By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Clark: ‘Influential Voices’Among many developments during the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the United Arab Emirates’ interest in staging large physical book events despite the pathogen’s spread has been interesting.
Publishing Perspectives readers looked on, for example, as Ahmed Al Ameri’s Sharjah Book Authority staged its 11-day 2020 Sharjah International Book Fair in November, with a reported 382,000 visitors to the Sharjah Expo Center. The Sharjah program coupled this with a battery of online events that organizers said drew 63,500 attendees. Needless to say, this was a boon to the Gulf region’s publishers and authors who depend on that enormous fair for important annual book sales at a time when many such events have been canceled.
Today (January 6), we have information on the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. In its February 2020 full and normal iteration, this was for many of us the last event of its kind attended in person before the contagion upended so many other programs and set off a flight-to-digital means for most annual events and the ascent of Zoom as the mode of choice.
As you’ll recall, by July, the Emirates Airline festival in Dubai had announced its intention to hold a combination of physical and digital events this year, February 4 to 6.
Those dates have been somewhat reconfigured to see events on three weekends between January 29 and February 13.
Today, visitors to the program’s site are quickly greeted with a “COVID-19 Safety Guidelines” message. This takes you to a page of details on guidelines, the anticipated measures at the Jameel Arts Centre (January 29 and 30); the soaring InterContinental Dubai Festival City (February 4 to 6); and at Alsserkal Avenue (February 12 and 13). Protocols are to include:
- Temperature checks at the entrance
- Mandatory face masks at all time
- A requirement that “face masks are to be worn correctly over the mouth and nose at all times”—a note appreciated by many of us who have encountered people apparently unable to understand how their own respiratory systems shed virus
- Assigned seating
- Limited admission
- Distancing regulations
In current news coverage, Farah Elbahrawy reports for Bloomberg that the UAE has announced a goal of vaccinating 50 percent of its population by April. This, as it recorded its highest daily-case count on record Tuesday (January 5)—1,967 cases in a single day.
To date, Elbahrawy writes, official estimates are that 8 percent of the population has been inoculated. The UAE has approved both the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and China’s Sinopharm vaccine.
That’s the evolving public health backdrop, then, as organizers describe their programming as “a mix of live appearances and virtual sessions embracing literature, art, science, current affairs, film, food, and performance.” A good deal of live streaming is planned for those who don’t want to attend physically.
Bolooki: ‘The Zeitgeist of the World at the Moment’
And the initial announcement made by organizers in Dubai is focused on the strong array of author-speakers being engaged for the festival, headlined by Elif Shafak, Amin Maalouf, and Lemm Sissay.
In a prepared statement for the authors’ announcement, festival director Ahlam Bolooki is quoted, saying, “The world has shifted since the 2020 festival, and we have all been changed by the events of the last year.
“Although circumstances have meant that some of the usual elements of our festival are not possible for 2021, we’re thrilled to be able to stage live sessions again.
“I believe the program we’ve curated captures the zeitgeist of the world at the moment. We’re looking forward to a better future, and a more hopeful, more accepting, and more empathetic world. We all want to make more positive choices in our lives, while being entertained and having some fun.
“The new year brings a new beginning. I hope it enables us all to ‘change the story’ for 2021, and our festival to bring a big dose of optimism for the future.”
A comment also comes to us from Sir Tim Clark, the Emirates Airline president, who says, “More than ever, culture, and creativity that generates thoughtful conversations, feeds knowledge, and brings people together has never been so important during these extraordinary times.
“The blend of physical events and virtual sessions led by some of the most prolific authors and cultural figures of our time will help bring ideas and learnings to new audiences, and serve the Festival’s loyal community. We’re proud to support the festival and help bring so many influential voices to Dubai, as the city continues to safely deliver and host local and global events.
“Dubai’s strong vision for the future continues to underpin its efforts to bounce back stronger, and we will continue to support its growing appeal as a destination for people to gather and engage for a myriad of events.”
Authors Named by the Program
A partial listing of authors named to participate includes:
- Elif Shafak
- Malala Yousafzai
- Amin Maalouf
- Avni Doshi
- Lemm Sissay
- Afra Atiq
- Ahmed Mourad
- Derek Owusu
- Immanuel Kim
- Oyinkan Braithwaite
- Satyarth Nayak
- Bolu Babalola
- Arqam Al Abri
- David Barrie
- Jay Jayamohan
- Rupy Aujla
- Talal Al Buhairi
- Heather Grace
- Ziauddin Yousafzai
- Thomas Erikson
- Sherif Arafa
- Victoria Montgomery Brown
- Andy Fieldhouse
- Mimi Nicklin
- Hisham El Kheshen
- Rasha Adly
- Abdullah Al Busais
- Huda Hamed Mounir El Hayek
- Nasser Iraq
- Alawiya Sobh
- Walaa Kamal
- Max of Arabia
- Habib Al Mulla
- Amal Al Sahlawi
- Shamma Al Bastaki
- Zeina Hashem Beck
- Ali Sparkes
- Sam Copeland
- Julia Johnson
- Maitha Al Khayat
You’ll find the festival’s listing of the authors in its 2021 programming here.
And below is the video released at the end of December to promote the program.
The Coronavirus in the UAE
At this writing, the 8:22 a.m. ET (1322 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 216,699 cases in the United Arab Emirates’ population of 9.6 million, with 685 reported fatalities.
The UAE has just today reported another new high in daily cases, with 2,067 infections, according to a Gulf State News announcement.
More from Publishing Perspectives on literary festivals is here. More from us on the United Arab Emirates is here. And more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.