3 Arab Women Play a Part In The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2020

This year’s Litfest, the UAE’s premier literary festival, is shining the spotlight on acclaimed females…

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is back for 2020, and for its 12th edition, the Arab world’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word is showcasing 12 fantastic females.  They are helping make sense of the world, either through their characters’ stories or their own experiences. And three of the acclaimed women that are being put in the in the spotlight from February 4-9 come from the region.

Here’s why the women, who are bringing new insights and evaluating historical and modern-day issues, were chosen.

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1. Jokha Alharthi

The first Arab woman to win the Man Booker International Prize (2019), is at the festival with Celestial Bodies, the first novel by an Omani woman to be translated into English. The book by Alharthi, a writer and academic who obtained a PhD in classical Arabic literature from Edinburgh University, brings to life the intertwined tales of three sisters. The secrets and conflicts – internal and external – of their small Omani society reveal the broad strokes of history alongside the personal interplay of characters striving to tell their own stories. The book was shortlisted for Zayed Award 2011 too. 

Alharthi has also published three collections of short stories and two other novels, Manamat and Bitter Orange, which earned her the Sultan Qaboos Award for Culture, Arts and Literature.

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2. Hoda Barakat

Hoda Barakat’s most recent novel, Night Mail, earned her the 2019 IPAF. The book by the applauded Lebanese novelist who lived much of her life in Beirut and later moved to Paris, where she now lives, tells of five different letters. Each letter introduces her novel’s characters and the immense change they endure overnight.

While Barakat’s first novel The Stone of Laughter was the first Arabic work to have a gay man as its main character, her third novel, The Tiller of Waters won the 2000 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature. The iconic voice also landed in our bestselling female Arab authors of the decade roundup, which you can read here.

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3. Nujeen Mustafa

Often the most amazing stories are the ones that have happened in the real world. In 2014 Nujeen Mustafa, who was born with cerebral palsy, began a 3,500-mile journey from war-torn Syria to Germany as a refugee in a wheelchair. The journey which saw her leaving her parents in Turkey and crossing the Mediterranean with her sister, eventually lead to her addressing the United Nations Security Council. At the festival, Mustafa, who has spoken at international TEDx events in the UK and Iraq and was a keynote speaker at the 2017 Nansen Refugee Award, discusses experiences as a student adjusting to life in a foreign country and as a tireless advocate for refugees and disability rights.

Prize-winning journalist Christina Lamb depicted Mustafa’s harrowing journey and how she braved inconceivable odds in the 2016 book The Girl from Aleppo: Nujeen's Escape from War to Freedom.

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About The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature


The region’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word features international and regional writers, poets, thinkers and speakers from around the world. The festival is held with founding partners, Emirates Airline and the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, the emirate’s dedicated authority for heritage, arts, and culture. 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. Sheikh Mohammed is also behind the Royal Decree to establish the Emirates Literature Foundation, the home of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. The non-profit organization aims to foster a love for literature in the United Arab Emirates and the region, through a programme of varied cultural initiatives. 

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