Emirates Airline Festival of Literature announces packed 2021 programme and author line-up

Locally based and international authors and speakers to participate in Emirates LitFest 2021


Line-up includes Nobel Prize winner Malala and literary greats Amin Maalouf and Elif Shafak and Lemn Sissay

Festival will run from 29 January to 13 February 2021 under the theme ‘Change the Story’ 

Government of Dubai Media Office: The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature today announced an exciting line-up of authors for the 2021 edition.

Inspiring activist and youngest Nobel Prize laureate Malala will take to the stage to talk about her story, her mission and her vision for the future while Elif Shafak, one of the most influential novel writers of today, will be exploring her writing and the importance of bridging the gap between the East and West.

Among the top speakers participating at the 2021 event will be the internationally acclaimed authour and jounalist Amin Maalouf, who will discuss his timely work Adrift: How Our World Lost Its Way, and examine recent history, the reasons why civilisations have drifted apart and how this impacts global threats.

Jameel Arts Centre will be kicking off the festival extravaganza on 29 January with a programme that includes Booker-nominated novelist Avni Doshi and many more.

The closing event at Alserkal Avenue, 13 February, is expected to attract huge interest from visitors. It will feature the vibrant performance poets Lemn Sissay, Afra Atiq, and award-winning Palestinian actor and writerDana Dajani. Acclaimed Egyptian writer Ahmed Mourad will also be appearing at Alserkal Avenue.

The Dubai Culture & Arts Authority Emirati Focus Day ‘Spotlight on Emirati Talent’ will feature HE Hala Badri, Director General of Dubai Culture, on developing Dubai as a creative hub, and a discussion between HE Hala Badri and HE Major General Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri on the proposed UAE’s ‘Golden Visa’ for creatives. There will also be panel discussion on Translators Going Global’, an examination of the importance of the translation sector in the region, a look at the role of Literary Salons play in the community, a discussion on the current state of publishing in the region, poetry recitals, a workshop on writing poetry and much more.

The Festival will welcome two literary greats from the UAE, Abdul Ghaffar Hussain and Mohammed Al Murr, Vice Chairman of the National Archives, in a wide ranging and fascinating conversation.

Avni Doshi, whose debut novel Burnt Sugar was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, will appear at the InterContinental with another novelist whose debut work has received international acclaim. Derek Owusu, a British author of Ghanaian descent, won the Desmond Elliot Prize for That Reminds Me (the first novel published by Stormzy’s #Merky Books). They will be comparing notes on their writing journeys in this session, which will be livestreamed to the Bergen International Literary Festival in Norway, as part of their ‘Literature Live Around The World’ segment. This showcase of sessions from other prominent international literary events will be screened at Alserkal Avenue on Friday 12 February.

Despite the current travel restrictions affecting some countries, the programme has not lost any of its international flavour. Insights into Korean literature and cinema will be provided by Immanuel Kim, the translator of Friend by Paek Nam-nyong, one of North Korea's most popular writers, and the only “state-sanctioned” novel to receive an English translation.

The Nigerian-British writer Oyinkan Braithwaite will be in Dubai to talk about her smash-hit novel My Sister the Serial Killer, which was shortlisted for numerous international awards and won the 2019 LA Times Award for Best Crime Thriller.

Author and screenwriter Satyarth Nayak will be celebrating the phenomenon of Bollywood star Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess, hailed as the first pan-Indian female superstar who empowered a whole generation of audiences, as he journeys through her life from child star to one of the greatest movie luminaries who forever changed the narrative of Indian cinema.

Bolu Babalola is a London-based author and pop culture writer and commentator. She breathes new life into mythical love stories and folk tales from around the world, retold in vivid prose and will be taking part in the ‘Two Truths and a Lie’ panel discussion on the delicate balance between fact and fiction.

The programme also features the hugely popular Emirati singer Arqam Al Abri, who’ll be bringing his own brand of soul to the Festival.

The World Around Us

Psychologist, philosopher, sailor and navigator David Barrie will be joining the Festival virtually to reveal the wonders of animal navigation in this educational session for the whole family. He’ll be discussing the amazing ways animals - from birds and bats to sea turtles and shrimp - find their way with heritage expert Major Ali Al Suwaidi, ‘the UAE’s last pearl diver’, and what this means for conservation and research with UAE wildlife.

