x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Literary group encourages Emirati women to put their stories in writing

Emiratis are being encouraged to write their stories and send them out into the world by a new group of women who are passionate about literature.

DUBAI // A new group of Emirati women who are passionate about literature is urging others to write about their lives and their country, and to send their stories out into the world.

Untitled Chapters, founded by Fatma Al Bannai, 23, of Dubai, allows writers to post their work on the group's website and offers encouragement as well as feedback.

"I aim to bring together Emirati women who are passionate about writing, be it fiction or poetry," Ms Al Bannai said. "I want to create a place where they will be able to find articles and people who share the same interests. The name Untitled Chapters symbolises the stories that have yet to be written by Emirati writers."

Ms Al Bannai said the group, which held its first meeting late last month at the Pavilion arts centre near the Burj Khalifa, was necessary because of the solitary nature and sheer difficulty of writing.

"Writers need support from outside their family and circle of friends," she said. "The family is a great support system if you want praise because the majority of the time they praise your work and do not give you criticism because they don't want to hurt your feelings.

"With a group it's a bit different. Feedback is one of the most important elements in writing; constructive criticism is very important."

Ms Al Bannai, who has a job in IT and is working on two novels in her spare time, hopes the group will help to fill what she sees as a huge gap in the market - books about the UAE written by Emiratis.

"There are a few stories from the Emirates but the majority are written by non-Emiratis," she said.

"Stories about the UAE are best told by Emiratis because we understand our culture the best."

She said women were particularly well-placed to tell such tales. "Traditionally, stories are told through word of mouth when women gather together and just talk, so they are natural storytellers."

Untitled Chapters is open to Emirati women of all ages. The youngest member is 18-year-old Maryam Al Mansoori of Dubai, a student at Zayed University who writes poetry.

"The fact that long ago women didn't have equal opportunities with men was a challenge," Ms Al Mansoori said. "Nowadays, we have many inspirational women in all sectors, from business to writing. Many love to speak about that journey, what they were and what they have become."

She said the group would provide her with a showcase for her work and enable her to meet other writers.

"I'm not looking for fame," she said. "I just want people to give me feedback and appreciate what I'm doing."

Ms Al Mansoori writes in both English and Arabic. The untitledchapters.com website is in English, though work written in Arabic will also be featured.

Isobel Abulhoul, director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, welcomed the initiative.

"I think that the website that Fatma has founded for Emirati female writers is a wonderful idea, and will offer a hub and an online forum for this particular group of writers to share their work, their ideas, their tips."

csimpson@thenational.ae