Friday, February 20, 2009

Atwood's Not Going to Dubai

Margaret Atwood has decided not to go to Dubai for the Emirate Airlines International Festival of Literature. The Gulf Between Us, written by Geraldine Bedell, contains mention of a gay Sheik and his English boyfriend as minor characters and has been banned in the UAE.

According to The Guardian (and you can guess how much store I put by The Guardian),
In a letter to Isobel Abulhoul, the festival's director, Atwood wrote that "as an international vice-president of Pen, an organisation concerned with the censorship of writers, I cannot be part of the festival this year".
This year? Like "I'll be specific and diplomatic, 'cause I'm Canadian and polite" or "Just wait till I'm done with this PEN thing"?

I'm surprised that so many authors agreed to go, without suspecting that something like this would happen.

Statements from other authors and the Director of English PEN here.

I do have a problem with Penguin waiting five months on this news - coughpublicitycough, but I have a bigger problem with this from The Times Online:
Sir Ranulph Fiennes said the festival organisers were merely being practical. “I think that if anybody out there wants to establish a festival of some sort, they would be rather stupid to offend the locals in any way.”
Hm, well, then don't have an "international" festival. Or set the guidelines ahead of time - "nothing may happen in your book that is punishable by UAE law in real life". The Toronto Film Festival offends locals annually. This quote, if it's real, makes the explorer sound like a spoiled fool who has never given too much thought to freedom because he's had the money to open doors. I respect him for his SAS training and charity work, but there's a difference between "not offending the locals" when they're going to help you find the next wadi, and "not offending the locals" at a festival of literature. Also, does he speak for the gay locals? Or did I miss something - is the UAE, like Iran, not home to any homosexuals?

Blog Bookkake has listed agent contacts for the authors that are attending, as well as a link to a facebook protest group. (Don't blame me for their blog name!)

Unfortunately, now I feel compelled to read "The Gulf Between Us" when it becomes available and it doesn't even look like my cup of tea.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post--very interesting. As for Atwood, she has a long-standing relationship with PEN, so I doubt that she is just counting the minutes until her vice-presidency ends so that she can rush off to this festival next year.

Anonymous said...

And an update...perhaps she is ready to rush off to the seems she may have changed her mind.
See the Globe and Mail's article at