Dubai for the Literary Festival again, the 12th edition. It was, as ever, lovely to be back, to meet up with old friends and to make new ones. This year Dubai also hosted an informal conference of international literary festival directors in which my wife participated, so the new friends include directors of festivals in Nigeria, Denmark, Canada and Brazil. I can see that our life in ‘retirement’ could, might, include visiting more festivals, but the travel involved challenges our environmental credentials.
The new Mohammed bin Rashid Library just across the creek from the Festival site, is almost ready to open its doors to the public (as indeed it was last year). When it does finally open it will be magnificent, with more than one million books housed in a beautiful building built to resemble a book.
The first event was the now well-established evening of poetry in the desert, some great and some not so great. Particularly moving were Carlos Andrés Gómez and Farah Chamma, both with powerful poems around identity, Carlos as a Latino in the US, Farah as a Palestinian studying in London.
Harry Baker was his usual brilliant self and the evening finished with Harry and his old school friend Chris Read doing their imaginatively titled Harry and Chris double act of jazz/poetry.
The theme of this year’s festival was ‘What will Tomorrow Look Like?’ As usual I preferred the non-fiction sessions to fiction – quite often novelists turn out to be not quite as interesting as the books they write.
Tony Jupiter spoke about the conflicts which exists between nature and economic development, conflicts which will not be resolved until we start electing politicians who give at least equal weight to the environmental lobbies as to the industrial. There is at present little hope of this in either the UK or the US. We could learn much from Costa Rica. Thinking about this I recalled, many years ago, asking the Chief Minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands what his vision for the tourism industry was (I had been charged with setting up the TCI Tourist Board): ‘We’ve got the most beautiful beaches in the world and I want as many people as possible to see them before they get ruined’! Of course we immediately see the paradox in this, but is it any more stupid than favouring economic development over environmental concerns?
There were excellent presentations from Adam Rutherford on racial prejudice and genetics, Parag Khanna on how Asia (and not just China) is becoming the most powerful region in the world, and the Bosh Boys, superstars of the vegan lifestyle. And of course authors of fiction took part in debates with non-fiction themes, including a moving discussion on relationships with on the panel Clare Mackintosh (After the End), Esi Edugyan (Washington Black) and Tayari Jones (An American Marriage), three great wordsmiths discussing powerful emotions, made all the more moving by questions from the audience whose experiences in some cases mirrored those of the panelists.
A good literary festival should be thought provoking and on occasion inspiring. A great one can, small ways, change lives. The Dubai Literary Festival is a great one and I am proud to have been associated with it.