Creative writing should be nurtured in the Arab world
Every summer when I was growing up, my family and I would spend the entire school holiday at the serene seaside resort of Brighton, on the southern coast of the UK. Fondly nicknamed London-on-Sea, as kids we enjoyed playing on the fairground attractions on Brighton Pier, hopping on the bouncy castle by the pebbly beach, and savoring a swirly soft serve ice cream with a Flake. But perhaps the most beautiful thing that shaped my childhood was the presence of a magnificent six-story bookshop called Waterstone’s.
To me, it was a treasure trove that unleashed my imagination, planted so many dreams in my heart, opened up my mind to fascinating knowledge, and, most importantly, understood the quiet whisperings of my soul. Every time I entered this bookshop, my eyes would be bedazzled by the gorgeous book covers trying to lure me into their worlds. I spent my summers reading many whimsical books by Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, R.L. Stine, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Hans Christian Andersen.
As I grew up, I visited other floors in the bookshop and became fascinated with the Roman Empire, the Spanish language, and poetry by Kahlil Gibran. I must say, Gibran’s writings resonated with me on a deep level, as they reflected so many poignant themes. Educated in Beirut, Boston and Paris, Gibran was greatly influenced by the English Romantic movement, which reveled in revealing the writer’s inner worlds and emotions, cementing a connection with nature, and empathizing with women and children. His timeless, sensitive writings touched upon universal themes, such as loneliness, sacred connections, and nature’s healing properties on the soul. “The Prophet,” first published in 1923, has been translated into 50 languages and is considered one of the bestselling books of all time.
Writers gift us with their unique thoughts, knowledge and imagination. It is, therefore, a duty to convert their ideas into published books
As a lifelong bibliophile, I appreciate the many intricacies that are weaved together in an exceptional book. Writers gift us with their unique thoughts, knowledge and imagination. It is, therefore, a duty to convert their ideas into published books that are widely distributed for all to enjoy. Earlier this year, UNESCO designated the city of Sharjah as its World Book Capital for 2019, marking it out as a global hub for literature and publishing. The Sharjah International Book Fair is currently running and is packed with the glitterati of the literary world. The fair heavily markets the international authors who fly in to discuss their global bestsellers. This juxtaposition left me wondering if we could one day boast Emirati authors with books that are known worldwide and that reflect our unique culture and voice.
We can cultivate homegrown writers in a number of ways. Firstly, it is important to nurture an interest in reading among schoolchildren, as it boosts their literary appreciation. This can be done by encouraging parents to read to their children, establishing school libraries, and hosting regular book fairs and author talks at schools. Schools can partner with successful publishing houses to push their reader development agenda among students. For example, Scholastic Book Fairs, a division of the Scholastic publishing house, organizes week-long book fairs in preschool, elementary and middle schools across the globe, selling more than 55 million books in more than 120,000 fairs annually. Books at these fairs are carefully selected by education experts based on the age group, curriculum, popular topics, and bestselling titles. On top of that, school librarians are trained to market books to children with the aim of creating lifelong readers.
Secondly, it is important to organize regular creative writing courses for budding authors. Writing is as much an art as it is a discipline, with clear rules on how to make pieces more attractive and how to get works published in a competitive market. Many universities and cultural institutes offer such training on an ongoing basis. For example, London-based Curtis Brown Creative is a creative writing school that is also managed by a literary agency. It offers online and onsite courses on writing novels, children’s fiction, short stories, and memoirs. Students learn useful writing techniques, get feedback on their works from instructors, and get advice on how to navigate the publishing industry.
Thirdly, writers can apply for fellowships or residencies that are designed to allow them the time and financial support to simply write. Interestingly, some universities have started offering students literary retreats based in inspiring locations. For example, New York University offers four-week-long literary retreats in Paris and Florence during the summer. The Writers in Paris program includes literary walking tours of Parisian spots frequented by famous writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Oscar Wilde, Victor Hugo, and Marcel Proust. As part of the coursework, students also attend lectures, panel discussions, readings, and writing workshops. Throughout the program, they are apprenticed by two world-class writers who teach them specific techniques concerning plot, narrative, tone, structure, setting and style. At the end of the program, each student gets to present a piece of creative writing, ready for publication.
The Arab world is full of beautiful stories. We need to encourage budding storytellers to share their works through dedicated writing programs that will inspire and equip them with the tools they need to get published.
- Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature.