The 2022 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, one of the top literary festivals in the world and the biggest celebration of stories in the Middle East, will take audiences behind the screen and into the heart of some of the most compelling stories of recent time. Authors of Netflix sensations Bridgerton by Julia Quinn and Chernobyl 1986 by Serhii Plokhy; silver screen smash hit House of Gucci by Sara Gay Forden; the tv show No Music at Al Ahmadi by Mona Al Shammari; and superstar animators Mohammed Saeed Harib, creator of Freej, and Ken Arto, animator of Demon Slayer, are all coming to the Festival, 3-12 February.
The full line-up, which was revealed at an immersive event at Expo 2020 featuring a soulful performance by Emirati singer Arqam, captures the spirit of this year’s Festival theme, ‘Here Comes the Sun’. The majority of sessions will be taking place at its brand new canal-side home for 2022, the Habtoor City Hotels. Other big names in the packed programme include Gary Vaynerchuck, Nadiya Hussain, David Walliams, Iman Mersal, Indra Nooyi, Mark Billingham, Shahad Al Rawi and Omar Saif Ghobash; actor Ben Miller, who starred as Lord Archibald Featherington in Bridgerton, with his latest children’s book; YouTuber Ahmed El Ghandour, aka Al Da7ee7; while master thriller writer David Baldacci will be joining the Festival virtually.
Ahlam Bolooki, director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature said: “It’s exciting to be at the dawn of a new era – one where we are more aware of our connections to each other and the world around us, as is reflected in many of the sessions. We are thrilled to be able to welcome international authors back in person, and brimming with excitement about our new venue, our phenomenal programme, and as always, the unforgettable stories the Festival will give rise to. We have some very special sessions planned for the coming edition, and I am telling everyone to book early because if you blink, you will miss your chance.”
Audiences can feel the fear at the special ‘Fright Night’, an evening of thrills and chills with sessions paying homage to horror, crime and all things dark. The Fear Factor panel brings together Hanna Alkaf, David Eagleman, Polly Philipsand Waleed Owdah, who will be spiralling into the deep dark pits of terror.
Celebrating Charles Dickens’ birthday on 7 February, the Festival invites audiences to Miss Havisham’s Wedding, starring special guest Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, the great-great-great granddaughter of the man himself and author of many books about women in history.
Not to be missed is the magical evening at Expo 2020 Dubai with stars of spoken word, the incomparable Carlos Andrés Gómez and Dubai’s Dr Afra Atiq, accompanied musically by Nashville-based singer/songwriter Brent Shuttleworth.
Performance poetry is always a hugely popular element of the Festival and this year is no exception, with a stellar international cast featuring Nikita Gill, Noor Naga, Queena Bergen and Sascha A Akhtar, joining UAE talents Danabelle Gutierrez, Farah Ali, Zainab Arrefai and Amal Al Sahlawi. The Festival’s signature event, Desert Stanzas, returns with captivating spoken word performances from top artists, set against the atmospheric starlit backdrop.
Novelists flying in from across the globe include the hottest new talent Brit Bennet (The Vanishing Half), C Pam Zhang(How Much of These Hills Is Gold), Lucy Foley (The Guest List) and Felicia Yap (Yesterday). There is also crime writing star Mark Billingham, Alka Joshi (The Henna Artist) and renowned author David Grossman, who won the International Booker with A Horse Walks Into a Bar.
Toshikazu Kawaguchi has life-affirming tales of café-based time travel in Before the Coffee Gets Cold, Pakistani actress and model Mira Sethi will be talking about her first book of short stories, Are You Enjoying? and the former Emirates Writing Prize winner Polly Phillips will be here with her debut novel, My Best Friend’s Murder.
The Festival will also host the much anticipated launch of HE Omar Saif Ghobash’s first novel.
Boutros Boutros, Divisional Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Marketing and Brand at Emirates said:“This year’s theme for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is incredibly fitting with the wonderful opportunities that the event will bring, helping encourage storytelling and in-person conversation, which are at the heart of what makes us human. We’re proud to support an event that gives literature lovers the chance to meet and engage with inspirational authors, and we look forward to helping welcome the star-studded line-up to Dubai. As the title sponsor of the festival, Emirates is committed to supporting the growing cultural, arts and creative industries in Dubai, and we are delighted to bringing people together to discuss some of the biggest issues of our time, and help spread joy and optimism to imagine the world anew.”
The Festival opens on 3 February 2022 with a dedicated Emirati day, and a strong presence throughout the whole of the ten days from writers based in the region.
Dr. Saeed Mubarak bin Kharbash, CEO of the Arts and Literature Sector at Dubai Culture, expressed the Authority’s readiness to enrich this edition of the festival with several events aimed at celebrating culture and spreading the joy of reading and learning among society members, especially the younger generations, and supporting local and international talents, saying: “We are proud to continue our partnership with the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on the international scene, which cements Dubai’s position as a destination for the exchange of culture and knowledge among people, and as a model for spreading the values of tolerance and peace among different races and cultures. Through this pioneering festival, we offer a valuable platform to stimulate participation and make literature and culture accessible to everyone as well as encouraging the young generation to make reading a daily habit, to inspire them and instil creativity in their souls and minds, and qualify them to follow the emirate’s comprehensive development process.”
