Catherine Abbott is Arts and Creative Economies Programme Manager with the British Council UAE.
On a searing hot day in June, I made my first of many journeys to the new home of literature in Dubai, in Al Shindagha Historical Neighbourhood to visit the dynamic team at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
This mystical quarter lying on Dubai Creek is one of the city’s most engaging neighbourhoods, encompassing labyrinthine lanes lined with restored merchant’s houses incorporating beautiful courtyards, decorative grilles, hanging oil lamps and wooden lattice features rising to the iconic wind towers above. I could not imagine any location more perfect for the headquarters of the Middle East’s most popular literary festival and the Dubai International Writers Centre under the Directorship of Isobel Abulhoul.
As the British Council were commemorating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, one of the most globally renowned playwrights, with a year-long celebration of events throughout 2016 titled “Shakespeare Lives”, it was vital for us to be able to work in partnership with the most recognised literary brand in the UAE. That day forged our fates and a conversation that began with “how can we work together to incorporate Shakespeare into the 2016 EAFOL programme?” led to hundreds of emails, telecons and international skype calls where we exchanged ideas, discussed potential events and shared contacts.
Six months later and the Shakespeare strand of the programme has taken on a life of its own with a series of the Bards Films at Novo Cinema, Literary Heavy weights such as Meera Syal and Steven Berkoff performing at the opening and closing ceremonies respectively, A Sonnets Exchange with Imitiaz Dhaker and Khalid Al Budoor and a Shakespeare Decoded professional development workshop for teachers amongst others.
There is still a lot more work to do in the run up to next March before literary aficionadas network the ever-increasing crowds at the InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City where stunning views from a different aspect of the serene Dubai Creek will provided the perfect backdrop for this much anticipated festival. The theme of this year’s programme is succinctly ’Time’ and what an apt theme it is. Although 400 years have passed in time since William Shakespeare left this life, our partnership with EAFOL will ensure the unprecedented legacy of this wool merchant’s son will live on in the Emirates.