Bored of books? LitFest’s inclusive approach to storytelling will satisfy

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Chief Operating Officer of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2017 Yvette Judge reveals her must-see events during the festival that encompass all types of storytelling, from intimate marital tales to creating narrative through photography

The Arab world has a huge tradition of storytelling without writing things down – the Hakawati was the storyteller who would entertain people with his tales, and I think so many of the Arab speakers are great at entertaining – it’s in their culture.

There are a lot of people that have stories, but don’t necessarily have a book to go with them; maybe it’s a cookbook, or something done through social media. So that was the impetus for creating this storytelling strand this year.

Hussain Ali Lootah’s semi-autobiographical tale is absolutely fascinating. He talks about the decision to take a second wife and the implications of that decision, so I’m expecting a healthy conversation around his event. Even in our offices, it has sparked huge debate!

Christina Lamb, the war correspondent who wrote a book with Malala has now worked with Nujeen Mustafa, who travelled from Syria to Europe in a wheelchair. Christina has a great way of extracting people’s stories, and is a very moving speaker. Last time she was here, there was barely a dry eye in the audience. She’s also doing an event with Frank Gardner, where they’ll be telling tales from their shared background of war correspondence.

Anthony Geffen will espouse his view that virtual reality may be advanced technology, but it should be made accessible to everybody. He has a great history making documentaries with David Attenborough, and is of the opinion that VR should become just another way to tell stories.

What I love about Michael Freeman is that he’s given me hope for my photography skills – I’ve actually booked my husband onto his session too. He is of the view that taking pictures is not about technology, it’s about composing a story – and you can still tell that narrative even when you’ve cut someone’s head out of the frame

Nadiya Hussain has a fascinating story to tell. Originally from Bangladesh, when her family moved to the UK her mum carried on with what she knew, forgoing the oven to cook only on the hob. It was Nadiya who then found the oven and developed this love of baking, and she has become perhaps one of the most engaging winners of a reality show that I can recall. We have afternoon tea with Nadiya, and she has also done a book for children, which has involved a lot of gingerbread arriving at the offices…

Sir Anthony Seldon is also going to be here, talking to teachers in the government schools about how happiness and education can go hand in hand. The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), who look after the private schools here are very keen on coming to the sessions and hearing what he has to say ­– it’s something that has formed their own thinking.

We also have HE Omar Saif Ghobash, the ambassador to Russia, who has just published ‘Letters to a Young Muslim’, written as an ode to his sons.

To generate more interest in the world of Arabic literature, what we really want people to do is to come along to sessions with Arab world authors, whose sessions will be accompanied by simultaneous translation.

An organisation called ArabRama is coming to teach children Arabic through drama, and we have authors that have been with us for years such as Maitha Al Khayat returning once again, as well as Fatima Sharafeddine, who is teaching a creative writing course on writing for children in Arabic.

One thing we’ve done more dramatically this year is to have panels where we’re bringing panellists with different backgrounds, races, and religions together. For an audience member, it is so much more interesting. The best thing about the festival is it challenges you and makes you reassess your own values, and the core values that you assume other people have. 

The 2017 edition of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature takes place from 3-11 March. For more on the festival visit