Isobel Abulhoul on how the UAE's literary scene grew in 50 years: 'We did it our way'

Asia's Tech News Daily

Isobel Abulhoul on how the UAE's literary scene grew in 50 years: 'We did it our way'
© Provided by The National Isobel Abulhoul has been at the forefront of the UAE’s evolving liteareture scene. Antonie Robertson / The National

As the UAE approaches its 50th anniversary on December 2, the country’s literary scene is buzzing.

This month, the Sharjah International Book Fair became the largest event of its kind in 2021 by welcoming more than 1.6 million visitors over 10 days. Preparations are also well under way for the 2022 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, which recently revealed its star-studded author line-up at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Follow the latest updates on Expo 2020 Dubai here

View this post on Instagram

Days after announcing the event under the Expo’s centrepiece, the Al Wasl Dome, Emirates Literature Foundation chief executive Isobel Abulhoul reflected on both the local industry and her personal UAE journey over the last five decades, which are inextricably linked.

Isobel Abulhoul on how the UAE's literary scene grew in 50 years: 'We did it our way'
Download our mobile app

“What can I say, it is a story of adventure,” she tells The National. “A lot of what happened in the UAE literary scene wasn’t planned.

“Since we had no real role models on how to build it, we did it our own way and I think that’s reflected on the success of the literature festival and the Sharjah and Abu Dhabi book fairs, to name a few.”

Like pages out of a book

The UAE’s literary scene is a vibrant landscape radically different from the one Abulhoul encountered when moving to Dubai in 1968 from England, three years prior to the formation of the country.

Newly wed to her Emirati husband, whom she met as a university student in Cambridge, Abulhoul, 18 years old at the time, recalls the surreal experience of landing in the fledgling city and experiencing an environment only envisioned though books.

“It was a late night in December and I remembered there were very few lights, so it was dark and starry. The airport was a tiny little warehouse and when you get off the plane, your feet touched the desert sand,” she says.

“It smelled warm and exotic and nothing like the cold and wet England I left twelve hours ago. And because my imagination was fed since early childhood with stories and books, it felt like I was living this adventure and fairy tale. It was beautiful.”

Isobel Abulhoul on how the UAE's literary scene grew in 50 years: 'We did it our way'
© Provided by The National Magrudy’s first launched in Jumeirah, Dubai in 1975. Photo: Magrudy’s

That enchantment soon met the realities of nation building. With the UAE story in its relative opening pages, Abulhoul wasted no time in making her contribution. She co-founded Al Ittihad Private School in 1975, the same year in which she also co-launched the Magrudy’s book store chain.

Abulhoul recalls the moves were made more out of necessity than pure entrepreneurial zeal.

“I had absolutely no retail experience,” she says. “I wasn’t even thinking about that. By the time we launched the school I had two young children at the time, so education was very much on my mind.

“And once we opened the school I started thinking about how we needed a place where families can get books and educational toys, so we then set up Magrudy’s.”

Bestselling books and authors

Initially opening in Jumeirah before expanding nationally to include branches in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, the shop was renowned for its variety, ranging from bestsellers to non-fiction and instructional guides.

“This was a deliberate move because you need to remember the books were essentially our internet back then,” she says. “In those early days our family had cows and goats and I didn’t know if they were ill or not. So I got a book on it and was able to diagnose them when the time came.”

As for novels, Magrudy’s specialisation in children’s literature allowed it to be the first UAE chain to bring JK Rowling’s 1997 debut Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to the UAE.

“I knew this was the beginning of some kind of phenomenon when two of my children found this book while we were on holiday in Cambridge and they were so entranced with it, I had to buy them a separate copy each because they couldn’t share it,” she says.

“When I came back to Dubai I immediately imported more copies to the stores and we went to eventually sell something like 5,000 copies of it eventually. We kept ordering the books to meet the demand.”

Magrudy’s also went on to lay the seeds of what would become the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

With the Abu Dhabi and Sharjah International Book fairs launching in 1981 and 1982 respectively, Abulhoul says there was a need to complement those events — which mostly focused on trade — with those involving authors and readers.

“At the time authors would come through the UAE and publishers would ask to organise a book signing but I didn’t want only that. We wanted the actual authors to meet and engage with the readers,” she says.

“So from nearly 20 years ago we had authors coming through, one of which was Francesca Simon (US author of children’s series Horrid Henry) and we created space for up to 70 people to come and listen.”

