Home News Emirates Airline Festival of Literature announces programme for 2020

Emirates Airline Festival of Literature announces programme for 2020


News Desk

DUBAI: A sizzling programme to entertain, inspire and shine a light on the world’s most pressing issues has been announced by organisers of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, which takes place 4-9 February 2020 at the InterContinental, Dubai Festival City.

Big names coming to Dubai for the Festival include TV presenter, cook and bestselling author Nadiya Hussain, explorer Ranulph Fiennes, visual artist and children’s book author, Oliver Jeffers and TV astronomer and space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, plusfrom the UAE space programme, Hazzaa AlMansouri fresh from his first venture into space. Bestselling fiction writers include Rosie Project author Graeme SimsionKilling Eve creator Luke Jennings, and crime writer extraordinaire Linwood Barclay

ELF 2020 launch event

Ahlam Bolooki, the festival director for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature said: “In a world so full of information, we have a duty of making responsible decisions every day. It is in the small actions we take every day that our impact is made. We can’t afford not to be inquisitive and not to ask the big questions in life. We may not find all the answers but with every word we read, we get a little bit closer. Many of the big problems of our world today were predicted in science fiction books long ago. Can we therefore look in today’s literature for clues about tomorrow?   

“With the stellar line-up for the 2020 Festival, there is no better place to search for the answers, whatever your question may be. We have writers to entertain, inspire, challenge and excite people from all walks of life and of all ages. Join us at Emirates Airline Festival of Literature because one thing we all have in common is the love of good conversations and great stories”

The packed programme brings together the world’s leading authors, thinkers and opinion formers to find the answers to the big questions that occupy us all today. How can we save the planet? How can we argue with a racist? How can we find peace and happiness in a frantic world? Many of the 2020 sessions, under an over-arching theme of Tomorrow, explore the topics of sustainability, spirituality and kindness to self and others, along with the LitFest’s ever popular genres covering literary, popular and crime fiction, business, history, poetry, science, food, adventure and exploration and more.

Award-winning novelists and more

Award-winning novelists abound, with Tayari Jones, Winner of the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction, for An American MarriageJokha Alharthi, author of Celestial Bodies, the 2019 Man Booker International Prize winner; and Hoda Barakat, whowon the 2019 IPAF for her most recent novel, Night Mail. There is also Omaima Alkhamis, a Saudi Arabian writer who won the 2018 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for her novel Voyage of the Cranes in the Cities of Aga and 2018 Booker prize nominated Esi Edugayan for Washington Black, the amazing story of a slave’s bid for freedom. Mohammed Hanif, who won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Novel for A Case of Exploding Mangoes, is also here with his latest novel Red Birds, a satire on American military intervention which lays bare the absurdities and monstrosities of war.

There are dastardly deeds from ‘Killing Eve’ creator Luke JenningsStuart Turton with his twisty, mind-bending murder mystery, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, winner of the 2019 Costa First Novel Award,and international bestseller Linwood Barclay, with his heart-plunging latest thriller, Elevator PitchGraeme Simsion returns to give us an hilarious update on the Rosie ProjectFatima Bhutto, with her latest novel The Runaways and thoughts on Bollywood, Dizi, and K-Pop; while the hugely popular bestselling author Santa Montefiore comes to Dubai with her spell-binding new novel, The Secret Hours.  New York Times bestselling author Mitch Albom, who had a world-wide hit with The Five People you Will Meet in Heaven takes us on a more personal journey as he tells of the heart-warming and poignant story of bringing a refugee into his family as he celebrates the orphan who forever changed his heart.

The Festival is held with Founding Partners Emirates Airline and the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), the Emirate’s dedicated authority for heritage, arts, and culture. The author list was presented during the launch event at the home of the Festival, the InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City.

Tickets go on sale to Foundation Friends in the evening of the 12 November and will be on sale to the public from 14 November 2019.

Saving the Planet

On a crusade to save the world are Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, the duo behind the internet sensation BOSH! showing us how to live the vegan life; internationally recognised campaigner and sustainability advisor Tony Juniper, who will change the way you think about life, the planet and the economy; and Green Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Nuaimi who tells us how we can all make steps in our lives which will contribute towards a sustainable future.

Going beyond – Exploring the inaccessible

The thrill of exploring the farthest corners of the globe is shared by some of the biggest adventurers in the world today. Tales from each end of the earth to its highest peaks come from the world’s greatest living explorer Ranulph Fiennes, and master of the mountains, Chris Bonington, who tell us what it’s like to conquer the earth’s most extreme frontiers. Investigative photo-journalist and broadcaster Jeremy Hunter talks of his mission to explore North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive nations. He shines a light into this corner of the world and gives an extraordinary account of daily life in one of the least-known states on Earth.

Exploring the natural world

The question of what we can learn from time spent in tune with nature is tackled by TV broadcaster, environmentalist and wildlife expert Kate Humble, who will be talking about the power of her year-long journey on foot. There is also Miriam Lancewood’s astonishing story of her life in the wilderness, foraging, hunting and being at one with nature, and learning what it means to feel truly alive. Winner of five Emmys and two BAFTAs, Gavin Thurston’s work as a wildlife cameraman includes Sir David Attenborough’s series, Blue Planet IIPlanet Earth II and Our Planet. He reveals the extraordinary adventures and true stories of tracking down and filming the world’s most captivating creatures. Ali Al Saloom is best known for his Ask Ali books, TV show and column, but his ongoing exploration of Emirati identity has led him to look at the relationship between the UAE’s natural environment and its culture.

Badr Abbas, Senior Vice President, Commercial Operations Africa said: “Our mission is to connect people with their unique interests, in this case literature, and the upcoming edition of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is a reaffirmation that literature matters, and it’s important to create a space for writers and readers to come together. The Festival has built a community around literature; and the sheer array of events – from children’s sessions and writing workshops to stimulating author events continues to draw visitors from Dubai and around the region. This year, we are confident that the Festival will continue to offer audiences even more opportunities for education, engagement and entertainment, which have become ever so important to Dubai’s growing cultural landscape.”

Special events

The Festival’s atmospheric signature event, Deserts Stanzas, opens the Festival with an enthralling line-up featuring poets from the USA, Ireland, Portugal, UK and UAE. The Murder Mystery Dinner also makes a triumphant return with Luke Jennings’ spine-tingling psychopath who takes centre stage as we find out who is ‘Killing Villanelle.’ There is also a BOSH! Vegan Supper Club, which features a live demonstration of BOSH! preparing their favourite dishes. Ending on a high note, the Festival concludes with a charity finale event– an extravaganza of music, poetry and readings in collaboration with Dubai Cares, in support of their programmes for child refugees across our region, and featuring Nujeen Mustafa, whose story of her escape from Syria is told in, Everyday Wonders: The Girl from Aleppo.

For those who want practical help to upscale their skills there is a huge range of writing workshops and masterclasses, including sessions on creative writing, journalism, travel-writing, translation and how to get your novel published, as well as the Publishing Day programme offering professionals opportunities to network and share knowledge.

Hala Badri, Director General of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) said: “It gives me great pleasure to support the 12th edition of Emirates Airline Festival for Literature. Notably, it is the first event happening under the umbrella of Dubai Art Season 2020. It is a priority for us at Dubai Culture to spread a passion for knowledge and reading throughout the community, in line with the National Reading Strategy, spearheaded by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. The Emirates Airline Festival for Literature brings a variety of world class authors to Dubai for this wonderful event and it gives us pride to support this initiative, which makes reading an integral part of the lives of all UAE residents.”


The latest business trends are brought to Dubai from the brightest and best in their fields. The world’s leading expert on celebrity, Jeetendr Sehdev, examines The Kim Kardashian Principle, which was named one of the year’s most influential books by the Huffington Post. The inspirational winner of Asia’s first Apprentice show, Jonathan Yabut, shares his business secrets and tells how hard work and sheer grit can bring you greater business success. Global Strategy Advisor, Parag Khanna says the Future is Asian and explains how the collective resurgence of Asia will bring new values around business, politics and society. There are also masterclasses on leadership, career development, building confidence skills, the impact of culture on business, and even the opportunity to learn how the ancient art of Feng Shui can put your business on track.


The lessons of history should serve as a clear warning to future generations – so why do we repeat the same mistakes? Historian Bettany Hughes examines what we can learn from ancient civilisations with professor Jonathan Phillips, an expert on the crusades, and also joins a panel to look at the impact women in history have had on the world we live in now. Justin Marozzi takes a look at the Islamic Empires in Fifteen Cities that Define a Civilization, and the History of the UAE panel considers the journey from desert tribal kingdoms to the thriving metropolis of today.


Poetry is always popular at the Festival and in 2020 it will bring to Dubai thetwo-time International Poetry Slam Champion Carlos Andrés GómezMartin Kiszko, the UK’s Green Poet, and the return of the ever-popular Harry Baker,  World Poetry Slam Champion, this time musically accompanied by Chris Read with their unique brand of comedy-jazz-rap. There is also poet Eleanor Hooker from Ireland, Rui Coias from Portugal, Palestinian writer and performer Farah Chamma, and the UAE’s very own Afra Atiq.

Arab Writers

Arab writing is going global and the LitFest features some of the leading authors who are making this happen. This year’s Man Booker International Prize winner Jokha Alharthi, author of Celestial Bodies, and Hoda Barakat who won the 2019 IPAF for her most recent novel Night Mail, will be joined by their translator Marilyn Booth for a discussion on how they write the characters through whose eyes we see the world. Khalid Al Naserallah and Jan Dost also take a look at how writing can cross continents. Inaam Kachachi is an Iraqi author living in Paris. Her novel The Outcast is based on a true story and spans the history of modern Iraq as seen through the eyes of journalist and magazine publisher Taj al-Muluk Abdelmagid.

Arabian Nights

The myriad ways different cultures and generations retell old stories and find in them new meanings are explored by a number of authors, taking the Arabian Nights as their starting point. Award-winning Egyptian author and critic Tareq Imam comes to the Festival with his novel The City of Endless Walls, which has been called “the new 1001 Nights.” Young Adult fiction writer Alwyn Hamilton blends the mythologies of the Arabian Nights and the American West to create a surprising new story. Kevin Crossley-Holland is an English author, poet and translator who has drawn on Arthurian, Viking and Norse mythology and stories in his many books.

Science Fiction is famous for reimagining the concerns of today as the world of tomorrow – but it is also rooted in the fantastical stories of the past, from the 1001 Nights to The Handmaid’s TaleChristina Dalcher is the author of Vox, a nightmarish vision of a future where women are forbidden from speaking more than 100 words a day. Yasser M Bahjatt is a bestselling Saudi Arabian author of science fiction and alternate history who has spotted a correlation between fictional innovation and real-world progress – and sees in that a new path for the Arab World.

Faith and Spirituality in the Modern World

Gelong Thubten left life as an actor at 21 and ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He guides us on our search for happiness within an urban jungle and shows us the meaning of mindfulness. He also explores what faith is the modern world means with award-winning journalist, historian, blogger, and author of The First Muslim Lesley Hazleton, internationally acclaimed author Mitch Albom, who has written spiritually aware books such as Tuesdays With Morrie  and The Five People You Will Meet in Heaven, and UAE diplomat Omar Saif Ghobash, the author of the acclaimed Letters to a Young Muslim

Future World – Tolerance, Harmony and Peace – Is it within our grasp?

Can we really make the world fairer and more tolerant, with access for all to the basic rights of health-care, education, and self-determination? The LitFest brings together some of the most heroic and inspiring figures who are making change happen.

TV presenter, cook and bestselling author Nadiya Hussain considers her roles as mother, Muslim, working woman and celebrity, and questions the barriers which many women must cross to be accepted or heard, essentially tackling the same issues despite cultural, social and religious differences. Best known as the father of the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Malala, Ziauddin Yousafzai is also the man who refused to clip his daughter’s wings. Hear his story, along with his wife Toor Pekai Yousafzai, as they discuss his memoir, Let Her Fly. In 2014 Nujeen Mustafa began a journey as a refugee in a wheelchair that would lead to her addressing the United Nations Security Council.  Nujeen discusses experiences as both a student adjusting to life in a foreign country and as a tireless advocate for disabled refugees and those who remain in Syria.

Edna Adan Ismail was Foreign Minister of Somaliland from 2003 to 2006. She is the director and founder of the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Hargeisa and an activist and pioneer in the struggle for the abolition of female genital mutilation. She discusses her autobiography A Woman of Firsts and joins a panel of tireless fighters whose efforts are improving lives worldwide. Onjali Q Raúf is Founder and CEO of Making Herstory, a human rights organisation working to end trafficking and enslavement of women. Dr. Sanduk Ruit is a doctor on a mission to restore sight to anyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay. A pioneer in cataract surgery, he has helped 120,000 people, often travelling to remote parts of Nepal to help those who can’t afford to travel – experiences he has recorded in his biography The Barefoot Surgeon.

Future World – Science and Innovation

Hear from Hazzaa AlMansoori, the first Emirati to travel to space, bringing Emirati culture and food to the International Space Station (ISS). He discusses the significance of the mission and future developments for the UAE’s growing space programme with fellow Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi and Salem AlMarri, Head of UAE Astronaut Programme, Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre.

Award-winning structural engineer Roma Agrawal builds big and has left an indelible mark on London’s landscape with high profile structures such as The Shard.  She reveals the extraordinary secret lives of structures and tells us what she thinks the cities of tomorrow will be like.

Adam Rutherford presents BBC Radio 4’s flagship science programme, Inside Science. In his new book he teaches us How to Argue with a Racist, explaining how science and history can be powerful allies against racism, granting the clearest view of how people actually are, rather than how we judge them to be. Rutherford also joins forces with Mohamed Qasem, named one of the top science communicators in the Arab world by Nature Middle East, to discuss how scientific literacy can improve society and deepen our understanding of our common humanity.

Children’s programme

The children’s programme is bubbling over with fun frolics, and hilarious capers. Space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock inspires new generations of astronauts, engineers and scientists, with her infectious enthusiasm for sharing the wonders of space through her “Tours of the Universe”. Reach for the stars and find out what’s beyond the final frontier at her lively, fun sessions. The extraordinary visual artist Oliver Jeffers will be here to entertain fans of all ages with live drawing and stories from his beautifully illustrated books. Delight in animal mayhem from Ross Collins with quirky drawings of animals of all sorts, shapes and sizes. Get ready for some amazing magical marvels as Magic Phil, one of Dubai’s best-known entertainers, conjures up some super colourful storytelling. Come along and meet Lizard and Toad and hear about their wadi adventures with Festival favourite Julia Johnson. Join interactive sessions with Hussain Al Mutawaa and Rania Zaghir and discover Fatima Sharaffedine’s latest book, Mila’s Pear.

Revel in Roald Dahl’s Rotsome and Repulsant Words with Fiona Ross and Sara-Jane Arbury. Accompany author and storyteller Christopher Lloyd on an entertaining journey to discover the interconnections of the human and animal worlds in ways you never imagined . . . Or explore the environment through Jeannie Baker’s eyes, the author-artist of exquisite picture books such as the award-winning Where the forest meets the sea. Join her session to find out she creates these entrancing images.

The trials and tribulations of being a child today are tackled by a number of our authors. Onjali Q. Raúf’s book about a refugee, The Boy at the Back of the Class, won the 2019 Blue Peter Award and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and she returns with an equally thought-provoking book, The Star Outside my WindowNadiya Hussain’s latest picture book My Monster and Me is about anxietyand reassures younger children who feel anxious. Then there is Zanib Mian, the creator of Planet Omar, who brings more tales of the wonderful Omar, the Accidental Trouble Magnet, and shows why being different is a very positive thing. Feelings of not fitting in are also addressed by Tamsin Winter in her funny, heart-warming and moving book Jemima Small Versus the Universe. Tamsin is a previous winner of the Festival’s Montegrappa Writing Prize, as is Lucy Strange, the bestselling author of The Secret of Nightingale Wood, who returns to Dubai with her latest gripping novel, Our Castle by the Sea.

Young adult fiction

Come and explore the world of 5fingers with Joshua Raven, where characters fight for freedom against an enemy with a multitude of faces. Fantasy writer Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands series is an epic story of swirling desert sands, with adventure and danger always close at hand. She teams up with Rehan Khan whose latest book features Will Ryde and Awa Maryam Al-Jameel on a quest to locate a fabled suit of armour in sixteenth-century Istanbul. Join them to discover how they build their worlds of adventure and derring-do. A.R. Bukhatir launches his much anticipated Dragonboy book, and there is Greek Mythology as you’ve never seen it before, presented by Maz Evans. Based on her Who Let the Gods Out series, this interactive theatre presentation is both entertaining and educational, so join in for an epic dose of mythological mayhem.

The 2020 Festival also has an exciting range of children’s workshops. Join Maz Evans to cook up a story stew at her fantastic story-writing class. Come along and have drawing fun with Kate Hindley, the illustrator of The Royal Rabbits of London series; boost your acting skills with Julia Johnson at her Let’s Do Drama Workshop; or learn the art of journalism from experienced journalist and author Joshua Raven, using his 5fingers novels asa starting point.

Education is at the heart of the Festival and the Education Days, Student Sessions, School Visits and Children’s Competitions last year reached more than 30,000 students across the country.

The Festival sees the culmination of the student writing competitions, with winners announced in special ceremonies for the Oxford University Press Story Writing Competition, the Taaleem Award for poetry, the Chevron Readers’ Cup quiz competition and the Emirates NBD Poetry for All performance poetry competition. The winners of the School Librarian of the Year Award will also be honoured at a special event.

A highlight of every Festival is the announcement of the winner of the Montegrappa Writing Prize for adults. The Prize has already seen eight previous winners and runners-up receive international book deals and become published authors. The competition is now open for first-time novelists to submit their entries. The Festival is also the culmination of the Costa Debate, which is currently open for entries. The subject for 2020 is Comedy versus Tragedy, and the winner will be announced at a special Festival session, featuring four Festival authors presenting their arguments about whether we should laugh or cry.

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.

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