x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Subsidise novelists to bolster literary culture of the UAE

More needs to be done to create a suitable environment for writers in the UAE, and to improve the quality and quantity of Emirati literature.

I had a conversation recently with a young Emirati writer who is working on his first novel. He was really pleased to hear about the recently announced literary competition organised by Twofour54 and said that the idea is "definitely very encouraging".

Such initiatives are very much needed. The Emirates Novel Awards aim to bring to light the next generation of Emirati writers and introduce their work to the public. One of the main goals of the awards is to encourage more people to contribute to the UAE's literary history, as Noura Al Kaabi, the Twofour54 chief executive, told The National last month.

The UAE is a young country and so it has yet to develop a rich literary heritage to compare with those of some of the other countries in the region.

Arabic literature emerged in the 5th century and flourished during the Islamic Golden Age. In the 19th century, it was confined mainly to Egypt and the Levant, but spread, during the 20th century, to other countries in the region.

Arabic writers have used literature, particularly short stories and novels, to demonstrate the changing political and social climate of the Arab world. Anti-colonial themes and women's rights issues have been two of the most prominent topics.

Contemporary Arab writers continue to reflect the sociopolitical changes in the region. During my visits to the Abu Dhabi and Sharjah book fairs this year, I noticed many newly released Arabic books discussing the Arab Spring and recent events in the region. Egyptian writers, for example, are expressing their thoughts on the revolution and the challenges facing their country in this period of transition.

The 41-year-old UAE has no long history of intellectual works. However, the literary scene in this country is developing, slowly. The country has seen an increasing number of Emirati literary writers in recent years.

There is a common stereotype that Emiratis do not read for pleasure but I have noticed that many members of the young generation are full of enthusiasm to read these recent books, discuss them and share them with their peers.

Unfortunately, many of these novels that I have read are often similar in idea and lack depth in content. This is the reason why the country needs more Emirati book critics to critique works of literature objectively and evaluate their quality based on content, style and merit. Critics are as vital for the development of Emirati literature as writers themselves. Some countries have special awards for book critics and reviews.

Building a sophisticated intellectual and literary base will naturally take a long time. Initiatives such as the Emirates Novel Awards can speed up the pace.

Works submitted to the Emirates Novel Awards will be reviewed by a jury that will decide, alongside readers, the winners in three categories: best novel, best short novel and special writer.

This incentive should push many authors and aspiring writers to be more creative, and in turn that would help to build a healthy and competitive environment for Emirati writers.

However, more needs to be done to create a suitable environment for writers, to increase the value of their books, and to stimulate greater diversity in content.

And this process ought to start from the very early stages in schools and universities. The first step is to improve the education system so that it makes students more accustomed to reading and writing.

The next step is to support individual writing projects that represent the socio-cultural character of the UAE.

I think we need a literary fund that can encourage young Emirati talent by providing writers with continued support before and after they finish their books.

Distribution and promotion are part of the process, especially taking into account recent developments in marketing and digital publishing.

This fund could also subsidise the translation of books from Arabic, to help our writers reach an international audience.

This fund could establish a sponsorship system that provides carefully selected Emirati writers with monthly payments for a certain period of time, to enable them to focus on their vocation. It could also recruit critics to review their books to help establish a culture of literary criticism.

We have the Khalifa Fund for enterprises, established in 2007 in Abu Dhabi "to create a new generation of Emirati entrepreneurs by instilling and enriching the culture of investment among young people". The effort has attracted many Emiratis to the world of entrepreneurship.

Having a literary fund would serve a similar purpose; to create a new generation of Emirati authors by instilling and enriching a culture of writing and intellectual discourse.

Young writers need support, from schools to publication and beyond. Emirati literature needs more appreciation to develop and flourish. We have an opportunity to stimulate a qualitative and quantitative improvement in our literature.



On Twitter: @AyeshaAlmazroui