Isobel Abulhoul on how the UAE's literary scene grew in 50 years: 'We did it our way'
© Provided by The National Isobel Abulhoul and Paulo Coelho at Magrudy’s, Ibn Battuta Mall, in 2005. Photo: Magrudy’s

Those numbers swelled to over a thousand when it was the turn of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho in 2005.

Abulhoul recalls a line snaking its way around Ibn Batutua Mall’s Egyptian Court as audiences waited outside Magrudy’s for over five hours to meet The Alchemist author.

“It was a logistical nightmare with someone like Paulo because he is a very free spirit,” she says. “He would take time out to pray and re-energise and on his way to the venue he saw women with babies in the queue and he would ask they be brought in.

“After seeing that, people started going out of the queue and went searching the mall for babies they can burrow so they can get in quicker.”

‘How dare they have a literary festival?’

More than the excitement of meeting their literary heroes, it was the spirited conversations and insights born out of these sessions that convinced Abulhoul the UAE was ready for its own literature festival.

With Emirates Airline on board from its onset and held under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, the festival was launched in 2009 and fast established itself as not only the regional leader of its kind, but offer many visiting authors — from Canada’s Margaret Atwood to US thriller writer Jeffery Deaver — their first taste of the Arab world.

The latter was so enthralled by his experience at the inaugural event that when tapped by the Ian Fleming Estate to write the 37th James Bond Novel, 2011’s Carte Blanche, he allowed the super-spy to spend a few thrilling hours in Dubai tracking his nemesis.

While the authors were receptive, Abulhoul says the wider industry was initially shocked at the festival’s success.

“There still remains some misperceptions in the West where the idea is not only ‘how can Dubai have a literary festival?’, but ‘how dare they have one?’ And that really gets under my skin,” she says. “Some people thought I was mad when I told them I was a founder of the festival.

“They just didn’t realise that the UAE and this part of the world have a long tradition of culture and literature that is different than the West.”

While satisfied with the UAE literary scene’s evolution over the last five decades, Abulhoul’s optimism regarding the next 50 years is tempered with some concern.

“While some great and important achievements have been done, it’s not the total responsibility of schools, festivals and book fairs to promote reading but that of society,” she says. “If you are not reading to your child on a daily basis then you are depriving them because that’s when the brain is at its most formative.

“That’s my message to all families and I am very single minded about passing that love of reading on to the next generation because that forms the core of my being. It allowed me to dream, create opportunities and find solutions because there is a book for everything in life.”

Internet Explorer Channel Network
Asia's Tech News Daily
News Related

OTHER NEWS

Igor Fruman, Figure from Trump’s First Impeachment, Gets a Year and a Day in Prison for Plot to Funnel Russian’s Money

© Provided by Law & Crime Igor Fruman Ex-Giuliani associate Igor Fruman arrives at federal court for an arraignment hearing on Oct. 23, 2019 in New York City. Igor Fruman, ... Read more »

Das Berner Tief hält an +++ Lausanne dreht Spiel gegen Davos innert 56 Sekunden

© ANTHONY ANEX/keystone-sda.ch Berns Christian Thomas, links, und Gotterons Philippe Furrer, rechts, kaempfen um den Puck, beim Eishockey Meisterschaftsspiel der National League zwischen dem SC Bern und HC Fribourg Gotteron, ... Read more »

Team USA athlete roster for 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

© Getty Images Team USA will have about 200 athletes for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, which open Feb. 4. So far, 207 athletes have qualified or been named to ... Read more »

2021 Divisional Playoffs: Winning expert Player Prop and Best Bet picks

© Provided by CBS Sports Sep 13, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller (83) scores a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half ... Read more »

Andy Reid Says Chiefs Linebacker Willie Gay, Arrested Earlier This Week, Will Play

© Provided by Sports Illustrated The Kansas City linebacker was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of criminal property damage of less than $1,000. View the original article to see embedded ... Read more »

Alleged Border Census Undercount May See Texas Lose $247M in Medicaid; Lawmakers to Meet

© Photo by John Moore/Getty Images The lawmakers say that communities near the border can be hard for census officials to count and have historically been undercounted. Here, an immigrant ... Read more »

Chiefs recuperan a Clyde Edwards-Helaire y Willie Gay Jr. para juego contra Bills

