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Abu Dhabi Book Fair 2021: 14 key sessions to check out in person and online

The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair returns with it all, from discussions on international literature and expert insights on the coronavirus pandemic to the UAE’s future in the world and space. It’sa cultural programme fit for our times.

Running from Sunday to May 29, at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec), the hybrid festival will blend in-person events with online ones.

This doesn’t mean the fair’s physical venue will be devoid of its usual live sessions.

Under stringent safety measures, including advance bookings and the presentation of a negative PCR test for entrance, Adnec will host daily events featuring prize-winning authors, historians, poets and diplomats.

Some will appear in person, while others will be beamed in from abroad on to the festival’s screens. All of these screenings will be in English or Arabic, with simultaneous English translation and vice versa.

The sessions will take place on the book fair’s main stage, in Hall 9 of Adnec. Sessions will also broadcast live on the book fair’s social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter.

Here are 14 discussions to check out this year.

1. ‘From Isolation to Inspiration’ (11am, Sunday)

The book fair opens with a timely session for creatives.

Emirati filmmaker Nujoom Alghanem, Egyptian poet Lamia Karam and Lebanese singer Abeer Nehme reflect on how the pandemic upended their careers and the innovative new ways they’ve found to keep being inspired.

2. ‘Tayari Jones in Conversation’ (6.30pm, Sunday)

A Barack Obama favourite, US author Tayari Jones will discuss her four works, including 2019’s An American Marriage.

The piercing novel looks at how the lives of an African-American couple is torn apart as a result of a false criminal conviction.

In addition to winning the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction, An American Marriage became a bestseller after being chosen as part of Oprah Winfrey’s popular book club.

3. ‘Women: A Legacy in Subjugation’ (7pm, Sunday)

In this hard-hitting conversation, Egyptian literary critic Amani Fouad will discuss the limited portrayals of women across all facets of the Arab cultural landscape. Fouad will propose ways to address the gender imbalance everywhere in literature, film and television.

4. ‘Beyond Belief: Exploring Science Fiction, Fantasy and Faith’ (8pm, Sunday)

One of the fair’s biggest draws, bestselling US sci-fi author Brent Weeks (The Night Angel trilogy) will make a case for the value of the genre.

While the plots and twists are fantastical, Weeks will explain why the sci-fi genre still offers intellectual and philosophical ways to comment on the world today.

5. ‘Plagues and Pandemics: Shaping Civilisations’ (5pm, Monday)

For generations pandemics have been the stuff of literature and movies.

Now that we are living amid this life-defining period, what lessons can we derive from it?

British historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes joins author and UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth adviser Peter Hellyer in exploring the lessons of past pandemics and what they mean for our future.

6. ‘The Arabic Language Across Borders’ (11am, Tuesday)

To understand the depth and richness of Arabic, consider this fun fact: each in the language has an average of three meanings, seven pronunciations and 12 interpretations.

A panel of Arab linguists, led by Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre chairman Ali Bin Tamim,will look at how to maintain the vitality of the language in education and the evolving nature of social media.

7. ‘In Honour of the Frontline Staff during the Pandemic’ (5.30pm, Tuesday)

One of the best ways to pay tribute to medical staff for keeping us safe during the Covid-19 pandemic is to pay attention to the experts.

This is the message from Dr Omar Al Hammadi, vice president of the Emirates International Medicine Association, as he discusses their experiences over the past 15 months.

In addition to highlighting the major challenges faced, he will look at why conspiracy theories and false news about the pandemic remain a threat to public safety.

8. ‘Maqamat: Rogue Stories and the Travels of a Trickster’ (1pm, Wednesday, May 26)

This session is a great introduction to a fascinating regional literary form.

Dating back to the 11th century, the Maqamat is a vibrant style of storytelling that blends verse and prose with shape-shifting characters and subject matter that is timely and allegorical.

Professor Bilal Orfali, Sheikh Zayed chairman for Arabic and Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut, will lead a panel of distinguished linguists in highlighting the continued relevance of the Maqamat in Arabic literature.

9. ‘Exploring on the Edge: Discussing the Life of an Extreme Explorer’ (4pm, Wednesday, May 26)

With the world slowly opening up to travel and adventure again, get some tips from renowned British explorerLevison Wood.

Ahead of the June release of his latest book The Art of Exploration: Lessons in Positivity, Leadership and Getting Things Done, Wood will recall his adventures across the Middle East and some of the wisdom he has gleaned along the way.

10. ‘How Have the Events of the Last Year Changed the Outlook for the Middle East?’ (7pm, Wednesday, May 26)

The New Silk Road Monitor website’s Afshin Molavi, a geopolitical commentator, looks at how international relations have changed over the course of the pandemic and how that relates to the region.

The conversation will be moderated by The National’s editor-in-chief, Mina Al-Oraibi.

11. ‘New Archaeological Discoveries Reveal the UAE’s Rich History’ (1.30pm, Thursday, May 27)

Considering the rapid development of the UAE, it is not surprising if many people’s understanding of the nation only stretches as far back as 50 years.

Zayed National Museum director Peter Magee will talk about how that time frame is a drop in the ocean when it comes to the UAE’s story.

In his book The Emirates: Our History, he traces how the country was home to inhabitants as far back as 125,000 years ago, in addition to its emergence as an important trading link over centuries.

12. ‘The Year of the 50th and the Way to the Future’ (7.30pm, Thursday, May 27)

Cultural Adviser to the UAE President t Zaki Nusseibeh. Photo by Chris Whiteoak / The National Cultural Adviser to the UAE President t Zaki Nusseibeh. Photo by Chris Whiteoak / The National

Arts and culture is set to play a major part as the UAE prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

To learn what’s in store, in addition to its future role in the country’s growth, Cultural Adviser to the President Zaki Nusseibeh leads a high-powered panel of UAE diplomats including the ambassadors to the UK and France.

13. ‘Poetry Panorama’ (8.30pm, Friday, May 28)

Poetry knows no language, as you will find out in this eclectic evening performance.

Acclaimed Emirati poet Afra Atiq and Lebanon’s Zeina Hashem Beck will be joined by the UK’s Mark Fiddles, Danabelle Gutierrez from the Philippines and Colombian-American spoken-word artist Carlos Andres Gomez for a night of evocative works blending that blend innovation and their distinct heritages with their passion for the genre.

14. ‘Back to The Future: From Mecca to Mars’ (10.30am, Saturday, May 29)

For the last day of the book fair, we are invited to look at the future.

After the success f the UAE Mars Mission, what’s next for the Arab world when it comes to space exploration?

English historian Justin Marozzi joins UAE Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy Omar Ghobash to look at the region’s next steps and its place in the world and beyond.

More information on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is available at adbookfair.com

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