The organiser of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, the Emirates Literature Foundation, has announced that the annual celebration of books and words will go ahead from 4-6 February 2021. The news comes following a busy few months for the Foundation, which has seen its online presence grow dramatically since the global pandemic struck, reaching more than 7,500 people in 63 countries in less than two months with its programme of live digital events, and more than 75,000 with its recently released recorded content.
Isobel Abulhoul, CEO and Trustee of the Emirates Literature Foundation said that the success of the online initiatives had been transformative: “Like most other organisations, the move towards remote working was new territory for us and we wondered how we could reshape ourselves to provide the same inspirational experiences in these strange times. The team has adapted brilliantly to the new ways of working and unfamiliar technologies, and in fact the impact of our online sessions has far exceeded our expectations. It has meant that we have been able to capture an audience much more geographically diverse than we are used to, bringing our conversations and insights right into the heart of people’s homes. We are confident in being able to deliver a festival next year, though in a more blended format – a mix of live physical events, probably staged outdoors, and online streaming. We actually chose its theme, ‘Change the Story’, last year. Little did we know then how apt it was going to be for the 2021 festival”
The online initiatives launched since lockdown include the very successful Literary Conversations Across Borders series, originally planned to be a travelling project. Delivered in partnership with the Office of Public and Cultural Diplomacy, it hosts Emirati writers and commentators in live discussions with high profile experts from around the world on a variety of critical topics. A new podcast, the Boundless Book club, was launched last month by the Foundation to keep literature lovers up to speed with books recommended by the Festival team, and has received great acclaim and hundreds of downloads. Existing podcasts featuring Festival authors have also been refreshed, with interviews from David Walliams, Levison Wood and Ian Rankin, among many others, downloaded from as far afield as Japan, China, Switzerland, USA and Germany.
Other online events have included the first webinar for directors of literary festivals, organised on behalf of the Global Association of Literary Festivals, which featured a panel connecting Dubai with directors in San Francisco, USA; Auckland, New Zealand; and Hay in the United Kingdom, and joined by more than 80 counterparts throughout the world. More than 100 people registered for the Foundation’s informative ‘How to Own the Zoom event’ to find out how to make the best use of the new digital platforms.
Initiatives also featured include the launch of an ebook of Tomorrow, I Will Fly, the ground-breaking anthology of stories and reflections from the inmates of Dubai’s penal and correctional institutions, which was launched at the 2020 Festival, and an online creative writing course offered by the Foundation which sold out within days of it being announced.