaging these kinds of people via schools, colleges, social media, and making things that they just cannot say no to. Once they’ve come, they will return,” said Abulhoul.

“I’ve had experiences of classes coming to the festival – a lot of them boys and not great readers – and teachers writing to me afterwards to tell me that the whole class is now on book six of the Darren Shan series, for example. It is success stories like these that really matter.”