MAKKAH: Poets and writers in Saudi Arabia have praised a series of retreats hosted by the Ministry of Culture’s Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission.
Since 2019, the commission has hosted the retreats for local and international poets and writers, with the latest events being held in Al-Jouf, AlUla and Baha.
The retreats include panel discussions and tours in selected areas, along with periods dedicated to working and writing.
During the seven to 10-day retreats, writers and poets are accompanied by a mentor who is an expert in a specific literary genre.
The commission also hosts International Writers’ Residencies, which last for more than a month in selected countries around the world.
Arab News spoke to some of those who have taken part in the commission’s retreats.
Poet Talal Al-Tuwairqi, who recently returned from South Africa, told Arab News: “The International Writer’s Residencies experience, which was adopted by the Ministry of Culture, represented by the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, was the dream of all creative people seeking to complete their creative projects. It provided us with enough time and enabled us to only focus on our writing projects and complete them, but also created all the necessary conditions that made it a productive creative residency in every way.
The true value of the creative residencies lies in what the artists accomplish there, along with the cultural impact they leave behind in the countries they visit.
Talal Al-Tuwairqi, Saudi poet
“My residency in South Africa was truly beautiful, as I got to know the country’s culture, customs, writers and friendly people. I also got to introduce them to our culture and customs.”
He added: “The true value of the creative residencies lies in what the artists accomplish there, along with the cultural impact they leave behind in the countries they visit. Additionally, these experiences highlight the bright image of the Kingdom, which cares for its creative people and supports them in various fields.”
Poet Mohammed Abu Shararah, who also took part in a retreat, told Arab News: “I never thought that I would take part in a literary initiative that would capture my full attention like the writing retreat, which was organized by the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission in AlUla. I will be indebted to this inspiring experience until my poem has been written.
“They welcomed us with love, warmth and generosity. They created all the conditions needed to provide the poets with the chance to complete the projects they had started and start new projects, in an attempt to inspire the poets and entrench the memories of the place in their minds. This would allow for the experience to live on in their minds and fuel future poems that will be filled with an inexhaustible fragrance.
“Nobody in the world is able to enjoy what Saudi poets are enjoying during the Year of Arabic Poetry,” Abu Shararah added.
“They brought us together with the great poet Adonis over the course of two days, during which we discussed all the poetry-related concerns and worries. We visited AlUla’s archaeological ruins, which reflect the area’s longstanding history. We visited Al-Hijr, Dadan, Ikmah, Tantora and the Elephant Rock. I saw, in his eyes, how astonished he was while he discovered, for the first time, that the compass of time, place, language, poetry and history pointed to this blessed country.”
Novelist Zainab Al-Khudairi said: “Given my experience with Baha’s writing retreat and as a writer, I can confirm that the retreat is a priority for writers, novelists and storytellers. It is an arduous and hard profession, the results of which take a long time to see the light.
“Baha’s retreat was an opportunity for the writers I was honored to mentor. I had Abdulaziz Al-Jasim, Najwa Al-Omari and Fatima Al-Saleh from Saudi Arabia and Abdulmalik Al-Othman from Kuwait, along with Haifa Nabi from Syria. Some of them wrote new novels and some completed novels they had started, while others drew inspiration from nature and came up with new ideas.”
Speaking about the nurturing environment the retreats create, Al-Khudairi added: “Being in Baha, with its rich heritage and cold weather, motivated the writers and so did the ideas that were brought up during the daily two-hour panel discussions, which addressed pre-selected topics that have had a significant impact on the writing profession, along with the various and motivating experiences the participants shared.”
Kurdish-Syrian novelist Haifa Nabi said: “For us as writers, the retreat is not an option. It is at the heart of creative work, as it isolates us from the world before we come back to it carrying the words we would like to say and the imagination for which we finally found fertile ground.
She added: “Visiting the heritage village of Al-Malad and living, even for just a few hours, in a world that is somewhat different from the ordinary one I live in as an expatriate in Germany, added a lot of value to my experience.”
“This experience inspired me and filled me with great energy as I go back to my life, which is filled with tasks and duties. I am proud that this experience came at an overwhelming and difficult stage as I work on my novel.”