© Proporcionado por Milenio Chiefs recuperan a Clyde Edwards-Helaire y Willie Gay Jr. para juego contra Bills (Reuters) Los Jefes de Kansas City están recuperando jugadores para enfrentarse a los ... Read more »

PTC India panel to probe fin arm

© Provided by The Times of India Mumbai: PTC India has appointed a high-level committee to look into the issues raised by three independent directors of its subsidiary PTC India ... Read more »

Fotos: ellos son Esteban y Miguel, los hijos de Arelys Henao

© Instagram Fruto de su amor con su esposo Wilfredo Hurtado, la reina de la música popular tuvo dos hijos que no heredaron su talento musical. Fruto de su amor ... Read more »

Oscars 2022 eyeing multiple hosts for the ceremony: report

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Selena Gomez, Tom Holland and Tina Fey each reportedly have people pulling for them to host the 2022 Oscars. Disney General Entertainment After years of having ... Read more »

Bandhan Bank net rises 36% riding on growth of non-interest income

© Provided by The Financial Express For the EEB segment (erstwhile microbanking segment), collection efficiency for December 2021 stood at 92% (including NPAs) against 86% in September 2021. And, it ... Read more »

WATCH: ‘Proud Maa' Sushmita Sen sings Spanish song with daughter Alisha; Says ‘Life comes a full circle'

© Provided by Pinkvilla Former Miss Universe and actor Sushmita Sen enjoys a massive fan following and credit goes to her wittiness and beauty. She has created a niche for ... Read more »

VALORANT Icebox map guide: Callouts, tips, and tricks

© Provided by Dot Esports Icebox offers a couple of unique twists in VALORANT, namely in the verticality of each spike site and the horizontal ziplines that players can use ... Read more »

Venezuela's public companies quadruple foreign currency sales to central bank

© Reuters/LEONARDO FERNANDEZ VILORIA FILE PHOTO: The assistant of a bus driver holds Bolivar banknotes, worth between 0.01 and 0.25 US Dollars, after Venezuela’s central bank announced it will cut ... Read more »

DOMINIC SANDBROOK: The greatest leaders turned despair into triumph

Of all the great political virtues, the most underestimated is sheer resilience. Getting to the top is one thing. To stay there, however, you need to keep going when fate ... Read more »

Christina Aguilera shows support for childhood co star Britney Spears, says 'I will always be here'

© Provided by Pinkvilla   Christina Aguilera is professing her love for Britney Spears, her childhood costar and pop contemporary. Aguilera, 41, has known Spears, 40, since they were both ... Read more »

All booster effects in Angry Birds Journey

© Provided by GamePur Although every bird you can unlock provides their own unique move, Angry Birds Journey also includes a new gameplay mechanic that lets you destroy sections of ... Read more »

Raducanu leaves Melbourne with no regrets but new desire to ‘stay at the top’

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Andy Cheung/Getty Images Emma Raducanu has said she has no regrets about taking to the court on Thursday while injured with blisters on her ... Read more »

ICICI Prudential Life Rating: Buy- A stable performance by firm in Q3FY22

ICICI Prudential Life (IPru Life) reported NBP/APE growth of 10%/16% y-o-y in Q3FY22. However, 9MFY22 growth is robust at 30% each. We expect Q4 to be a strong quarter, driven ... Read more »

The stock market is signaling more downside ahead as all major US indexes break below their closely watched 200-day moving averages

© Bryan R Smith/Reuters The stock market is signaling more downside ahead as all major US indexes break below their closely watched 200-day moving averages All major stock market indices ... Read more »

Woman goes viral on Twitter after sharing job application mishap

Since Ashleigh Keenan posted her story, her tweet has amassed a staggering 49.6 thousand likes. Getty Images A woman who applied for around 60 jobs and didn’t hear back from ... Read more »

Cost of petrol pumps should be slashed by 6p a litre, motoring groups demand

PETROL pump prices should be cut by up to 6p a litre, motoring groups say. And drivers are facing a postcode lottery — with fuel costs at the same supermarket ... Read more »

Dead man taken to Irish post office 'in attempt to claim his pension'

"It's all anyone has been talking about … it is unbelievable," a woman working at the nail and beauty salon across the road says. Read more »

The only 5 recipes you need in your baking repertoire, according to a time-poor chef.

