What’s the scene like for young artists in Kuwait? In the first of two blogs by young writers from Kuwait visiting the UK to perform in Shubbak festival, Nada Faris tells us about her background, her inspirations and her story about an Arabian superhero…
I’m a Kuwaiti writer who publishes in English. I don’t write for an international audience, or for an Arabian audience in translation. I write for an Anglophone audience in Kuwait and the rest of the Middle East. I do so because I believe I am an “Anglowaiti,” that is, a Kuwaiti who grew out of a particular historical setting in which English was taught everywhere as a primary language. In my writing, I encourage moving beyond outdated binaries of East versus West and Traditional Kuwaitis versus Westernised Kuwaitis. Because Anglowaitis such as myself never had the option to choose our education, and due to the ubiquity of the English language in Kuwait, I feel we should modernise our views on the use of English as a literary vessel.
I decided to become a professional writer at the age of 17, but I knew that it would take about 10 years to develop my skills, and to understand writing as a craft. This year, 2013, is the final in my ten-year preparation phase in which I am finalising an MA in Comparative Literature at Kuwait University, and preparing to attend Iowa’s Creative Writing Programme in the USA as an international scholar.
As I was growing up, I loved writers of young adult fiction like Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton. Narnia and Animorphstaught me more values and life lessons than my parents and my school teachers combined. I’ve been feeling lately that my work has gravitated towards young adult literature. As a result, I decided to concentrate on this genre, paying particular attention to the way in which I could shed light on my particular Arab background through established themes and images. My short story, A Melancholic Superhero, was the outcome of this desire. It talks about an Arabian superhero who is so depressed about the state of the Arab world that he flies into a psychiatrist’s office to vent.
In April 2013, I was a guest performer at Gulf University of Science and Technology (GUST) for an event that was hosted by the Kuwait Writing Club. That’s an interesting club, because it’s an independent organisation that was recently founded in association with the Riyadh Writing Club, Both clubs were founded by women, which demonstrates the rise of female participation in arts and literature in the Gulf. Moreover, it is a testament to the power of social media itself because it was through Twitter and Facebook that the Saudi students who established The Riyadh Writing Club connected with the Kuwaiti students who later established the Kuwaiti branch. In April 2013, the Saudi members of the Riyadh Writing Club flew over to Kuwait and performed their poetry with the Kuwaiti members and several guest speakers. It was a phenomenal event that was covered by state TV.
Cultural and artistic events happen everywhere in Kuwait, but people don’t always know about them, because Kuwait is a multi-layered society with isolated layers. There is an arts scene, a sports scene, an academic scene, a conservative scene, as well as one of the world’s most hectic party scenes. Often these groups are unaware of each other, though.
The majority of the population attend commercial cinema to watch Hollywood movies as a way to pass time, even when all movies are censored so much that the story is cut to shreds. The general population needs cultivation in literary terminology and theory. They can’t, for example, tell the difference between ‘real stories’ and ‘realist narratives.’ They often berate television series for their ‘faulty representation of Kuwait society’ with utter lack of awareness to simply concepts such as ‘metaphor,’ ‘generalisation,’ ‘alternative reality,’ and so on. I am always explaining that literature doesn’t have to be taken literally.
For example, I’ve been working on Fame in the Adriatic, a young adult historical romance set in The Republic of Venice in 1535. Although it’s set in sixteenth-century Venice, the story really revolves around Kuwait. It’s about a teenager who becomes a celebrity icon before the modern idea of ‘celebrity’ as we know it existed. One cannot take such a story literally. Rather, it’s a giant metaphor for modern times.
When it comes to my motto, I often say: I write to get back at people. Which is true, by the way, so don’t get on my bad side. But, it’s not a direct description of events or people that disappoint me. Because I view literature as something that is both personal and public, I always try to enshroud my personal expressions and experiences within a bigger platform. Hence, literature, for me is not something that is simply art or creativity for its sake. Rather, it’s a powerful tool as well that could move people, for the better, for the worse, toward the future or the past. I’m always fascinated by the power of art to change the world, which is why I wrote an article about texts that did just that. Lessons from Literary History: Texts That Changed The World offers a selection of texts that motivated people to transform their reality.
Nada Faris is a Kuwaiti writer who publishes articles, poems and fiction. She read Finding my Writing Voice - Anglowaiti Literature, an essay, and Dear Ms English Teacher, a poem, in New Writing From Kuwait at the Mosaic Rooms as part of Shubbak festival, London in July 2013. www.nadafaris.com
Find out more about the arts scene in Kuwait from another young artist Nima Algooneh.
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