The Center for Arts and Humanities and the Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages held a seminar to discuss two published novels written by AUB students, Roua Seghaier and Amal Elbaba. The event was held under the theme “Qaadiroon wa bil ’Arabiyya’ (underlining the ability to write creatively in Arabic) to celebrate the students’ achievements, highlight the importance of knowledge creation in Arabic, and encourage Arabic creative writing at AUB.
Both young novelists built on skills they acquired from the Arabic Creative Writing course offered at the Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages. The course requires students to produce creative writing, in poetry or prose. It is open to all and is offered under the supervision of Dr. Rachid El Daif, an accomplished Lebanese novelist himself.
The seminar, which was attended by Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Nadia El Cheikh, began with an introduction by Dr. El Daif, followed by presentations of the novels by their authors and an interactive discussion session with the audience.
Dr. El Daif encourages his students to pursue their talents and develop their skills, proofreads their work, checks on their progress, and establishes needed connections with publishing houses.
“I can spot publishable material from the very beginning,” he told us. “High quality work shows. The students only need to persevere through a somewhat uneasy journey until their work is complete.” “I don’t influence my students’ creative work, I may only help polish it, and I take pleasure in supporting my students to speak up, give all details, and not just write a neutral “safe” story… You know what may be more rewarding than producing novels? Producing novelists,” added a satisfied Dr. El Daif.
Thaakirat Ar-Raseef (or: Sidewalk Memory) is the first novel by Roua Seghaier, written when she was 20 years old. She obtained her BA at AUB in 2014 and is now a Political Science master’s student at the University. The novel, which tells the story of existential homelessness and emotional exile, won Seghaier the Arab Creativity Award in Literature (2015) from the Arab Thought Foundation, making her the youngest person to receive that award.
"Knowledge is usually portrayed as scientific and non-scientific. This understates alternative histories such as fiction and ethnographic accounts,” Seghaier told us. “To be at the heart of an American university, at the heart of academia, yet able to produce valuable work in our native tongue is of vast importance to intellectual knowledge production."
Amal Elbaba, a master’s student completing her second year in Arabic language and literature at AUB, published her novel “Protocol”. In a humorous manner, Elbaba tells a very sad story about the life of a family in the cities of Lebanon.
“I believe that all aspiring writers should pursue their dream of publishing their first novel,” Elbaba told us. “The first novel is very essential in a writer’s life. It’s not only a learning experience but also a confidence-booster that paves the road for more published novels.”
Layan Al Dani, a junior in Political Studies, attended the seminar and told the novelists that she was now inspired to start writing her own novel. Elbaba spoke of writing as her need and reminded the students to “write a novel, do not fear the Arabic language. You don’t have to use difficult and complicated terms. A simple language would do the trick, provided you have a strong plot and strong ideas."
The seminar is one of several initiatives by the Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages to consolidate and support Arabic on campus, in line with the University’s academic mission in the humanities.
“We at the Department are pleased to see students on campus expressing themselves and portraying the world around them in their native language,” said Dr. Orfali. “We have extremely talented and creative students and AUB should be able to produce some of the finest writers in the Arab world. We want to get out poets, novelists, writers, to lead in the Arabic world.