© Getty Images The only 5 recipes you need in your baking repertoire, according to a time-poor chef. I studied cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu and prepared one pastry a ... Read more »

Alex Lowry set Rangers challenge by Gio van Bronckhorst as boss set for anxious wait on Ianis Hagi injury

Rangers manager Gio van Bronckhorst expressed his pride in debut hero Alex Lowry – then challenged him to get even better. The youngster enjoyed a dream introduction to the first ... Read more »

BBC Live at the Apollo: Zoe Lyons' marriage to wife 14 years older, first job in a jam factory and serious health condition

A familiar face on the nation’s TV screens, Zoe Lyons is one of the most popular comedians of the day. Zoe, 50, was born in Wales, before moving to Ireland, ... Read more »

Bill Maher pushes back on Fauci: 'Don't sit there in your white coat and tell me "just do what we say"'

© Getty Images Bill Maher pushes back on Fauci: ‘Don’t sit there in your white coat and tell me “just do what we say”‘ Bill Maher is pushing back against ... Read more »

Pokemon Unite New Sheriff in Town battle pass rewards leaked

Pokemon Unite’s fourth battle pass will be gone in less than two weeks and trainers are already wondering what’s coming in season five. The answer has been leaked for Pokemon ... Read more »

Top-ranked Korda takes LPGA Tournament of Champions lead

© Julio Aguilar American Nelly Korda tees off on 18 on the way to the halfway lead in the LPGA Tournament of Champions in Orlando, Florida World number one Nelly ... Read more »

Amazing moment wildlife photographer captured his wife getting a great big hug – from an ELEPHANT SEAL

AN elephant seal breaks the ice with a photographer’s wife by giving her a huge hug. The pup affectionately flopped on to Jess Taunton as she and hubby Chris Bray tried ... Read more »

SC Bern in der Krise

© KEYSTONE/PETER KLAUNZER Fribourg-Gottéron verschärft die Resultatkrise beim SC Bern. Der Leader der National League gewann am Freitagabend zum zweiten Mal in Folge gegen den SCB. Auf das 3:1 im ... Read more »

SINCE YOU ASK: Here we explain baffling stock market terminology and how you might stand to profit - this week it's Spacs

What does Spac stand for?  A Spac is a special purpose acquisition vehicle, an ’empty shell’ company floated on a stock exchange.  The money raised is used to purchase another ... Read more »

BBC Graham Norton Show: Vicky McClure's relationships from ex that caused her to leave acting to finding love with co-star who is 12 years older than her

Vicky McClure is probably best known for her iconic roles in hit shows such as Line of Duty, This is England and Broadchurch. Off-screen the actress is in a relationship ... Read more »

Better.com's CEO is back after firing 900 people on Zoom — and so are some employees' fears of being next

© Provided by Business Insider Better employees pose for a photo at the headquarters in New York City. Better Right before the holiday season, Better.com CEO Vishal Garg fired 900 ... Read more »

Matthew Rhys rides a vintage Harley Davidson on set

Season two of the hit show Perry Mason is underway. The legal drama is 1932 Los Angeles and based on novels and short stories penned by Erle Stanley Gardner. On ... Read more »

Germany blocks NATO ally Estonia from giving military support to Ukraine as it faces a possible Russian invasion: report

© Wolfgang Schwan/Getty Images Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the frontline in Zolote, Ukraine on January 20, 2022. Wolfgang Schwan/Getty Images Germany is blocking Estonia from providing military support to Ukraine, ... Read more »

New York mobile sports bets top $600M in 2 weeks, rival NJ

© Provided by Associated Press FILE – Buffalo Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (19) carries the ball during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the ... Read more »

Sources: Drone released by TSM

© Provided by Dot Esports Former TSM VALORANT player Taylor “Drone” Johnson has been released by the organization since his contract expired last week, multiple sources told Dot Esports.  Drone ... Read more »

Kanye West wants to have final cut of the Netflix documentary chronicling his career

© Provided by ¡Hola! Kanye West is not happy with the soon to be released documentary following his career. In an Instagram statement, he wrote that he wanted final cut ... Read more »

FIFA 2: How to complete Flashback Harry Kane SBC – Requirements and solutions

© Provided by GamePur Team of the Year may be the talk of the town in FIFA 22, but EA Sports has also given fans a few other things to ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic