Atwood accuses Dubai book festival of censorship

Gay characters offended ‘certain cultural sensitivities’ say organisers

An international book festival in Dubai is facing the possibility of a mass walkout in its inaugural year with authors queuing up to protest against the censorship of a book that discusses homosexuality.

The Canadian novelist and former Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood sparked the controversy by pulling out of the Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature after a fellow writer was blacklisted for offending “cultural sensitivities”.

The book at the centre of the latest storm is The Gulf Between Us, a romantic comedy by the English writer Geraldine Bedell which is set in a fictional Gulf emirate. It was due to be formally launched at the festival but has been withdrawn by the festival at the last minute because it features a gay relationship. Bedell commented: “Can you have a literary festival and ban books because they feature gay characters? Is that what being part of the contemporary literary scene means? The organisers claim to be looking for an exchange of ideas – but not, apparently, about sex or faith. That doesn’t leave literature an awful lot of scope.”

The festival director, Isobel Abulhoul, issued a statement in which she said: “I knew that her work could offend certain cultural sensitivities. I did not believe that it was in the festival’s long term interests to acquiesce to her publisher’s request to launch the book at the first festival of this nature in the Middle East.”

Atwood, a vice-president of the writers’ group International PEN, has infuriated organisers of the literary festival by posting a letter of protest on her website. “I was greatly looking forward to the festival”, the letter reads, “and to the chance to meet readers there; but, as an international vice-president of PEN – an organisation concerned with the censorship of writers – I cannot be part of the festival this year.”

Atwood goes on to express dismay at the “regrettable turn of events”. Just how regrettable, however, may not be clear until the full roll-call of dropouts is complete. Her boycott was reinforced with protests from other writers threatening to pull out. The children’s author Anthony Horowitz has written to festival organisers expressing “deep concern”. In an email to Abulhoul, seen by The Independent, Horowitz writes: “As both a children’s author and a member of PEN, I cannot be associated with a literary festival that opposes freedom of speech and which attempts to censor other writers … It doesn’t help that my name is being used constantly to promote the festival... in truth, I should have known about this earlier”.

Other writers may be emboldened to join Atwood in boycotting the event by the words of Jonathan Heawood, the director of English PEN.

“The idea of a literary festival is cultural exchange through literature”, Heawood said. “A festival that shuts its doors to anything mildly controversial isn’t really worthy of the name. Ultimately it is up to individual writers, but I applaud any others who follow Atwood’s example.”

Sixty-six authors from 20 countries, including Kate Adie, Jung Chang, and Louis de Berniéres, still plan to attend the festival.

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk