Saudi youth fostering literary development in Jeddah

A group of young literature enthusiast gathered on Saturday morning in Humming Tree,a modern co-working space in Jeddah, to write about what the word ‘Motherland’ meantto them. (AN photo)
Updated 27 March 2018
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Saudi youth fostering literary development in Jeddah

JEDDAH: A group of young literature enthusiast gathered on Saturday morning in Humming Tree, a modern shared work space in Jeddah, to write about what the word “Motherland” meant to them, guided by literary prompts and sharing sessions that inspire writers to personalize their literary creations.
This was one of the Poetry Passport’s writing workshops, which have been a weekly occurrence since the inception of this local writing collective.
Dana Seif is the literary enthusiast behind the creation of the Poetry Passport. She explained that this initiative is writing collective, as well as a safe space for writers and artists to gain confidence by expressing themselves and sharing their work with an audience, but only if they wish to share their creations: “At the writers’ workshops, there is no pressure to share if you do not want to, which ensures that no one self-censors at the cost of sharing their work.”
The Poetry Passport was created in August 2017, as an online platform, as Dana explained: “I started by collecting poetry from people and filming them performing their literary creations, to then sharing the work on our website and social media accounts. Later on in October, I took a chance and hosted the very first writers’ workshop, by the end of October, the first Jeddah Spoken Word event was born.”
In Saudi Arabia, public initiatives that foster literary development are almost nonexistent. Growing up with this realization prompted Dana to create that outlet herself: “I grew up in Jeddah, a passionate writer with no outlet to share and learn. By the time I reached high school, I became aware of all the international writing collectives out there. I followed Button Poetry, Slamfind, and a bunch of other YouTube channels that posted spoken word videos often, and fell in love. I later moved to Lebanon for university education and by my last year there, I was immersed in the art culture in Beirut. There were several writing collectives: Yafta, The Poetry Pot, Documented Experiences, and more. I left Beirut with a heavy heart. So when I returned to Jeddah, I decided to start my own writing collective, and so was the Poetry Passport born.”
On what goes into the preparation of each workshop, she said: “I have to decide on a topic, then design the poster. I do illustrations for many of my posters, create the social media content, promote it daily, email everyone on my database about it, save spots, manage to not overbook, while bearing in mind last minute cancelations, research the topic itself to have a thorough idea about it, come up with questions that align with it, often philosophical ones, create the writing workouts and applying them on myself, booking the space and making sure everything is ready for the session.”
“We also have a range of events that foster creative expression such as Jeddah Spoken Word; a monthly event that includes a line-up, band, and open mic. This is the only event where tickets are sold ahead of the event rather than on the door. Another event is Spoken Word Screening, where I screen a selected number of spoken word poetry and then open them up for discussion and analysis.”
The Poetry Passport’s core mandate is making literary development accessible to enthusiast irrespective of their socioeconomic status, this is reflected in the low fees for attending their workshops and various events. Dana commented on this: “Many of our regulars are students or recent graduates, still unemployed. Several people have urged me to increase the fees, but the more I spend Saturdays listening to people’s stories, the more I know that in the current economic state, many people will be unable to attend, at least not regularly. I’ve changed venues in the past in search of ways to cut costs, rather than increase the fees. Every session costs me around SR250 in rent, as well as a monthly fee of SR600 to be able to rent the space.”
The Poetry Passport’s activities are funded through ticketing which currently poses an obstacle to the founders: “Breaking even means I cannot afford to take a chance on new ideas for The Poetry Passport at the current time. One project that I’ve been thinking about for some time now, is low-cost zines of different writings by members as a writing collection.”
“The support of those who care about art and education is really important. You can donate by sponsoring our membership at Humming Tree, or by donating space for us to host some of our sessions and events. Also, you can support us by purchasing some of our merchandize.”
On what is in store for the Poetry Passport, Dana shared plans to see this initiative spreading throughout the Arab region: “I have a vision for the Poetry Passport to spread to different Saudi cities, then to Beirut, Saida, Amman, and others. This is a long-term plan, but one I am working eagerly toward achieving.”


Riyadh book fair hears lecture on Bahrain culture industry

Updated 21 March 2019
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Riyadh book fair hears lecture on Bahrain culture industry

  • Professor Diaa Al-Kaabi presented a survey of all aspects of Bahraini culture, from the early 19th century until the present day
  • She also highlighted the role of prominent Saudis in the founding of major cultural institutions in Bahrain

RIYADH: Riyadh International Book Fair on Wednesday hosted Dr. Diaa Al-Kaabi, who gave a lecture on the role of culture in Bahrain, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The academic, who is a professor at the University of Bahrain, highlighted the role of prominent Saudis in the founding of major cultural institutions in Bahrain. She named Muqbel Al-Zukair, and the families of Al-Gosaibi, Al-Bassam, Al-Ajaji, Al-Mashari and others, as pioneers.
She also mentioned the cultural agreement that was signed in 1974 between the Kingdom and Bahrain as the first such agreement signed between the two Gulf states.
Al-Kaabi presented a survey of all aspects of Bahraini culture, from the early 19th century until the present day. She highlighted major trends in Bahrain’s cultural industry, and the role of societies, theaters and universities, as well as state institutions, in promoting the nation’s culture to an international audience.
She addressed the beginnings of the cultural movement under Sheikh Issa bin Ali, which she considered as the founding of the country’s cultural consciousness. 
It heralded the age of enlightenment in Bahrain, which was part of the modern Arab Renaissance starting from the early nineteenth century, she said.
Al-Kaabi concluded her lecture by stressing that culture, if nurtured, could be a pillar of economic development as it provided many job opportunities and its revenues were high. 
Bahrain is the guest of honor at the fair, which runs until March 23.
A Bahraini pavilion will host 13 cultural events including poetry nights, seminars and children’s programs over the course of the fair. In total, more than 900 global publishing houses are set to participate, with 500,000 books and publications on display, and up to a million visitors expected to attend.