Living our Best Life - Health and Wellbeing

Consultant Paediatric Neurosurgeon Jay Jayamohan is the star of two highly acclaimed BBC fly-on-the-wall series, Brain Doctors and Children’s Craniofacial Surgery. He’ll be discussing the challenges of life and death decision-making in his poignant, heart-breaking, and often funny memoir and also taking part in a panel considering the dangers of the anti-facts movement. With fearmongering, disinformation and dangerous conspiracy theories drowning the science, a panel of medical experts will take a scalpel to the mass of confusing data on topics from fad diets to the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Rupy Aujla, founder of “The Doctor’s Kitchen” and author of bestselling books The Doctor’s Kitchen and Eat to Beat Illness, will be promoting the medicinal benefits of eating well, creating healthy recipes and explaining the clinical research behind them.

Wellness writer and social media activist Talal Al Buhairi will be discussing acceptance of others and a range of social topics which he examines in his book, We Will Stay Here. Enhancing mental health through writing is the goal of campaigner Heather Grace, who maintains that writing is an essential part of dealing with trauma and a tool that helps her navigate her bipolar affective disorder. Her workshop offers the chance to learn how to employ your own writing in self-discovery and self-acceptance.

Also appearing will be Malala’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai, the Co-founder and board member of the Malala Fund that champions girls’ rights to education all over the world

Business Insights

Behavioural specialist, leadership coach and author Thomas Erikson, author of the runaway bestseller Surrounded by Idiots, will be giving insights into how we can communicate more effectively with our colleagues, even when, as he identifies in his latest book, we are ‘Surrounded by Psychopaths.’ He will be joined by self-development author, editorial cartoonist and public speaker Sherif Arafa to address the challenges of cross-cultural communication and the always challenging art of getting on with people.

Bringing her knowledge of how to make companies smarter and faster is Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of one of the world’s leading digital media knowledge companies, Big Think. She’ll be expanding on some of the strategies she shares in her book, Digital Goddess: The Unfiltered Lessons of a Female Entrepreneur.

In a year which has seen dramatic changes to the world of business, Dubai-based Andy Fieldhouse, author of Amazon bestseller Getting Teamwork Right, and Mimi Nicklin, empathy advocate and the internationally bestselling author of Softening the Edge, explain how to adapt to the new working environment and build more empathetic cooperative workplaces.

Focus on the Arab World

Fiction from the Arab world features two Egyptian novelists who have had work longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction Prize. Hisham El Kheshen, author of the best-selling novel Graphite, is at the Festival with his latest novel Lebon’s Friendship and Egyptian novelist Rasha Adly, who has been longlisted twice for IPAF, with her most recent book, On the Edge of the Night. Kuwaiti writer Abdullah Al Busais will be in conversation, discussing psychology and philosophy within fiction, and the impact of conflict on character.

There is also Omani author Huda Hamed, Lebanese novelist Mounir El Hayek, and Nasser Iraq, an Egyptian novelist and short story writer whose book Azbakeya won the Katara Grand Prize for Arabic Novel in 2016. The programme also features Alawiya Sobh, Lebanese author of four novels, including An Taashak Al-Hayat (To Love Life), which was longlisted for Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Literature.

Walaa Kamal is an Egyptian writer and translator who has published several books including My Days with Cairokee, his account of his time on the road with this famous Egyptian band. In ‘Social Stereotypes – How the Digital World is Changing your Reality’ he’ll be joined by Talal Al Buhairi and Max of Arabia as they take a look at tradition through a modern lens and assess how social media corrupts our perception of the real world. Al Buhairi will also examine how the media handles crises and the impact news and social media reporting has on the community's experience of a life-changing event.

Habib Al Mulla, one of the UAE’s most renowned legal personalities, giving us a glimpse of different attitudes to cuisine with his book My Journey to the World of Restaurants.

Poetry is always a hugely popular and cherished part of the festival and this year will be no exception with performances by Amal Al Sahlawi, Shamma Al Bastaki, and Zeina Hashem Beck.

YA and Children’s programme

Top YA author Ali Sparkes will be in Dubai, as will Sam Copeland, a real treat for middle graders and the author of the hilarious and phenomenally popular Charlie Changes Into a Chicken. He’ll be at the Festival with his new book, Uma and the Answer to Absolutely Everything.

Ben Bailey Smith, aka Doc Brown, is a British actor, rapper, comedian and screenwriter, and creator of the BAFTA-nominated CBBC comedy 4 O’Clock Club. There’ll be mischief and mayhem as he brings his hip character from I am Bear and Bear Moves to Dubai, conjured up by bold illustrations from Sav Akyüz, as they invite everyone to join in the dance moves of this hilarious purple bear.

