Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Emirates Literature Foundation - Formalising Literature?

Can you formalise literature? At least, the process of promoting and promulgating it? We'll see, with the new Decree No. 8 of 2013 from Dubai's Ruler, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum establishing the Emirates Literature Foundation.

The new not for profit foundation gets Dhs18.7 million as share capital to underpin its work, with three co-founders of the foundation, Emirates Airline, Dubai Culture and the LitFest, the body that has come together around the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature over the past five years. Isobel Abulhoul has been the tireless figure behind the LitFest since it started, and one can only hope the new foundation gives her and her team better resources and backing for this remarkable event and the other projects they have started to launch around the core annual festival.

In fact, the foundation's aims are to:
...promote literature and to foster an environment which is favourable to literary intellectuals through: - Organising, managing and supervising the annual Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature; - Promoting literary output in Arabic, English and other languages, particularly literary works targeting children; - Attracting international and renowned authors to the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature to present their literary works to the public; - Encouraging reading outside of the classroom; - Nurturing and providing a platform suitable for intellectual output and for local writers, poets and other literary intellectuals; - Inviting selected writers from among UAE nationals and residents to attend other international festivals of literature; - Liaising with the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and concerned entities to establish a "Writers Centre" which will act as a nucleus for year round activities of a literary nature; and ensuring that the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival is comprehensive and accessible for all.
Those are pretty lofty aims, but anyone involved in the LitFest (and I suppose I have been, in one peripheral way or another, since it started five years ago) will recognise how much the event has done to create a burgeoning literary scene here in the UAE - something that really didn't exist before the Festival started.

Now they've got funding, the formal  backing of the country's leadership and a clear mandate to do more of the same.

What's perhaps interesting is that the LitFest started as one woman's barmy idea, one of those notions that hit people when they wake up one day ("I want to go to the moon") which slowly became a concrete scheme that people gathered around - critically, Emirates got behind it in a big way. The LitFest's growth has been organic and community-based, if people didn't want this, weren't interested in it, then it simply wouldn't have happened. Isobel's passion and drive for the whole thing, the determination of the team of people around her to grow it, make it better (and more inclusive) and create a world class event have done just that.

But that was all informal. Now it's got formal aims and goals, objectives to meet and oversight to answer to. You'd be forgiven for thinking that a tad scary. On the other hand, it seems a quite clear "That thing you've gone and done is pretty cool. Can we do more of that?".

The result should be the promotion of narrative, discourse and the codification of knowledge. The enhancement of a young nation's ability to learn, evolve and teach - to explore and find its voice and develop its inherent creativity and build stories and dreams. A counterpoint to thoughtless consumerism and a culture of passive entitlement and moribund privilege.

Let's see, eh?

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