The publishing landscape of the United Arab Emirates has evolved by leaps and bounds in the past 10 years

From writing competitions, reading challenges, book fairs, literary festivals, to book clubs and writer conferences, the UAE has carefully invested time, money, and energy to cultivate the culture of reading and writing books in the country in both English and Arabic. The emirates of Sharjah, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi have been at the forefront of championing literary communities.


The first ever book fair in the UAE was held in Sharjah in 1982 by the Ruler of Sharjah, His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi. The Sharjah Book Fair takes place every year featuring thousands of books as well as authors and speakers from all over the globe. Recently, the Sharjah Book Authority launched the Sharjah Book Club consolidating over a hundred book lovers in a unified community. In 2019, Sharjah was named the World Book Capital.


The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature inaugurated in 2009 and held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is the Arab world’s largest and one of the world’s leading international literary festivals celebrating the written and spoken word. In 2024, it welcomed 160 authors and speakers from around the globe.

Abu Dhabi

The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, besides promoting the reading of books, also hosts a networking platform for the publishing industry across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, connecting local with national and international. It also offers a diverse program for book writers, readers and publishers.

Author and writing teacher Susan Breen draws parallels between Dubai and New York

“Dubai has an energy and curiosity that reminds me of New York. Everyone here has a story,” Susan says. While many assume that London is the go-to for all things books, it is New York which is the publishing capital of the world. Susan likens the cosmopolitan nature of New York with Dubai and says that people in the US are eager to read diverse stories, “I think people in the US, and certainly in New York, are eager to learn about the Middle East, which makes me think that there is a market for books on that topic.”

Representation matters and readers want more diversity

Susan Breen says that some of her writing students in the UAE are worried that a lot of the Middle Eastern literature is “geared toward tantalizing the western audience”. It is understood that representation of diversity can be compromised if not written with thorough research or prior experience. The solution to such a predicament is to ensure that literature of the Middle East emanates from the Middle East. “I think people really want to know good and bad stories about life here. I hope there is room for lots of books from the Middle East on our shelves,” Susan says.

With UAE the quickly becoming self-sufficient in literary fields, it is no wonder that books of all kinds emerging from the region are coveted worldwide

UAE books have already hit international shelves as writers from the country – whether self-published or traditionally published – are putting their work out there. The UAE community is immeasurably growing in literary and poetic fields, with supportive communities that offer nothing but encouragement. With an industry that has picked up in practically the blink of an eye, it is only a wonder what the UAE will have achieved in literary progress in the coming ten years.

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