How To Maneuver Your Way Around #EAFOL Schedule (@EmiratesLitFest)

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For the past couple of years I’ve been hearing few people complaining about not finding many sessions of their liking in the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature (EAFOL), and most times I hear those remarks before I had a chance to look at the schedule, so my response would be “I really hadn’t looked through it yet so I can’t judge”. But when I eventually do look through it, I find a good number of sessions that I have to choose between and often end up having to pay a good amount of money on those sessions (even though I do get the discount of Festival of Friends membership, which is a must for any loyal #EAFOL fan)! So how do I keep finding things and they don’t?

This year is the 8th year of the literature festival. I missed the first year cause I didn’t hear about it then (probably because I was still buried in my Masters dissertation writing at that time, I submitted it on March 2009, so go figure!), but I heard about it in early 2010 and have been going back every year since then, religiously and ecstatically. The first couple of years were crazy! I was like an addict who suddenly found a huge supply of my drug of choice and just went high on all what was available. I recall the sessions were mainly scheduled on 3-4 days, having 1-2 of those days as working days I would take off so I can maximize on my sessions. I remember I used to attend sessions all across the day from morning till night on all the festival days. The idea of having authors fly in the country to talk about their books, and discuss the writing process, the bumps they faced, and actually answer the readers questions, and sign their copies of the books, this whole concept was out of this world to me. It felt like I was taken to Disney land. Yes, I’m that kind of a nerd, and I’m proud of it.

On the third year I went, I was starting to sober up. I started to realize that some of the sessions I went to, though were entertaining and informative, but maybe they weren’t exactly aimed towards me at that point in my life for whatever other direction I was taking in my life at the time. So I had some good sessions and sessions that just didn’t work for me. I think the same happened on the 4th year I went (which was the 5th year of the festival). So by the following year I cracked the code and now I’m back on the wagon, and I know better how to choose.

So first things first, before you even look at the new schedule for this year’s EAFOL, you need to know your self better and you need to know what are you willing to explore. So for example:

  1. Know what are your favorite genres
  2. What genres you are considering to explore
  3. What areas in life are you always interested in and curious to learn more about, those could also be the goals you set for yourself for this year
  4. Who are your favorite authors and personalities? Or who are you curious about?

For me the answer to those questions are:

  1. Drama fiction, media, writing, publishing
  2. Arabic fiction.
  3. Women’s role and opinions and rights, working out, healthy lifestyles, balancing work and life
  4. Sheikha Bodour Al Qassimi (AND SHE IS A PANELIST ON ONE OF THE SESSIONS THIS YEAR!!), Elizabeth Gilbert (bummer, she isn’t coming this year either), Dr. Hatoon Al Fassi, Cecelia Ahern (also isn’t coming this year either), George Orwell, of course the list goes on to infinity and beyond.

Now one thing I must note, not finding sessions for your favorite authors is completely normal! I plan what sessions to attend by the title of the sessions first then by the authors involved. I have learned about so many authors whom I eventually became their readers by blindly attending their sessions at the festival, completely not knowing what they wrote before! And I learned to admire many authors from the discussions they carried on their discussion panels.

So now, how do I start, I either go through the website or the printed schedule. I read each session title to build my first impression, then the authors involved in those sessions (who in many cases I’ve never heard of before). I then mark the sessions with “?” to see more about the description of the sessions and bios of the authors involved, “✓” on the ones I’m leaning towards attending but need a little further info (especially when there are many other similarly checked sessions happening at the same time), and finally I circle the ones who from the first look I know I just must attend them.

Part of my marked schedule of EAFOL
Part of my marked schedule of EAFOL

So this is the first round of evaluation. Then I check the website to check all the sessions marked with “?” or “✓” to see which will be added to the basket based on how fitting their description is to my interest points that were highlighted above. And of course I rush into adding to my basket the circled sessions cause my guts tells me they get sold out first.

So there you go. You need to first know yourself, then know what are your interests and where your curiosity lies, and finally, be gutsy and open enough to explore authors you never heard of!

Here are the sessions I’ve purchased so far, I wanted to get many more, but I had to restrain myself because of my budget restraint.

  • 406 A Tribute to the Life of Mohammed Bin Hadher
    • Tuesday 1 March, 8pm-9.30pm
  • 403 Work/Life Balance (Isobel Belhoul, Mai El Khalifa, Asma Lootah)
    • Thursday 3 March, 9.30am-1pm
  • 44 The UAE: The Middle East’s New Media Hub (Dr. Jasim Al Ali, Faisal Abbas, Sultan Al Qassimi)
    • Wednesday 9 March, 8pm-9pm
  • 11 #Aware (Khalid Al Ameri & Ammar Mohamad, Moderated by Iman Ben Chaibah (Me!)
    • Wednesday 9 March, 9.30pm-10.30pm
  • 42 The Changing Role of Women in the Gulf (Dr. Rafia Ghubash, Dr. Hatoon Al Fassi)
    • Thursday 10 March, 10am-11am
  • 34 Montegrappa Writing Prize
    • Friday 11 March, 11.30am-12.30pm
  • 50 Fitting it all in: Making Time to Eat Well and Stay Fit (David Allen, Asma Lootah, Joe Wicks)
    • Friday 11 March, 5pm-6pm
  • 37 Mama Hissa’s Mice (Saud AlSanousi)
    • Friday 11 March, 7pm-8pm
  • 138 Rolling International News: Ripped from the Headlines (Sultan Al Qassimi, Francis Matthew)
    • Saturday 12 March, 9.30am-10.30am
  • 106  The Orwell Lecture: Orwell as Linguist (Ben Crystal & David Crystal)
    • Saturday 12 March, 11.30am-12.30pm
  • 107  International Women’s Day (Sheikha Bodour Al Qassimi, Lisa Faulkner, Ghada Karmi, Anchee Min)
    • Saturday 12 March, 3.30pm-4.30pm

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