The UAE's literary ecosystem is growing non-stop

If I am to name one ambition, it is for us all.



Ahlam Bolooki, director of the Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai. (Photo by Shihab)
Ahlam Bolooki, director of the Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai. (Photo by Shihab)

By Ahlam Bolooki

Published: Thu 2 Dec 2021, 9:37 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Dec 2021, 9:38 PM

It all started with the festival. Isobel Abulhoul, founder of Magrudy’s bookshop where my own reading journey began, saw that there was a gap in the market. There were book fairs, but no festivals for people who love reading to engage with authors and stories in person.

With a lot of hard work and determination, and with the support of our founding partners Emirates Airline and Dubai Culture, the first Emirates Airline Festival of Literature was held in 2009. After five years, in 2013, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, issued a decree to establish the Emirates Literature Foundation.

In 2012, Abulhoul was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain in recognition of her years of service to education and literature, and when the foundation was formed a year later, she was named CEO and trustee of the board. It is in her footsteps that I follow. I also want to dedicate my life to spreading literacy and the love of books. I want everyone to know that it isn’t ever too late to fall in love with reading.

I remember when I first found my passion for books, as I was deeply moved after reading a series of non-fiction titles about the struggles of women in different parts of the world. I started volunteering at the festival. I would take time off from my day job to spend the whole week there — helping out, going to sessions, queueing up to get my books signed by the authors. It was my favourite time of the year.

Then, I joined the foundation to work on one specific project to attract regional youth to the festival. When the project was over, I was overjoyed to be offered this job as festival director. This is not my first job, but I sincerely hope it is my last as there is nowhere I’d rather be.

Our festival is one of the best literary festivals in the world. We found that creating a meeting point between our Emirati culture and our international authors leads to not only great conversations and new friendships, but also a better understanding of our literary culture abroad.

Here in the UAE, we have people from all over the world and all walks of life, sharing their stories alongside our Emirati authors. Our literary ecosystem is growing, and I know that a reading society is a society that thrives. And that the right book at the right time can make anyone fall in love with reading, just like I did.

Each festival takes around 18 months of planning, from author invitations to panel topics and our iconic special events. Each and every year of the festival is unique, and truly global in its line-up as well as in the topics at its heart. It has been said that after food and shelter, stories are what we need the most.

To gain knowledge, develop our understanding of the world, make connections, and raise our ambitions — because stories show us what is possible. And we live in a nation of many stories and great ambition. I feel lucky to be born in a country with so much opportunity. I believe, as a country, we are never content to rest on our laurels; we always look forward to the next development, the next achievement.

If I am to name one ambition, it is for us all. I want to contribute to building an empathetic world. I want to share our literature, and culture with the world, and I want our authors to be invited to participate in festivals across the globe. We are already on our way.

(The author is the director of Emirates Festival of Literature)


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