Kharbash added: “Through the dedicated Emirati day that we are organising during the festival, we continue to support and empower local talent and provide them with the opportunity to reach global horizons. This contributes to strengthening the cultural and creative industries in the emirate, within the framework of our vision to cement Dubai’s position as a global centre for culture, an incubator for creativity, and a thriving hub for talent as well as achieve the objectives of the Dubai Creative Economy Strategy, which aims to make Dubai the global capital of the creative economy by 2025.”
The first day of the Festival will feature a strong line-up of Emirati authors of all genres, with sessions of short story readings, poetry, panel discussions on diverse topics from writing for cinema, or women in education, to the art and science of being a collector. An esteemed panel of experts will discuss the stigma of being in the arts, while another panel brings together three impressive Emirati women taking unconventional paths: Fatima Al Mansoori, Hana Al Hashimi, and Alamira Reem Al Hashimi.
Life coach Hala Kazim will share her insights into positivity, wellness and mental health, offering practical steps to acceptance.
Food for Thought
Foodies can join the Great British Bake Off star, mental health campaigner and author Nadiya Hussain, for a slice of cake as she shares how her life has been transformed since winning the hit show. Italian restaurateur and TV personality Alessandro Borghese will bring his unique take on his favourite dishes; Salma Serry founder of @Sufra_kitchen, will be talking about the histories, culture and ephemera of food from the SWANA region, and Zahra Abdalla will be there with modern interpretations of Middle Eastern recipes as featured in Zahra’s Kitchen food range.
There’s also Dr Rupy Aujla, bestselling author of The Doctor’s Kitchen and Eat to Beat Illness, who explains how tocreate healthy and delicious recipes for optimum mental and physical health.
Novelists from the Arab World include acclaimed Egyptian poet and novelist Iman Mersal, winner of the 2021 Sheikh Zayed Book Award for her novel In the Footsteps of Enayat Al Zayyat; Bushra Khalfan, putting the experiences of women in the Arab world centre-stage; founder of Snob Al-Hasn and prize-winning novelist, Alawiya Sobh; and IPAF-nominated author Rasha Adly. There’s also Selma Dabbagh, chairing a panel to how the erotic and intimate has been depicted by Arab female writers through the ages and the limits to this expression.
Saudi fantasy writer of the popular trilogy, Orchards of Arabistan, Osamah Mohammed Al Muslim will be at the Festival, as well as Egyptian author and legal expert Ashraf Al Ashmawi with his latest work, Orvanelli Lounge (2021), and Naji Bakhti with his debut novel Between Beirut and the Moon, about a young boy who dreams of becoming an astronaut, but must contend with issues closer to home in post-civil war Lebanon.
Ahmad Alzamam will speak about the relationship between writers and publishers in the GCC, while Jalal Bargasdiscusses writing politics as an Arab Writer, and Sultan Al Mousa tells of his journey as a young writer specialising in history of ancient religions and civilizations, in a panel on historical fiction writing.
Marina Wheeler, an Anglo-Indian with roots in what is now Pakistan, explores the story of her mother’s early years which were shaped by the Partition in The Lost Homestead. Raphael Cormack gives a taste of the cosmopolitan counterculture in Egypt during the inter-war years of the last century, while Ukrainian author Serhii Plokhy examines Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy in his Baillie Gifford Prize-winning work.
Paleoanthropologist, evolutionary biologist and presenter of BBC2’s Neanderthals: Meet Your Ancestors Ella Al-Shamahi brings hair raising tales of her adventures as an extreme explorer in the world’s most inhospitable landscapes.
Art and Design
Art and design take centre stage in many of the 2022 Festival sessions. Find out where graphic novelists and animators get their ideas from with two masters of their art, Fumio Obata and Ken Arto. Jessica Cerasi, curator of the 2019 Venice Biennale asks ‘Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art?’ based on her course at the Tate modern, while Lucinda Dickens Hawksley discusses What Makes Great Art: 80 Masterpieces Explained with Myrna Ayad, director of Art Dubai. The golden age of glamour is also invoked when Egyptian jewellery designer Azza Fahmy reveals her inspirations.
Finding the light
A number of sessions examine self-care, mental health and becoming the best you can be. Psychotherapist Sasha Batesblends the personal and the professional as she comes to terms with the loss of her husband in The Languages of Loss: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Through Grief. Jessica Moxham is a champion for disability rights and parenting and shares what she has learnt from her disabled son in The Cracks That Let the Light In. Battles with mental health issues are candidly revealed in her autobiography by American journalist, author and mum blogger Jenny Lawson. Behavioural scientist Pragya Agarwal looks at the subject of motherhood, unconscious bias and talking with children about race and, joining virtually, is Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist known for the concept Dunbar’s Number – the number of people with whom you can comfortably maintain stable social relationships, explored in his book Friends.
