Novelist Margaret Atwood has affirmed her decision not to attend the inaugural Emirates Airlines International Festival of Literature in Dubai next week. But she says she hopes to attend "virtually," via video link, on Feb. 28 as a participant in a panel on censorship at the festival. The panel is being organized by International PEN, of which the Toronto-based Atwood is vice-president.
Earlier this week, Atwood, 69, elected to bow out of the event after receiving reports that organizers had banned the launch of a novel there by British author-journalist Geraldine Bedell. Called The Gulf Between Us, the novel reportedly has a character who is both a sheik and gay, with an English boyfriend.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Atwood said she was "greatly looking forward" to appearing in Dubai, but "the regrettable turn of events surrounding The Gulf Between Us" and her position with PEN, "an organization concerned with the censorship of writers," meant she had to bow out. The decision earned her "Civil Liberties Hero of the Week" honours from London's The Guardian newspaper.
However, in an e-mail yesterday, Atwood said "none of the stories we have heard so far about the [alleged banning of the Bedell novel] have been 100 per cent accurate." Indeed, a small article in the Feb. 19 English-language tabloid Xpress from Dubai had the country's head of censorship claiming the book had not been banned.
And yesterday, London-based International PEN released a bulletin saying the same thing. "Whilst the book was submitted for consideration, it was never included in the festival program. Therefore, it was never withdrawn. It could not have been present at the festival in published form, as its publication date is April 2," and the festival ends March 2.
Atwood did not respond to questions about why, in light of this information, she still intended to remain in Canada. However, she indicated the situation would be made clearer shortly as she has written an article on the issue for the Feb. 21 Guardian. The article "involved a lot of digging for info on my part," she said.