This week I’m freelancing with a PR firm to cover the 32nd Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) at Expo Centre Sharjah. I write all sorts of press releases, features and interviews for English-speaking readers. The Book Fair is one of the four largest in the world and has more than 400,000 books on display in endless exhibition halls. The fancy orange Media badge draped around my neck has gotten me amazing access to HH Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi III (the Ruler of Sharjah and Patron of SIBF) and to Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam, the eleventh president of India. I was even given a swanky headset to wear in Arabic sessions. I turn on the power switch and speeches are magically translated into English. This made me feel as though I were a member of the UN.
Lebanese poet and women’s rights activist Joumana Haddad (I Killed Scheherazade & Superman is an Arab) is walking around in super high heels exuding brilliance and Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist will be here later this week. My friends at Maraya Art Centre have a booth and so does Sharjah Art Foundation, prompting long conversations about art publishing in the region.
My favorite panel discussion was held in Arabic and presented a group of Emirati science fiction writers who are making history by bringing fantasy to teen readers. They read excerpts from work that came about as the result of the Made in the UAE project, a partnership between the Goethe-Institut and the UAE Board for Books on Young People. For more information check out my article in Gulf Today here.
I write all my stories in the Press Centre. It’s just like the movies—50 journalists from all over the world hunching over scrawled notebooks typing away maniacally at their laptops to make a story deadline. I am usually a slow writer and it’s been a great challenge to have to pound out 700 word press releases in an hour or less. The perfectionist in me struggles with this work because I like to go through ten drafts before publishing anything. The little girl inside of me who always dreamed of being a professional writer is in heaven.
As someone who typically writes alone at my desk high up in a tower (because most buildings in Dubai literally have ‘Tower’ in their names), it is nourishing to suddenly be working alongside journalists, photographers, and other freelancers. I’ve made friends with other writers from the Huffington Post, Gulf Today, and the Miami Herald. I also get to work with freelance writer and new dear friend, Tej Rae, another yoga-loving American who fell in love with Africa and wackily wound up in Dubai, just like me.
Producing creative text in such a rush turns my face bright red as if I have been jogging. It’s actually my brain that has been sprinting. Thank goodness for old-fashioned Arab hospitality! The Press Centre has a fellow on hand to provide the writers with beverages and every hour he comes along baring an ornate silver bowl filled to the brim with piping hot little Emirati pastries on toothpicks. The pastries most resemble donut holes and have been pushing me onwards. After SIBF I will have to detox from the magic donut holes and eat spinach for dinner for a week at least.
Sharjah International Book Fair is completely free and open to the public. This year’s edition continues through 16 November. For all the deets go here.