Lit Fest director Ahlam Bolooki shares this year's festival highlights, top tips and more
Emirates Literature Festival is just around the corner…
Bibliophiles, if you haven’t got these dates in your calendar already, take note as Emirates Literature Festival is back this year running from February 3 to 13. The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is one of the world’s leading international literary festivals and is the Arab World’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word.
Top authors are heading to the What’s On award-winning festival this year which is taking place at the picturesque canal side of Habtoor City hotels and even Expo 2020 Dubai visitors will be given a dose of the written word.
What’s On caught up with festival director, Ahlam Bolooki who has shared insights on the popular literature festival, events she’s most excited about this year, what she’s reading and her top tips for festival visitors.
What’s On: The Emirates Literature Festival has moved to a new location this year to the canal side of Habtoor City hotels. Is there any particular reason why this location was chosen?
Ahlam Bolooki: There were many reasons, including the wide range of spaces available to us, the beautiful setting by the canal, the convenient location on the Sheikh Zayed Road, but ultimately it came down to the people. We knew this would be a great home for the Festival from the very first meeting with the Al Habtoor City team. We also have a couple of events at Expo 2020 including a stunning spoken word and music event.
WO: Why did you decide to go back to the 10-day format for the festival?
AB: Every year is different. We have had festivals running over anything from five days to three weekends, and it is dictated by what we want to achieve with each festival; the conversations we want to host and the people we want to bring together. Our priority is always to design something truly magical for our audiences and our authors. This year, we are doing just that over the course of 10 days.
WO: Tell us more about the theme for this year’s festival – Here comes the Sun?
AB: Our theme, ‘Here Comes the Sun’, is perfect for where we are today, two years into the global pandemic. We have all collectively been living under a dark cloud, and now is the time for a new dawn where we can look forward with hope. The 2022 Festival will bring optimism and renewal. It will shed light on issues that are usually obscured by the dark, including some of the most important topics of our time.
WO: How long does it take to plan such a big festival?
AB: We start planning the festival 18 months in advance. It is a huge production putting together the author line-up, getting dates booked in, planning the conversations, and the special events. With so many moving parts, including the calendars of more than 150 authors from all over the world, it is a complex operation.
WO: What do you most love about the festival?
AB: I love it all. On the opening day of the festival when I see people starting to arrive at our LitFest branded venue. It is the most wonderful time of the year.
The Desert Stanzas, where we bring together spoken word performers from all over the world at Caravanserai desert camp, is a magical event, and it moves me deeply every time. Panel discussions with Arabic world authors together with international speakers are often fascinating. It is hard to pick just one thing to love the most – it is all wonderful.
WO: Who are the top three authors you personally are looking forward to seeing (at the festival)?
AB: Choosing just three is hard…
Julia Quinn is the author of the Bridgerton series which I think has captured the hearts of everyone who had read it or seen it on Netflix. For first-class escapism, you can’t beat it.
I am super excited about Toshikazu Kawaguchi, the Japanese author of Before the Coffee Gets Cold, a time-travelling magical realism novel that sold more than 800,000 copies in Japan.
Nikita Gill is one of the world’s most successful instapoets, and I predict she will be spectacular.
And a bonus forth – Sara Gay Forden is a journalist who covered the Italian fashion industry for more than 15 years and wrote The House of Gucci, the non-fiction book that the movie was based on.
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WO: If you have to recommend just one book to someone, which book would that be and why?
AB: I always recommend The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, because it gives us the essence to better understand the big things in life – children, marriage, good and evil, money, pain and joy, and many other significant experiences we all go through in life. Once we understand them deeply, we can better interact with all those things. The writing is simple to understand and deliver the story to all ages.
WO: Finally, what book are you currently reading and what’s next on your reading list?
AB: I am currently reading How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang – and next on the list is My Life in Full, work, family and Future by Indra Nooyi.
Ahlam Bolooki’s top three tips for festival-goers
- Make a day of it! Back in the day before I joined the team, I used to love booking sessions with authors I knew and loved, as well as those I had never heard of, and I found so many new favourites that way.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. As a Foundation and a Festival, we have banned single-use plastic at our events. Instead, we make sure there are water fountains provided for free refills.
- Book special events early! We have some iconic and utterly unique special events planned, and from experience we know they book up quickly. I always recommend that people book the biggest names and the special events as soon as possible because they do sell out.
For more information and to book your spot at an event, visit emirateslitfest.com
Images: Emirates Literature Festival