Thursday night (2 February) saw an exciting line-up of speakers take to the stage as they shared stories of the people who inspired them and looked back on their own journeys.
Succession star Brian Cox discussed his latest memoir, Putting the Rabbit in the Hat, and delighted audiences with stories of how he first began acting in the theatre, before reflecting on some of his most iconic roles in his decades-long career, including Shakespeare’s King Lear, Hannibal Lecter himself (Manhunter), and of course, the patriarch of the hit HBO series: Logan Roy.
“Acting is what Shakespeare calls it: holding a mirror up to nature. We reflect back on what’s actually happening,” said Cox about the nature of acting. “That’s what we do. We present who are as people in every aspect. For me, it’s like church in that sense. You go there and get the sense of what the world is, with all its belief systems, and that’s the material you work with.”
“I’m so, so far away from Logan Roy,” said Cox of the role. “He is absolutely set through injury. His own pain, his frustration, has created this man. Therefore as a father he just says ‘It’s like that’ and he has these three horrible children behaving in the way that they do… The thing Logan has lacked all his life is love, and he had big hopes. He never knew how to get love from his children and gives them stuff, he’ll get love back. It doesn’t work like that.”
He continued, “The first thing [Succession creator] Jesse Armstrong said to me was, ‘he loves his children.’ That’s his Achilles heel. He loves these kids even though he seems monstrous towards them.”
Beauty influencer Kaushal and mind coach Vex King took audiences inside their latest book, The Greatest Self Help Book (Is the One Written By You), a journal designed to help people with self-care, and offered tips on how the practice can help guide you towards better mental health.
“The key is to be able to become more self-aware,” said King. “A lot of people might do journaling, but because they haven’t asked or haven’t gotten the right prompts, they haven’t been guided to a higher level of self-awareness.”
“We want people to get to know themselves on a deeper level,” added Kaushal. “The power of journaling is that you can really dig deep and access parts of who you are. And you can’t necessarily do that by listening to a podcast or watching a video. It might make you feel something in that specific moment but journaling has an everlasting effect. Improving your relationship with yourself.”
Author Kate Mosse and historian and author Manu Pillai discussed how unnamed women across the world and throughout history have helped shape our world as it is, and how to go about telling their stories, especially if there are no records of their efforts — or worse, if their names have been erased off their contributions.
“Many of the women that have been put into history are put there not by historians but by artists,” said Mosse. “It’s about saying these names, putting these names out there, making them know so that they become commonplace not the exception.”
“Women are often consciously written out of history and sometimes when they make a mark they are blocked out,” said Pillai. “Highlighting stories of the past helps us negotiate the present better, in more evolved ways.”
Friday, 3 February saw the Festival focus heavily on publishing and the business of books with special sessions devoted to trends in children’s publishing, translation across languages, and even publishing in new mediums.
Head of Business Marketing at TikTok MENA Annie Arsane Mattar took audiences into the world of TikTok — or more specifically #BookTok — as she discussed the tremendous impact the platform has had on book sales, especially in terms of promoting older titles and turning them into bestsellers.
“BookTok is a massive book club,” said Mattar. “Reading and talking about books will never go out of style. We just find new ways to go about it.”
“For me it’s not the medium,” said Mattar about the success of the written word on a video-based platform. “It’s the interested consumer who’s craving talking and getting recommendations. It’s content that’s shared, and shared based on what you like not who you follow. It’s communities that are like-minded and creators that are grassroot and can come and talk about their expertise and that happens to be on a video-based platform. It’s conversation, but with billions of people.”
Founding editor of the ArabLit website and the ArabLit Quarterly magazine Marcia Lynx Qualey touched on the trends and shifts within Arabic literature over the last few years, as well as within the approaches to translating Arabic literature, including a shift from translating primarily into French, towards translating works into primarily English.
“Translation has become less about an academic bringing [a work] into English so they can teach it,” said Qualey. “[It’s become] more artistically centred.”
Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) was in the spotlight for this fascinating session featuring a recorded keynote address by Net Positive author Paul Polman, followed by a discussion by Senior Director for the UAE Independent Climate Change Accelerators (UICCA) Dina Storey, Cambridge Sustainability and ESG specialist Jaison John, and ESG expert Dr Waddah Ghanem Al Hashmi in which they touched on ESG trends worldwide, as well as those unique to the UAE, and the upcoming 2023 UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 28), which will be hosted in the UAE.
“COP 28 under the leadership of Sultan Al Jaber promises to be an important one,” said Polman. “I have a lot of respect for the innovations and ambitions that the UAE has shown so far. Despite the challenges of being an oil-based economy, you are the first ones in the region with a stated goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and have committed to serious in investments in Green Energy.”
