Canadian author Margaret Atwood has pulled out of an international Dubai literary festival after organizers banned a novel by a British author because it contains references to homosexuality.
In a letter addressed to the festival's director, Atwood said she could not attend Dubai's inaugural International Festival of Literature next week because of the "regrettable turn of events surrounding" the book "The Gulf Between Us."
Atwood was referring a novel by British author Geraldine Bedell who said the festival banned it because of references to homosexuality. The book, set in the Persian Gulf, is scheduled to be published by Penguin in April.
"I was greatly looking forward to the Festival, and to the chance to meet readers there; but, as an International Vice President of PEN — an organization concerned with the censorship of writers — I cannot be part of the Festival this year," Atwood said in the letter, posted on her Web site.
"It is with great regret that I inform you that I cannot attend," Atwood also said. "I know you have put an enormous amount of work into it, I can imagine how many difficulties have had to be overcome, and I am very sad about the regrettable turn of events surrounding 'The Gulf Between Us.'"
In turn, festival director Isobel Abulhoul said late Wednesday that Atwood's decision to withdraw from the event, which runs from Feb. 26 to March 1, was "regrettable."
Dubai has given no reason for excluding Bedell's novel.
The ambition behind the festival, Abulhoul said in a statement, was "fueled by our heartfelt belief ... in helping ... to bridge the gap between East and West."
Abulhoul added that the decision not to include Bedell's book was explained to the British author last September.
"I would hope that anyone informed and interested in the differing cultures around the world would both understand and respect the path we tread in setting up the first festival of this nature in the Middle East," Abulhoul added.
Other top authors such as Frank McCourt, Louis de Bernieres and Jung Chang have been listed on the program.
On Monday, Bedell, a journalist for the Observer newspaper and the author of several novels, said the organizers had first discussed launching her book at the festival because of its Gulf setting. But later, Abulhoul wrote to Penguin, saying Dubai didn't want the "festival remembered for the launch of a controversial book."
According to Bedell, who lived in Bahrain for five years in the 1980s, the book was not acceptable because one characters, Sheikh Rashid, is assumed to be gay. The author also said festival organizers complained that "it talks about Islam and queries what is said."