Hay Festival to launch Abu Dhabi edition

Hay Festival to launch Abu Dhabi edition

Hay Festival will launch a new edition in Abu Dhabi in 2020 to showcase the writing from across the Arabic-speaking world, with the support of the UAE's Ministry of Tolerance.

This new international edition of Hay Festival will take place for four days from 24th to 27th February 2020. 

Organisers say the festival has been made possible by the collaboration of the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance, with the  announcement being made during the UAE’s own celebration of 2019 as its “Year of Tolerance” to promote values of dialogue, coexistence, and openness to different cultures.

The event marks a return to the Middle East for Hay, which held three editions in Beirut between 2009 and 2012, and will see Hay look establish a long-term presence in the Arabic-speaking world. Aside from the original Welsh festival, Hay currently holds festivals in more than 30 locations worldwide, including Peru, Colombia, Croatia and Mexico. 

Explaining why Abu Dhabi was chosen for the latest festival, Hay Festival director Peter Florence told The Bookseller  "it feels like a moment to open a conversation about Arabic Literature’s contemporary surge".

He said: "We’ve been looking for a home in the Arab world since our Beirut 39 Project in 2010 that celebrated Arab diaspora writers under 40. We’ve got friends at the NYU AD campus and at the Louvre who are establishing good working relationships in Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah Book Fair and the Emirates Litfest have made an increasing impact on readers and writers in the UAE. In 2017, one of our Beirut 39-ers, Mohammed Hasan Alwan won the Arabic Prize for Fiction, and it was won again this year by Hoda Bharakat, who was one of our judges. Cap that with Jokha Alharthi’s International Booker win and the East-West Divan publication of Bill Swainson’s and it feels like a moment to open a conversation about Arabic Literature’s contemporary surge.

"We’ve worked with Abu Dhabi Book Fair in the past, hosting a Vikram Seth gig and found good friends. We have been working out a way of operating and we’re optimistic that a festival here can work sustainably. We know from the successes in Colombia and Mexico, and from the less-than-successes in Bangladesh and Hungary - that you have to take a long view and hold to what you believe in."

He added the Abu Dhabi edition will be "a showcase for great writing from across the Arab world, a platform for inspiring voices from many languages".

The UAE's human rights record has long come under scrutiny. Asked to address these concerns, Florence said: "We work in contexts very different from our own around the world. We start from a principle of engagement and the need to understand a culture primarily through its writers and readers. The government in Abu Dhabi know who we are and what we do. The Emirates Litfest and Sharjah’s World Book Capital have started important conversations in the UAE. We want to pick that up and help build a new platform for discussion. There’s a generation of Arabic writers and performers here who are reimagining the language and vocabulary. We want to listen to them."

Events will take place Abu Dhabi’s cultural centre, Manarat al Saadiyat and other venues in Abu Dhabi, with Nobel Laureates Shirin Ebadi and Ahmed Galai, Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat, winner of the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and writers Adonis, Jokha Alharthi, Muhammed Hasan Alwan and Tishani Doshi already on the line-up. The full programme will be unveiled in November 2019. 

Conversations will take place in Arabic, English and other languages and all sessions will be live translated into Arabic and English. Tickets to all sessions will be free for those in full time education. The festival will also offer a wide-ranging programme of activities dedicated to children of all age groups and families, and closely collaborate with local schools to deliver educational programmes during school hours. Additionally, authors and thinkers will visit students and young people in local universities to help nurture the next generation of writers and creatives.

Hay Festival international director Cristina Fuentes La Roche said: "We return to the Middle East to ask the best writers and thinkers from the Arab world and further afield to share ideas and stories. Conversations on stage are fundamental, often electrifying. They matter even more when they facilitate further conversations in the audience, at school, back home, at university, or in the street. We want everyone to speak, laugh and listen to one another with open minds at the Festival and beyond."

With guidance from the Court of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and the cooperation of Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism, the UAE's Ministry of Tolerance will provide organisational support for the festival in February 2020. The UAE's Ministry of Tolerance "aims to build a tolerant society by promoting and deepening the values of co-existence and cultural dialogue" amongst the UAE's nationals and its international residents, who originate from more than 190 countries. 

His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance of the United Arab Emirates, said the festival will be an important initiative of its "Year of Tolerance".

"The extraordinary support of Hay Festival Abu Dhabi by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, symbolizes the importance of the festival and celebrates the lasting and productive collaboration between the peoples of the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. His Highness’s support of the festival will remind us all of Abu Dhabi’s great and growing position as an international centre of knowledge, culture and the arts."

He added: "The focus of the festival on tolerance and human fraternity is a recognition that these human values are the sound foundation of the global society that is the United Arab Emirates. The United Arab Emirates is a global society, founded on the values of tolerance and co-existence. We recognise the importance of sharing ideas, education and cross-cultural interactions, for which Hay Festival is celebrated worldwide. We look forward to welcoming audiences young and old to four days of invigorating conversations, opening minds and enhancing understanding at Hay Festival Abu Dhabi."