“In terms of where Dubai's private sector is in the journey towards net zero, I feel they want to move forward but sometimes don't know how to which means what they need is support and that is where we come in,” said Storey. “We need to look at the UAE targets and break them down into manageable actions.”
“It's important to remember it is net zero. Not an absolute zero,” said Dr. Waddah. “Net zero means we are going to have some conventions as we move forward and we need to do that. We have to understand that we focus a lot on the ‘E’ every time we talk about ESG (Environmental Social Governance) but we must understand that the ‘S’ is very important. As we transition into this net zero, we should not forget about the social impact we might have and so we need to this in a very clever way.”
“There's a radical shift from CSR to ESG and I'd say it is a mindset shift,” said John. “From one generation to the next the attitudes of the employees have changed. They want to work with organisations who are closer to their value systems. It is a shift from one generation to the next which has led and activated a new set of employees and investors.”
Award-winning author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers shared how he channelled his space and science-based inspirations into works of art and storytelling, including his latest book, Meanwhile Back On Earth, which sees him ruminate on the state of our planet, and his desire for people to put aside our differences and come together and connect with one another. This was followed by a screening of a trailer for the animated feature adaptation of his book Here We Go Again, which will be released on AppleTV+ on 26 April, and a reading of the Arabic translation of Jeffer’s book Stuck.
“It always felt like a huge mistake that the ‘A’ was left out for so long,” said Jeffers of the value of teaching STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Maths) vs STEM. “Art is storytelling, drawing, theatre, music, and poetry.”
“We are all combination of stories. The stories we tell, the stories we’re told, and the stories told about us,” said Jeffers about the importance of storytelling. “Everything we know about ourselves comes from stories. The story of where you come from, who your ancestors were, the sort of person you can be, and so on.”
Minister of Parliament David Lammy discussed his book Tribes, and its exploration of our need as people to belong to a larger group, for better or for worse, and how globalisation and digitisation have lets to a new kind and more pernicious kind of tribalism among the global population.
One of Us is Lying author Karen McManus appeared virtually to discuss her latest young adult thriller, Nothing More to Tell.
Socio-political activist and daughter of the former Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir, Marina Mahathir, discussed her recent memoir The Apple and the Tree, as well as her journey towards becoming a journalist and campaigner who has tackled corruption, human trafficking, and the rights of those who are discriminated against.
In keeping with the theme of the Emirates LitFest, ‘Old Friends,’ authors Alexander McCall Smith (The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), Faye Brann (Tinker, Tailor, Schoolmum, Spy), and Sudha Murty (Grandma’s Bag of Stories) showcased their craft by penning letters addressed to a writer or person in their life who they consider an ‘old friend,’ followed by an explanation of why they chose them and a larger discussion about the lost art of letter-writing.
Fabulous Funghi and Piquant Plants: A Dinner with Bobby Chinn
Celebrity chef and Top Chef Arabia judge Bobby Chinn served diners a specially curated dinner featuring vegan dishes made from sustainably-sourced local ingredients, accompanied by his specially-curated soundtrack.
When East Meets West: A Mariela Shaker & Riyad Nicolas Concert
Award-winning violinist Mariela Shaker and emerging artist Riyad Nicolas combined their talents for a magical night where Arabic composition melds with Western harmonies to create a stunning musical fusion.
Layla May: Eternal Through Music
Singer Layla May serenaded audiences with her music, followed by a Q&A session, where audiences discovered more about her musical journey.
Audiences were immersed in a live theatrical reimagining of the tale of Oedipus daughter, Antigone, a feminist figure who, tragically, was centuries ahead of a time.
Coming Up Tomorrow…
Founder of Happy Skin cosmetics and self-made “beauty-preneur” Rissa Mananquil Trillo will take audiences through the highs and lows of starting your own business as she discusses her latest book, Read My Lips: What It Takes to Build a World-class Homegrown Brand.
Join political commentator Marina Mahathir, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy HE Omar Saif Ghobash and author and professor Reza Aslan as they come together to explore the past and present, and discuss what the future of Islam might look like, especially with Muslim-majority countries on the front line of the climate crisis, leaving their large youth populations vulnerable to unrest in hard times.
Television fashion stylist Kat Farmer (You Are What You Wear) will share advice on how to discover your own personal style and build a wardrobe that boosts confidence and is filled with outfits you feel excited to wear.
Former British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Shulman will take audiences through a history of fashion as she explains the roles different items of clothing have had throughout history.
UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment HE Mariam Almheiri and celebrity chef Bobby Chinn will discuss the urgency of moving towards local, sustainable, and plant-based food options, along with the specific initiatives the UAE is undertaking, and what each of us can do in our own lives in terms of growing, buying, and cooking our food.
Celebrate Galentine’s Day early as best-selling author of TikTok Book Club pick Honey & Spice, Bolu Babalola, talks romance as it’s captured in books and popular culture and the importance of writing about love itself.