World-leading American neuroscientist, bestselling author and presenter of the BBC series The Brain, David Eaglemandescribes the marvels of brain plasticity in his session, Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain. RowanHooper, senior editor at New Scientist magazine and host of the New Scientist Weekly podcast invites us to find out How to spend a trillion dollars – saving the world and solving the biggest mysteries in science.
Indra Nooyi, ranked among the world’s 100 most powerful women, former CEO of PepsiCo and currently on the board of Amazon, will be bringing her thoughts on shattering the glass ceiling and how government and corporations can create work environments that promote prosperity at a personal, societal and ecological level. There’ll also be cutting-edge insights from Belarusian-American entrepreneur, internet personality and chairman of New York-based communications company VaynerX, Gary Vaynerchuk, who rose to fame with his daily YouTube show in the early years of social media. Khalaf Al Habtoor will also speak at the Festival about his books.
A highlight of every Festival is the announcement of the winner of the Emirates LitFest Writing Prize. This year also sees a new event – the announcement of the very first batch of selected writers for First Chapter – The Elf Seddiqi Writers Fellowship, putting ten talented people on the path to success through an international standard mentorship programme.
As always there are workshops for young and old, sessions on creative writing, translation and publishing and the popular quick pitches and masterclasses with literary agents Luigi and Alison Bonomi as well as Sheila Crowley.
Children’s and YA Fiction
He’s here in Dubai! Don’t miss this chance to jump into the world of David Walliams and celebrate Gangsta Granny’stenth anniversary, or discover the horrors of The Cruel School and the mysterious science teacher Doctor Doktur. Fun and hilarity guaranteed!
The multi-talented Ben Miller takes us on his latest romp – this time to find out what it’s like to become a dog, as he talks about his most recent adventure story, with the odd magical mishap along the way!
The man behind the internet sensation #DrawWithRob, Rob Biddulph, will be in Dubai to introduce you to Peanut Jones and her incredible adventures, as she draws herself in and out of danger. Greta Woebegone has her adventures with the ghosts who share her house — hear what happens from best-selling children’s author Sam Copeland.
For pre-teens there’s award-winning author of the Shapeshifter series Ali Sparkes, with the final book in her most recent fantasy adventure – Night Forever – which reaches its heart-stopping conclusion at the top of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Award-winning Erin Entrada Kelly is a Filipino-American award-winning writer of books including Hello Universe, The Land of Forgotten Girls, and her latest, We Dream of Space, a story of three siblings discovering that life rarely goes smoothly. Ben Bailey Smith aka Doc Brown, is a British actor, rapper, comedian. His hilarious hero Carmichael discovers what really matters in life and whether being infamous is a good thing, in his first solo fiction title Something I said!
Ben’s picture books for younger children, with illustrator Sav Akyüz, will get you on your feet with the purple bear showing off his dance moves in I Am Bear and Bear Moves.
Nadiya Hussain’s session for younger children explores feelings and emotions, and deals with the overwhelming feelings of being different, helping children confront their fears, and acknowledge their differences. Well-known UAE TV personality Layne Redman will be making his first appearance at the Festival to celebrate his new series of books featuring Luam, whose first adventure Luam’s Balm, is set in Jamaica.
The Arabic children’s programmes features Dubai Abulhoul with her retelling of Emirati folk tales for children, Hadil Ghoniem, author of Layali Shahrzizi (The Nights of Shahrzizi) which won the 2020 Etisalat Book of the Year award for Arabic Children’s Literature and Nasser Al Dosseri, also known as Mr. Noon. There’s also Julnar Haju, Sanaa Chabbani, Safia Al Shehi, Sahar Naja Mahfouz, Abdulrahman Al Dasuki and Ali Ashoor Al-Jafar.
YA fiction (14+)
Award-winning Dominican-American author Elizabeth Acevedo explores the many themes from her novel in verse, Clap when You Land, including grief, love, and the bonds that connect us.
Hanna Alkaf, Malaysian author of middle grade and YA children’s books, takes us back in time to 1969 Malaysia and tackles the complexity of identity, the effects of racism and the impact of mental illness on young people, all brought to the reader in an approachable way.
S. K. Ali brings the engaging character of Janna Yusuf, an Egyptian and Indian American, to life in her series of books for Young Adults and will be sharing with us her inspiration for the stories and the themes she explores.
Photographer Waleed Shah will show how he uses his work to break down stereotypes and challenge societal norms; Fatima Al Mansouri tells of her life as female fighter pilot; TV news anchor Fatima Daoui shares her hard-won lessons to help women in the media in her book, Don’t Look Down; and Jordanian author Fadi Zaghmout discusses his latest novel, Needle and Thimble.
As always, there are workshops galore for all ages, covering poetry and poetry slam, creative writing and storytelling, drawing and illustration.
The Festival sees the culmination of the student writing competitions, with winners announced in special ceremonies for the Chevron Readers’ Cup, Emirates NBD Poetry For All, the Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai Children’s Letter Writing Competition and The Story Writing Competition.
The Voices of Future Generations competition will host a special book launch at the Festival featuring the second round of winning sustainability-themed stories.
The much anticipated announcement of the School Librarian of the Year award will also be made at the Festival.
The Festival will comply with all current covid regulations, and visitor safety is the top priority.
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.