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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Start of the Emirates Festival of Literature - A Classy Affair

by Suzan Abrams
Just briefly...I'll write out details when in Europe next week.
Today was the first day of the Emirates Festival for Literature here at Dubai Festival City's Intercontinental hotel. It turned out to be nothing short of a vibrant, classy affair. No cheap exercise books or plastic files for participants. No marketing ploys or gimmicks employed by speakers in talks, so as to promote their own books and what I've often experienced elsewhere at other festivals.
This was the real thing. Passionate writers talking about their work to passionate readers. There was a fair bit of lively engagement and many questions from members of the audience made up mostly of Dubai's large European expatriate community, well-known media and journalists as well as Arabic writers and readers. Different age groups and different personalities made it hard to narrow the scope of the audience. I also made friends.
I attended a talk on book prizes and what it meant for the writer to win a literary prize, in terms of sales and awareness. Margaret Atwood was conspiciously absent for a session she was to have played a major role in. I think she missed out on a pretty good time. She could not have anticipated the overwhelming enthusiasm or response from a crowded ballroom. In any case, no public announcements were made of the recent controversy. The organisers did well to restore a difficult present situation and to take the event forward into a positive light. Sometimes, a positive attitude is the best medicine of all.
The event was a high success but I shall have to talk about this later.
The panel chaired by Kate Mosse, was made up of Frank McCourt who when I first met him in Eason's, Dublin (December 2007) had told me that he just wanted to come home to Ireland and not to have to travel again. And yet, here he was looking as fit as a fiddle and imbued with his dry caustic wit that often kept the audience in stitches. Kate Mosse was fabulous in balancing time, opinion and equal participation from both the panel and audience. She was confident in that she knew all the right start and stop moments and so allowed for lots of thought-provoking and wayfaring ideas that stemmed out of the topic. This also encouraged the subject of the more controversial bookselling methods, the value of independent bookshops and the trials of Amazon. With the voluble American writer Julia Glass in attendance, interesting comparisons were made between the current publishing climate in both the UK and the States.
There was also the distinguished and highly-intense Arabic author Mohammed Bennis and Chimamanda Adichie who at the end of the day, I didn't take very much to. I think it was her slightly distant manner with audience interaction although her answers to all kinds of questions were swift, interesting, honest and steadfast. Just that I found her to be dour with a slightly colourless personality in spite of her cleverness. Still, I understand that every writer commands a different personality and that not all can turn easy extroverts.
In the evening when she spoke, I chose with relief to go listen to Anita Amirezzvani, Iranian-American novelist for The Blood of Flowers. What an educational discussion indeed on Iran's folklore and tradition. Amirezzvani talked in great detail about the process of writing her novel which I had read and finished in one sitting, in December 2007 on a plane flying from Frankfurt to Singapore.
Most in the audience were European, American and Arabic women. She also treated us to 2 separate readings of extracts from her popular tale.
I found the stately somewhat fast-speaking Amirezzvani with her delicate features, to be graceful and eloquent. The Blood of Flowers is a favourite with Dubai book groups. Amirezzvani who gives masterclasses in creative writing when at home in the States, turned out to be down-to-earth with no airs about her. (I won't say too much now as I am so wanting to write a special article about the evening.) It was an incredible moment really for me as I never thought I would meet her.
No one could have anticipated that the Emirates Festival of Literature would start off on an exuberant buoyant note. The displays were creatively arranged. There were brisk sales for souvenirs, audio materials and the scores of books. The staff on hand were efficient and extremely helpful - a trademark it seems of the UAE. Ticket sales were also handled successfully. There were beverages to choose from.
The organisers thought of everything.
Several events clashed.
And I almost forgot that I went too, to see famous cricketer Jamil Qureishi in action...talking about high motivational factors with which to turn ambition into achievement. A good-looker, the was the sure show-stealer, fun, charismatic and absolutely electrifying. Listening to him speak, I felt that I was engulfed in an exciting futuristic moment. Qureishi spoke to a packed crowd. One thing he said hit home.
The laws of attraction he stressed, apply so importantly to most of us, although we don't realise it.
He said that successful people always hung around with successful people.
And that depressing cynical people - his very words - always gathered other depressing cynical people together for friends and to act as a safety net. This, as they were unable to handle optimism in any form. Established patterns of negativity in their subconscious minds meant that they were simply incapable of it.

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