Margaret Atwood Pulls Out of Dubai Festival

Posted on February 18, 2009

Author Margaret Atwood has pulled out of the debut Dubai literary festival because of the festival's treatment of British author Geraldine Bedell, who was banned from the festival for having a gay character in her novel. Now other authors are threatening to boycott the festival.

The Guardian says bestselling children's author Anthony Horowitz is also "seriously considering" pulling out. Children's author Lauren Child is also considering doing the same. Some of the authors slated to attend include Wilbur Smith, Frank McCourt and Karin Slaughter.

The festival is a PR disaster. Dubai is more friendly to Westerners than many countries in the Middle East and the festival was part of a major push to become an international city. But the organizers should have realized that something like this would mobilize western authors who feel very strongly about free speech.

It's interesting that the director of the festival is a woman: that might not seem unusual to an American, but in the Middle East it certainly is. Abulhoul is upset that Margaret Atwood is pulling out of the festival, but pointed out that Bedell knew full well that her book wouldn't fly past the censors, because Bedell lived in the Middle East for 40 years.

She said: "One has to take decisions regarding the target audience. I would hope that anyone informed and interested in the differing cultures around the world would both understand and respect the path we tread in setting up the first festival of this nature in the Middle East."

Isobel Abulhoul is clearly trying very hard to promote cultural exchange and progress in Dubai, but these things don't happen overnight.