The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is known for its intellectual investigation in a locale with a strong narrative tradition. This yearly cultural event has developed over the last fifteen years into a movement that is committed to encouraging a love of reading, supporting a diversity of voices, and sparking conversations across cultural boundaries.
Spearheading this revolutionary adventure, is Ahlam Bolooki, appointed as the festival director and CEO of the Emirates Literature Foundation in 2023.
Arab News recently interviewed Bolooki, delving into her projects and her dedication to elevating the voices of Arab authors. Bolooki brought attention to the change in Emirati audiences, who are now among the top countries buying event tickets. She was excited about the community's increased interaction with international writers and speakers.
According to Bolooki, this change has affected schooling as well, citing the influence on students whose lives have been changed by the festival. A few have gone on to work in industries connected to literature, such as journalism or the arts, and a handful have even achieved publication as published authors, serving as role models for upcoming authors and readers.
Bolooki said that despite the continuing appeal of classics like "1001 Nights," current Arabic literature is still underrepresented in the Middle East and stressed the significance of supporting Arab authors. The Kateb Maktub initiative, launched in 2020, aims to address this gap by significantly increasing the presence of Arab author pages on Wikipedia in both Arabic and English.
Bolooki claims that Kateb Maktub has been incredibly successful, increasing the number of Wikipedia articles devoted to Arab authors by more than 500% since its launch. She remains committed to initiatives like the ELF Seddiqi Writer's Fellowship, a comprehensive program designed to nurture Arab writers in both Arabic and English. The fellowship provides budding fiction writers with the chance to develop their skills, learn about the tastes of readers throughout the world, and work with well-known names in the publishing industry.
Bolooki acknowledged the difficulties Arab and regional writers had in becoming internationally known, pointing to problems with distribution and translation attempts. Despite obstacles such as piracy, she encouraged aspiring writers to persevere, embrace opportunities, and recognize the transformative power of literature.
Looking ahead, Bolooki envisions a literary landscape transformed through partnerships and collaborations, reflecting her commitment to shaping the future of literature.