‘Are cats liquid or solid?’ Is just one of the silly questions asked by award-winning scientist Isabel Thomas who shows that when it comes to science, silly questions can lead to serious science, in her highly interactive sessions guaranteed to be gallons of fun.

Festival favourite Julia Johnson will be bringing her latest book The Pearl Diver’s Son to the Festival, as will Maitha Al Khayat. There is also Syrian writer and director Obada Takla, who has published many stories for children including I am an Emirati Child and Puppets’ Girl which won the My Book Award in 2017. The prolific Sanaa Chabbani is a Lebanese writer for children and young adults whose titles include The Battle of Antara Bin Shaddad, the Scheherazade’s Story series and most recently An Unexpected Visit is also featured, along with YA writer Zayed AlMarzooqi and Ameera BuKadra, an Emirati author for children and young adults. Magic Phil will be bringing his own brand of festival fun to Alserkal Avenue.

The Festival is a fierce champion of locally based writers and this year is introducing a new feature, the LitFest Launchpad, giving UAE-based authors a chance to launch their latest book to audiences. As always there will be creative writing workshops and chats and advice from industry professionals such as publisher Allison K Williams, author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro From Blank Page to Book.

The Emirates LitFest Writing Prize, formerly known as the Montegrappa, is a highlight of the year for aspiring writers in the GCC, and the winners will be announced at the big Festival weekend at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City. Judged by respected UK literary agent Luigi Bonomi, the competition has put many previous finalists on the road to publishing success.

The education programme featuring children’s authors will be available to schools from 7 February, while the finals of the schools and competitions will take place in March, with prize-giving events for the winners.

Due to social distancing, there will be fewer tickets available for every session, so early booking is recommended. Tickets will be required for each session, including free sessions, to ensure visitor number restrictions are adhered to.

The Festival will be fully compliant with all Covid-19 prevention regulations and guidelines from the Dubai Health Authorities. Observing social distancing measures across all three venues will be paramount, along with Covid regulations such as mandatory masks and temperature checks. See full details on the Emirates LitFest website.

More information about the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature can be found online and year-round news of #EmiratesLitFest on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.


About the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature:

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is the Arab World’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word, featuring international and regional writers, poets, thinkers and speakers from around the world. Over the last 12 years more than 1,500 authors from over one hundred countries have spoken at the Festival. In 2020 the Festival attracted an audience of more than 43,000, reaching a further 99,000 via live streaming. Sessions included explorer Ranulph Fiennes and mountaineer Chris Bonington, award-winning novelists Tayari Jones, Jokha Alharthi, Hoda Barakat, Omaima Alkhamis, Mohammed Hanif and Esi Edugyan. Other big names included Markus Zusack, Graeme Simsion, Santa Montefiore, Jo Nesbø, Linwood Barclay, Fatima Bhutto, visual artist and children’s book illustrator Oliver Jeffers and from the UAE space programme, Hazzaa AlMansouri. The BOSH! Vegan supper and Murder Mystery Dinner featuring Killing Eve creator Luke Jennings both sold out, as did a special pre-festival event with naturalist Jane Goodall, and a closing event celebrating the extraordinary story of refugee Nujeen Mustafa, who took part in the evening, with all proceeds going to Dubai Cares.

The aim of the Festival is to develop a culture of reading as an enjoyable habit in the UAE, and its efforts have been recognised through many awards over the years. By providing an equal platform for international and locally based talents, the Festival continues to build the literary landscape in the UAE and further afield. Alongside the main programme, the Festival organises an Education programme, which positively impacted on more than 30,000 students across the UAE in 2020. The programme includes education days, student sessions and author school visits where young people meet and interact with their favourite authors, plus student competitions, held in Arabic and English, which allow young people to showcase their skills through poetry, short stories and reading.

Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the Festival is a key part of the Emirates Literature Foundation, which was established in 2013 by Royal Decree. In partnership with Emirates Airline and the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), the Emirate’s dedicated authority for heritage, arts, and culture, the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature will be back from 4-6 February 2021. For information and updates about the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature visit the website: www.emirateslitfest.com 

About Emirates

Emirates is an award-winning international airline with a global footprint across six continents, connecting passengers and facilitating global trade to and through its modern hub, Dubai. The airline operates one of the most modern and efficient aircraft fleet comprised of spacious and comfortable Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft. With a culturally diverse workforce from over 160 nations worldwide, Emirates caters to its global customer base by delivering exceptional services and world-class products. The airline also supports local communities worldwide and brings people together through its vast portfolio of international sports and cultural sponsorships. Since its inception, the airline has been recognised by more than 500 international awards for operational excellence, innovative services and industry leading products – making Emirates one of the world’s most recognized airline brands.

