Hay Festival Abu Dhabi closes after successful inaugural edition

Explore highlights from Hay Festival on Hay Player now

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi , opening, Cristina Fuentes La Roche

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi , opening, Cristina Fuentes La Roche

The inaugural edition of Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, closed Friday 28 February 2020, after four days and four nights of conversation and celebration, with over 80 international award-winning writers, thinkers, scientists, historians and artists and readers from around the world.

Sessions are available now for anyone in the world to watch online via the Festival’s audio and video subscription service, Hay Player.

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, supported by UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance, hosted thousands of attendees from different nationalities from around the world, where the Programme for Schools saw the participation of over 3,900 pupils from 81 schools in the UAE. The Festival book shop, Magrudy’s, Festival pop-up top-sellers included Jokha Alharthi for her book Celestial Bodies for adults and Onjali Q. Raúf’s The Boy at the Back of the Class for children – see full list below.

His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, Minister of Tolerance of the United Arab Emirates, said: “After four days of rich conversation, dialogue, storytelling, film, song, dance and heritage enrichment, the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi concluded with a firm message of celebration of Arab and global cultures. International dialogue, understanding and knowledge sharing have earned a new platform in Abu Dhabi, and we all look forward to the second edition of the festival with much enthusiasm and curiosity.”

Peter Florence, Hay Festival Director, said: “What an encouraging and intense experience. The ideas and questions that powered Hay Festival Abu Dhabi were provocative and thrilling. It was extraordinary to have a platform that celebrated Adonis and Shirin Ebadi alongside emerging global stars like Shahad Al Rawi, Jokha Alharthi and Maitha Al Khayat. And utterly wonderful to have such an engaged, warm and open response from such a richly diverse audience.”

Cristina Fuentes La Roche, Hay Festival International Director, said: “A particular triumph at Hay Festival Abu Dhabi was the programme for children and teenagers. Thousands came every day from all over the Emirates to see the world from a different angle, to enjoy and to participate, and the best of it all was the exchange of questions and answers. They were brave, inquisitive and curious.” 

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi in quotes

  • “So, I’m back from the Hay Festival at Abu Dhabi and what a remarkable, uplifting experience it was – a truly joyous celebration of writers and writing, of intellectual and cultural exchange, and most of all, of camaraderie between authors.” – Hallie Rubenhold
  • “…Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, a great Festival with many wonderful writers, especially Adonis, my dearest friend and one of the most important POET-THINKERS in the world today…” – Yang Lian
  • “WHAT A JOURNEY... Thank you [Hay Festival Abu Dhabi] for having me, Snowy, Ahmet & Simba... From beach frolicks (mainly by snowy!) to meeting awesome young beans, it was immense! And in a week when tragedy seems rife & world leaders obsolete, sorely needed.” – Onjali Q. Raúf
  • “Borders exist beyond physical borders; they exist in our heads.” – Kapka Kassabova
  • “Palestinians don’t need to be given a voice; they have a voice. They need their voices amplified” – Ahdaf Soueif
  • “If you are a Protestant travelling in Europe in the 1530s, you are safer in Muslim territories than Catholic countries.” – Jerry Brotton
  • “I read widely across genders, across borders. That’s the conversation that sustains the writing” – Tishani Doshi
  • “Sometimes the vocabulary to define yourself just doesn’t exist. I don’t have the lexicon to describe who I think I am” – Shamma Al Bastaki
  • "I don’t like the term ‘Migrant’ because it makes it sound like we’re moving around. I think a lot of people here are not moving around at all, they’re staying here for generations.” – Anna Zacharias on living in the UAE
  • “I’m incredibly proud to be Filipino, to be “Pinoy”, because I see our once very much colonized “Kabayans” now colonizing the world!” – Miguel Syjuco
  • “I don’t want any reader to say this novel could be shorter” – Jokha Alharthi
  • “I don’t have writer’s block. I have a direct line to the muse” – Bernardine Evaristo
  • “All theatre needs is a space and a chair… People are willing to forget reality in order to accept that the story they are watching or listening is happening in real time” – Inua Ellams
  • “One of the messages we need to learn from our children is to listen to them” - Izzeldin Abuelaish
  • “There’s something very natural about using pictures and writing together that we haven’t had for many thousands of years. Emojis are bringing this back to us” – Lydia Wilson
  • “Symmetry is itself a kind of language. It’s a language that nature uses a lot to communicate information. It is a very powerful language to read the world around us… If I had to choose somewhere to be banished for life, as a worshipper of symmetry, it would be The Alhambra.” – Marcus du Sautoy
  • “I like books so much. I like books, I like books, I like books. Sometimes I lick books like this.... LITERATURE!” – Andy Stanton
  • “Age doesn't limit your dreams…You can be 14 years old and become an author, and I have proof you can do that because I did it!” – Dana Alblooshi

Bestselling English books for adults

  • Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi
  • The Anarchy by William Dalrymple
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Venus and Aphrodite by Bettany Hughes
  • The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

Bestselling English books for young adults and children

  • The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf
  • 13 Amazing Women of Arabia by Dana Al Blooshi
  • The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Raúf
  • Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine
  • How to be a Lion by Ed Vere

Bestselling Arabic books for Adults

  • Saidat Al Qamar by Jokha Alharthi
  • Lan Akrah (I Shall Not Hate) by Izzeldin Abuelaish
  • Dafater Mehiar Al Demashqi P2 by Adonis
  • Saat Baghdad (The Baghdad Clock) By Shahd Al Rawi
  • Dafater Mehiar Al Demashqi P1 by Adonis

Bestselling Arabic books for children

  • Yawmiyat Moshagheba 2 by Jamal Al Shehi
  • Yawmyat Moshagheb 4 by Jamal Al Shehi
  • Yawmyat Moshagheb 1 by Jamal Al Shehi
  • Yawmyat Moshagheb 2 by Jamal Al Shehi
  • Towfan by Maitha Al Khayat

Festival Highlights included:

  • The 90th birthday celebration of Syrian poet Adonis with fellow poets Volker Braun, Zuleikha Aburisha, Pierre Joris, Serge Pey and Yang Lian.
  • Talks from award-winning writers from around the globe, including Nobel Prize-winners Wole Soyinka, Shirin Ebadi and Ahmed Galai, Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, 2019 Booker Prize winners: Jokha Alharthi from Oman, winner of the Man Booker International Prize, and British writer Bernardine Evaristo.
  • Discussions on global history with Peter Frankopan, Ahmed El Shamsy, Bettany Hughes, Jerry Brotton, William Dalrymple and Lydia Wilson and world issues with Shashi Tharoor and Izzeldin Abuelaish amongst others.
  • Children’s writers Andy Stanton, Jenny Valentine, Philip Ardagh, Onjali Q. Raúf and Ed Vere.
  • Series of film and documentary screenings curated by Sheyma Buali, Director of BBC Arabic Festival - the BBC News Arabic initiative platforming talented filmmakers and journalists whose work focuses on current issues in the region.
  • Musicians Souad Massi, Mashrou’ Leila, Marcel Khalifé and Bachar Mar-Khalifé, and Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch. The festival closed with a party in collaboration with Rooftop Rhythms.
  • Upcoming Festivals include Hay Festival Wales, UK (21-31 May 2020); Hay Festival Europa28, Rijeka, Croatia (3-5 June 2020); Hay Festival Querétaro, Mexico (3-6 September 2020); Hay Festival Segovia, Spain (17-20 September 2020) ; Hay Festival Arequipa, Peru (5-8 November 2020); Hay Festival Winter Weekend, UK (27-29 November 2020); Hay Festival Cartagena, Colombia (28-31 January 2021); and Hay Festival Medellín, Colombia (January 2021).
  • The full programme for Hay Festival Wales, UK will be announced on the 19 March 2020.

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About Hay Festival


Hay Festival is an independent, mission-led and non-profit organisation that invites the finest writers and liveliest minds to create conversations about the world as it is and as it might be, inspiring people of all ages to shape the world of tomorrow. The Festival is a catalyst for change. It hosts agenda-setting conversations and performances that could not happen anywhere else and offers bespoke, site-specific programming that addresses contemporary themes and issues its audiences care about – including science, philosophy, religion, politics, gender, economics and the arts. Hay Festival explores local literary traditions, old and new, and supports the next generation of writers by publishing significant anthologies of new writing from around the world. Hay Festival welcomes people from all walks of life. Each edition firmly roots itself in the surrounding communities and brokers meaningful partnerships with local businesses and institutions. Hay Festival breaks down barriers and mixes people. Year on year, it returns in people’s lives and creates a space for conversations, connections and friendships to thrive. It offers outstanding activities dedicated to children of all age groups, families and young people. Since its first edition in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, in 1987, Hay Festival has programmed 125 sustainable Festivals globally, attracting more than 4.5 million people to events in 30 locations. Stephen Fry is its president.

Coming up…

  • Hay Festival Wales, UK (21-31 May 2020)
  • Hay Festival Europa28, Rijeka, Croatia (3-5 June 2020)
  • Hay Festival Querétaro, Mexico (3-6 September 2020)
  • Hay Festival Segovia, Spain (17-20 September 2020)
  • Hay Festival Arequipa, Peru (5-8 November 2020)
  • Hay Festival Winter Weekend, UK (27-29 November 2020)
  • Hay Festival Cartagena, Colombia (28-31 January 2021)
  • Hay Festival Medellín, Colombia (January 2021)

About the Ministry of Tolerance  

The Ministry of Tolerance aims to achieve a compelling spectrum of objectives. Through a focus on tolerance, it seeks to facilitate the empowerment of individuals, enabling them to work cooperatively and collaboratively for economic and social development. This brings about greater personal and community safety, security, peace and prosperity, thereby resulting in more sustainable, harmonious and happy societies.

True to the teachings of Islam, the UAE recognises and embraces diversity in all its forms. The UAE Ministry of Tolerance draws on its inspiration from the core values of peace and this inclusive ethos and are expressed in a variety of ways. These ways include respect and empathy for the many variations in which difference and diversity take shape, compassion for those hindered by their own differences, a positive curiosity about difference and diversity, and the generosity of spirit to reach out to, rather than fear, those who are different.

Etihad Aviation Group

Etihad Aviation Group, a diversified global aviation and travel company, is considered to be one of the world’s most acclaimed aviation brands. Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE and a division of the group, was formed in 2003 and quickly went on to become one of the world’s leading airlines. Etihad Airways flies to over 84 destinations with a fleet of 100 Airbus and Boeing aircraft, serving around 18 million passengers a year and carrying 682,100 tonnes of cargo in 2018. In recent years, the organisation has received numerous awards for its superior service and products, cargo offering, loyalty programme, aviation training and Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) service.

© Press Release 2020

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