Ebtisam Al-Beiti, a Dubai-based former nursery teacher, wrote her first book during lockdown in an outpour of creative energy. Published in 2021, Can I Go Out Now? debuted at the literature festival that year, and the first edition of the book was also part of the Ministry of Education’s Reading For Pleasure project.
This year, she’s back with another book for toddlers just learning to read: Citrus the Smoothie Sloth. Already in its second edition, it’s about a cheeky little sloth that likes to make smoothies from rainforest fruit.
Over the last 15 years, the literature festival has been a firm fixture on Dubai’s social calendar and has matured into a developed platform for young and upcoming authors with its goal of creating a sustainable literary ecosystem for the UAE and the region.
“I think the festival is an amazing platform for upcoming authors, especially for [visitors and attendees] to see local talent as well,” Al-Beiti told Gaggler. “They get to experience meeting the authors, talking to the authors, specifically for my age group — which is much younger children aged four to six — it’s during these early years that it’s important for kids to interact with authors and to really encourage them to start reading and to develop a reading culture.”
Friendships Old and New
The theme for this year’s literature festival is “Old Friends,” a fitting commemoration of the festival’s 15th anniversary. “It’s a very special year for us,” shared Tamreez Inam, assistant festival director and head of programming. “So when we were thinking of the theme, we thought of ‘Old Friends’ as a way to honour the authors who have been to the festival before, many of whom are returning for the 15th anniversary. But of course, we have new authors and new friends as well.”
‘Old Friends’ is also a reference to a quote by Al Mutanabbi, Inam explained, where he said a book is an old friend — the only friend you’ll ever need. “So we’re playing on that as well for the theme.”
In a first for the festival, this edition will break new ground in a bid to expand its reach by holding sessions in regional languages apart from Arabic and English. “For the first time, we’re going to have sessions in Malayalam, Filipino, Italian, Urdu, and Hindi. We really want the festival to be a celebration of all the communities that live here in the UAE,” said Inam. “It’s going to be our largest festival ever.”
What to Expect
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature will be returning for its 15 anniversary from February 1-6, 2023, bringing together more than 250 writers and thinkers from over 50 countries in nearly 300 sessions spread out over six days.
The festival kicks off with Desert Stanzas, a signature event and integral part of the festival consisting of a night of poetry and performances under the stars in the desert. “Then we just have a whole six days of all kinds of conversations: fiction, non-fiction, lots of children’s events, and something for everyone,” said Inam, who revealed she’s most looking forward to the special commemorations in honour of the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Prophet by acclaimed Lebanese author Kahlil Gibran, as well as his 140th birth anniversary.
As for Al-Beiti, she’s looking forward to attending all of the sessions for children. “I attended David Walliams’ [session] last year and I absolutely loved it; I think I laughed more than the children! So I will definitely be attending David Walliams’ again this year.”
As for UAE-based authors on her watchlist? “We’ve got Kathy Urban, who I’m very, very excited for, and of course the legendary Julia Johnson as well. Also looking forward to Beverly Jatwani.”
“I’m so excited that as much as we have international authors, we get to attend the local authors as well.”
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature will hold author talks, workshops, special events and more at the Intercontinental in Festival City and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library from February 1-6, 2023. Buy tickets here.