Hay Festival Abu Dhabi 2020 Programme unveiled

Hay Festival has today announced the line-up for the first edition of Hay Festival Abu Dhabi (25-28 February 2020), supported by the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance, featuring a range of award-winning writers, journalists, historians, film-makers and artists in an international programme spanning nearly 100 events over four days. The festival spotlights the latest ideas in the arts, sciences and current affairs, with over 20 nationalities and 7 languages represented. The programme reflects the diversity of communities in Abu Dhabi itself, including writers from all around the Middle East, North Africa, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, China, Nigeria and Europe. A vibrant programme for schools will welcome over 70 local schools, inspiring and entertaining thousands of local students aged 7-16 years in Arabic, English, Hindi and Tagalog.

A unique four-day celebration will feature agenda-setting conversations from some of the world’s finest writers and liveliest minds, addressing the world as it is and as it might be. Film screenings in partnership with BBC News Arabic will reflect current social and political situations in the Arab world, while live performances of music and poetry will open and close the festival, and a welcoming free-to-enter festival site with a dedicated bookshop will extend the reach of the festival to a wide audience.

Explore the programme and book tickets at hayfestival.org/abu-dhabi. Those in full-time education and/or under 25 years of age are able to book tickets to events free of charge.

His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, Minister of Tolerance of the United Arab Emirates, said on the occasion: “The Hay Festival Abu Dhabi will be an important celebration of tolerance and cultural exchange. It will help in our quest in the UAE to build positive relationships with others. We are confident that the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi will be an important celebration of the values of human fraternity that have enabled the success we enjoy today in our country. It will also contribute to the growing status of the UAE as a flourishing cultural hub and an important global center for cultural exchange.

“I invite all to attend the Festival with an open will, open heart and open mind. I encourage all of us to seize this opportunity to witness, share and engage in the meaningful ideas and conversations that will stay with us. Most of all, I encourage all of us to have fun and to relish the festival’s expressive and vibrant atmosphere. Let thoughts and ideas resonate with all who attend the festival and let the spirit of human fraternity so active here in Abu Dhabi permeate the dialogue and spread out to the world.”

Peter Florence, Hay Festival Director, commented: “Our programme for the first Hay Festival Abu Dhabi brings together some of the most eminent voices in the region, and the world. We have four nights and four days to engage in conversation, to meet and dream, share stories and imagine the world. I believe this is the most exciting time in living memory for contemporary Arabic Literature, and the Festival will be a showcase for great writing from across the Arab world, a platform for inspiring voices from many languages, and a meeting place where the world of tomorrow might be shaped".

Cristina Fuentes La Roche, Hay Festival International Director, said: “Our return to the Middle East will be marked by an extraordinary range of stories, where discussion of the climate crisis, geopolitics, and advances in science sit alongside the latest works of imagination from leading novelists and children’s writers. As we invite some of the best writers and thinkers from the Arab world and further afield to share ideas and stories, we welcome audiences young and old to join the conversation. Our late-night line up of performances will also ensure that the first ever Hay Festival Abu Dhabi will be an unforgettable party”.

Hay Festival aims to establish a long-term presence in the Arabic-speaking world from its newest platform in Abu Dhabi, building on the success of its three editions in Beirut (2009-2012) and the publication of its celebrated anthology of short stories by the best Arab writers under the age of 39, many of whom are now distinguished authors and journalists, in collaboration with Beirut World Book Capital 2009.

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi joins the global family of Festivals and forums programmed by the Hay Festival in more than 30 locations worldwide. Forthcoming Festivals include Hay Festival Medellín (Colombia), Hay Festival Arequipa (Peru), Hay Festival Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), Hay Festival Hay-on-Wye (Wales), Hay Festival Europa 28, Rijeka (Croatia, for Rijeka 2020 - European Capital of Culture), Hay Festival Segovia (Spain), Hay Festival Forum Dallas (Texas, USA), and Hay Festival Querétaro (Mexico).


Award-winning writers from around the world take to the Festival stages to discuss the power of fiction, including Nigerian Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka, Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, Filipino writer Miguel Syjuco, Pakistan’s Fatima Bhutto, Hoda Barakat from Lebanon, and two 2019 Booker Prize winners: Jokha Alharthi from Oman, winner of the Man Booker International Prize, and British writer Bernardine Evaristo.

The Festival’s #Beirut39 selection of the best writers of Arab heritage under 40, published in 2009, is represented by novelists Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq), Najwa Bin Shatwan (Libya) Youssef Rakha (Egypt) and Mohammed Hasan Alwan (Saudi Arabia). Meanwhile eminent Emirati short story writer Mohammed Al-Murr discusses a lifetime adventuring in the world’s literary cultures and libraries.

Arabic literature past and future will itself be a subject for conversation, including Ahmed El Shamsy on how print culture transformed Islamic intellectual tradition, and panel discussions featuring representatives from Sharjah World Book Capital, Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, Abu Dhabi's longest-running book club Al Multaqa, The Department of Culture and Tourism, Sharjah Book Fair and UAE publishing house Kalimat.

Celebrated Syrian poet Adonis will participate in a celebration of his 90th birthday, with fellow poets Volker Braun, Zuleikha Aburisha, Pierre Joris, Serge Pey and Yang Lian. Other poets in conversation and reading their work include India’s Tishani Doshi, Bahrain’s Qassim Haddad and Inua Ellams from the UK.  

Also in conversation will be Bulgarian-British writer Kapka Kassabova, who will be part of Hay Festival’s #Europa28 celebration in June. Three winners of the Nobel Prize will be sharing their experience and insights in conversations during the festival, Iranian Shirin Ebadi, Tunisian Ahmed Galai, and Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka.

Historians put some of the biggest issues of our time into context as Bettany Hughes discusses the rebuilding of Syrian heritage, Peter Frankopan talks about new silk roads, Jung Chang tells a gripping tale of life and power in 20th Century China, Shashi Tharoor discusses his Hindu identity and William Dalrymple talks about the British in India.

French physicist Christophe Galfard will be in discussion about space, time and beyond, Palestinian medical doctor Izzeldin Abulaish addresses the link between health and peace, while Oxford Professor for the Public Understanding of Science Marcus du Sautoy talks about geometry and number mysteries.  Discussing global responses to the climate emergency will be Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Director of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, the largest environmental regulator in the Arabian Gulf. Award winning garden designer Kamelia Zaal shares her knowledge of regional plant life in the creation of some of the UAE’s most celebrated gardens.   

Film-makers from the region will reflect current social and political situations in the Arab world in a series of screenings curated by Sheyma Buali, Director of BBC News Arabic, including the Grierson Award-winning documentary, Iraq: A State of Mind, as well as a special session of short films by female directors.

A vibrant programme for families includes children’s authors Andy Stanton, Noura Al Khoori, Ed Vere, Maitha Al Khayat, Jenny Valentine, Philip Ardagh, Onjali Q Rauf and Michelle Paver. Teenage Emirati author Dana Alblooshi will introduce audiences to 13 amazing women of Arabia.

Evening entertainment is always an essential part of the Hay Festival experience. At Hay Festival Abu Dhabi each evening one eminent international guest will be invited to host a ‘Writer’s Table’ where they will be joined in an informal session by a selection of speakers to discuss ideas that have emerged over the day. Also musical performances will go on into the night featuring international stars including Souad Massi, Marcel Khalife with Bachar Mar-Khalife, Lebanese indie-rock band Mashrou’ Leila and a remarkable collaboration of Senegalese and Welsh harpists Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch. On the last night, Rooftop Rhythms are hosting The Silent Party, with five DJs playing Afrobeat, Reggae/Caribbean, and Arab Fusion music. 


Opening up inspiring opportunities for young people is a core part of Hay Festival’s mission around the world. At Hay Festival Abu Dhabi schoolchildren and students will have the chance to engage with some of the world’s finest writers and liveliest minds, to explore the world as it is and as it might be. 

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi is working in partnership with local children's literary organisation Early Starters to welcome children and teenagers to talks, performances and workshops at Manarat Al Saadiyat from Tuesday 25 to Thursday 27 February, between 9am and 12.15pm. School events will cater to primary and high school students aged 7-16, and will be offered in Arabic, English, Hindi and Tagalog.

Several thousand pupils and their teachers will travel to the festival from over 70 local schools across Abu Dhabi City, Khalifa city, Al Ain, Al Bahya, Al Shamkah, Bani Yas, Falah, Saadiyat, Mohamed Bin Zayed City, and Yas Island, with support from the Ministry of Tolerance, the Ministry of Education and Abu Dhabi’s Department of Education and Knowledge.

Full-time students and those involved in Hay Festival’s education and outreach programme will have free access to all Hay Festival Abu Dhabi 2020 events.Hay Festival Abu Dhabi is collaborating with Zayed University, Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, New York University Abu Dhabi to bring speakers onto their campuses for workshops, lectures and seminars, as well as a three day series of creative writing workshops at NYUAD.

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