Literature is an important part of any culture, says Emirates Literature Festival CEO

Isobel Abulhoul discussed the festival's evolution into the UAE's premier literary event while speaking with Arab News. (AN photo)
Updated 20 February 2018
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Literature is an important part of any culture, says Emirates Literature Festival CEO

DUBAI: The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The 10-day festival kicks off in Dubai on March 1 and will once again welcome tens of thousands of literature lovers through its doors to meet more than 180 authors from 47 different countries. Last year, roughly 44,000 visitors attended the event.
Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the press conference announcing this year’s edition, the festival’s director, Isobel Abulhoul, discussed the festival’s evolution into the UAE’s premier literary event, winning a number of awards. It has, she said, been a rollercoaster ride.
“I’ve been on the rollercoaster for the last 10 years and I’m still whizzing around at great speed,” she said. “Organizing an event of this size, thinking about different languages, thinking about our audiences, is a very complex composition and so we have to break it into tiny, tiny bits. Organizing a live event is all about details.”
It has become slightly easier over the years, Abulhoul explained, as the organizers have come to better understand the requirements of the audience.
“The most important thing is choosing authors who are not just wonderful writers but also performers,” she said. “Then, the audience have an amazing experience: It’s live, it’s happening, it’s conversation… It’s a kind of package deal.”
Abulhoul is aware that a literature festival may seem somewhat out of touch with the digital world ­— as reading and writing become less common pastimes. But she is also aware of the festival’s potential value.
“Literature is important in any culture,” she said. “It is a challenge in today’s busy world, because of technology and all the distraction, but we are succeeding. We are creating writers. We support the Emirati writing community and the expat (writers) living here.”
She said that, aside from book lovers, the festival also targets those who don’t yet read for pleasure.
“We believe if they come to the festival and meet great writers, listen to their live sessions and enjoy them, then they are more likely to pick up their books,” Abulhoul explained. “This can be the key that unlocks reading for them. And that is what we have been doing for the last 10 years: Getting more and more people into reading for pleasure.”
To help with this, the festival also organizes education programs, which include education days, student sessions and authors visiting schools. Student competitions for poetry, short stories and reading are also held, in both Arabic and English. Last year, more than 25,000 students across the UAE took part in the various programs.
Ultimately, Abulhoul said, the festival offers something that just cannot be found in the digital realm: A live experience.
“It’s a unique opportunity. It’s happening live. It’s a contrast to spending our lives on our laptops in the virtual world,” she said. “This is not the virtual world. This is the real world.”


Winners of prestigious photography award announced at Riyadh forum

Colors of Arabia held an event to honor artists in Riyadh. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 14 December 2018
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Winners of prestigious photography award announced at Riyadh forum

  • Colors of Arabia forum held under the patronage of SCTH President Prince Sultan bin Salman

RIYADH; The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) has announced the winners of the Prince Sultan Bin Salman Photography Award in four categories.
Winners of the prestigious award, which was launched to recognize budding talent and efforts to highlight the Kingdom’s heritage, received SR300,000 each and shields at a ceremony held at the Colors of Arabia forum under the patronage of Prince Sultan bin Salman, SCTH president.
The forum, which is being held at Riyadh’s International Convention and Exhibition Center, spans 15,000 square meters and is expected to have attracted 30,000 visitors by the time it ends on Sunday.
The award for the “pioneers” category, which recognizes the work of Saudis who have successfully contributed to the development of local artists, was won by a photographer in Hafr Al-Batin who began capturing day-to-day life in the Eastern Province city at only 12 years of age. The work of Jarallah Al-Hamad is now used in government brochures.
The award in the “literature and publications” category, which was open to contenders of any nationality both within and outside the Kingdom, recognizes photographers who have captured shots for publications and the film industry. Amin Al-Qusayran, a photographer and graphic designer from Madinah who began pursuing his passion 15 years ago, had previously won two awards in recognition of his work. Al-Qusayran is also author of a pictorial book shedding light on the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
The “civilized heritage” category, meanwhile, was open to photographers from around the globe seeking to preserve world heritage through the power of image.
The award for this category was jointly won by two photographers of Arab descent. Mohamed Bouhsen, from Bahrain, had left university to document national heritage in his country and the Arabian Peninsula at large. He won the award alongside Jalal Al-Masri, an Egyptian photographer who has taken part in 133 local, Arab and international exhibitions.
The STCH also announced the winners of the photo and short film awards in seven categories.
Mazen Flamban, who won the award in the “cultural heritage” category, expressed his surprise and joy at having had his work recognized.
“My ambition is to revive Hijazi heritage through my lens,” Flamban told Arab News. “This was the first year I joined the competition. My photo depicts an old woman who lives alone as she reminisces over old photos.”