Tuesday, March 3, 2009

International Festival of Literature

I'm sorry if you have tried to comment on the blog and have been unable to do so. Several people have emailed me directly due to troubles with posting comments. Please email me at upwordspoetry@earthlink.net if you have anything to add/question. Again, sorry about the technology.

A few days back in the Florida Keys (and at least 2 more days) and am astonished at all the skin I see around me! Much of it, bubbly red and burnt by the sun.

And down here, I always thought the tourists drive fast (don't want to miss the morning happy hour prices), but this is nothing compared to the speed with which they drive their cars in the UAE. And no happy hour prices there, just lots of repressed sexual energy.

The first-ever Dubai literary festival opened last Thursday (www.eaifl.com). Sixty-five writers from 20 countries, including Britain and the United States, participated in the four-day Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature. The vision of the festival is to “join together people of all nationalities to celebrate literature in all its forms.”

The festival faced literary fallout earlier this month when ‘The Gulf Between Us’, a romantic novel by Britain's Geraldine Bedell, was turned down by the organizers. The book features a gay sheikh.

Canadian author, Margaret Atwood (award winning novelist and poet), vice president of PEN, the literary anti-censorship organization, cancelled her appearance at the festival outraged by the decision.

After further research, Atwood found the situation was not at all what it appeared. The allegedly banned book had not been published yet and there was no evidence Bedell or her book had even been invited.

Atwood wrote on Saturday in the London's Guardian newspaper that she regretted her decision, which she made based on the belief Bedell's book had been banned.

"This has nothing to do with censorship,” said the festival director. “We simply found after reading the book that it was not suitable for the festival.”

In the end, it was too late for Atwood to appear live, so she participated via video link at two festival events – a reading of her work and a panel discussion on the subject of censorship. Perfect!

On a personal note – I read about this incident while still in the UAE and applauded Atwood for pulling out. At the same time though, I thought how extraordinary it was for an event of this kind to be considered, approved and actually hosted in the Middle East. This was a FIRST and being planned as an annual event. I felt torn, wanting it to succeed and be embraced by the local, as well as international population.

The event entered the conversation my last night there. I was sitting at the dining table with 7 or 8 (all male) professors from the university (Arabic and other), along with the other 2 poets I'd been working with. One of the Arabic professors was boasting about Margaret Atwood’s upcoming appearance. Very pleased about it. Obviously, a fan.

I mentioned that she had canceled her participation and why (this was before her own further research and change of mind). “Ahhh, well, we can’t have that type of thing here, can we?” he said, nodding his head and folding his arms across his chest.

Another Arabic professor at the table responded (and I loved it), “If Dubai wants to become an internationally respected and sought-after business/cultural destination, then they have to start acting like one.”

Change is definitely in the air (or perhaps the sand)…

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