About Dubai Culture

On 8 March 2008, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture). The mandate of the Authority is to serve as a dedicated entity for culture, arts, heritage, and literature in the Emirate of Dubai, and to drive the growth of the city’s artistic and cultural landscape.

Under the leadership of Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairperson of Dubai Culture, the Authority has played an integral role in reinforcing Dubai’s position as a vibrant global centre for creativity.

Dubai Culture aims to enhance Dubai’s cultural scene and draw attention to the UAE’s rich heritage. The Authority’s mandate is to build bridges of constructive dialogue between different civilisations and cultures to enhance Dubai’s position as a creative and sustainable global city for culture, heritage, arts, and literature, with an aim to empower these sectors by developing creative and innovative projects and initiatives locally, regionally, and globally.

Dubai Culture manages heritage sites across Dubai including Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood and Al Shindagha Museum, apart from managing Dubai Public Library branches which includes Etihad Museum Library, Al Twar Public Library, Al Rashidya Public Library, Hor Al Anz Public Library, Al Safa Art & Design Library, Al Mankhool Public Library, Umm Suqeim Library, and

Hatta Public Library.

Dubai Culture also plays a significant role in empowering the four creative sectors (arts, culture, heritage, and literature) by launching innovative initiatives and projects that aim at productive outcomes.

About Jameel Arts Centre

One of the first contemporary arts institutions in Dubai, Jameel Arts Centre presents curated solo and group exhibitions, drawn both from the Jameel Art Collection and through regional and international collaborations. Current exhibitions include artists Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Taysir Batniji, Lubna Chowdhary, Sunoj D and Namrata Neog, Maryam Al Dabbagh, Hassan Khan, Larissa Sansour and Conrad Shawcross.

The Centre is a 10,000-square metre, three-storey, multi-disciplinary space designed by UK-based practice Serie Architects. The building is punctuated by seven gardens, designed by landscape architect Anouk Vogel, which reflect local and global desert biomes. Sitting alongside is the Jaddaf Waterfront Sculpture Park, designed by waiwai, and a collaboration between Art Jameel and Dubai Holding.

Located by the creek in Dubai’s Jaddaf Waterfront neighbourhood, the Centre’s galleries are complemented by the Jameel Library, an open-access research centre dedicated to artists and cultural movements in the Gulf states and beyond. The Jameel also includes project and commissions spaces, a writer’s studio, a restaurant and shop.

The Centre serves as a hub for educational and research initiatives for diverse audiences. Its wider programming embraces partnerships with local, regional and international artists, curators and organisations. 

About Art Jameel

Art Jameel supports artists and creative communities. Current initiatives include running heritage institutes and restoration programmes, plus a broad range of arts and educational initiatives for all ages. The organisation's programmes foster the role of the arts in building open, connected communities; at a time of flux and dramatic societal shifts, this role is understood as more crucial than ever. 

 Jameel Arts Centre, an innovative contemporary institution in Dubai, UAE, opened on November 11, 2018; Hayy: Creative Hub, a major complex for the creative industries in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is set to launch in 2021.

Art Jameel's model is collaborative: major institutional partners include Delfina Foundation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Prince's Foundation School of Traditional Arts and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Locally, the organisation works with individuals and organisations to develop innovative programming that embraces both ancient and new technologies and encourages entrepreneurship and the development of cultural networks.

Art Jameel is positioned alongside Community Jameel and complements its sister organisation's work in promoting positive social change, job creation and poverty alleviation.

Jameel Arts Centre
Jaddaf Waterfront
Po Box 212898
Dubai, UAE

Art Jameel Press Contact

John Carlo Bogayan


Founded by Emirati businessman and patron, Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, in 2007, Alserkal is a socially responsible cultural enterprise, which is deeply engaged with the arts locally, regionally and internationally. Through Alserkal Avenue, its renowned cultural district of contemporary art galleries, non-profit organisations and homegrown businesses, Alserkal has cultivated a creative economy in Dubai, supporting cultural production and spearheading disruptive business models, including the OMA-designed Concrete, a state-of-the-art exhibitions and alternative space. In addition, Alserkal supports public art commissions, residencies, research grants and educational programmes through its non-profit, Alserkal Arts Foundation.

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