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What Shapes a Writer’s Voice?


Sister Souljah, Maryam Al-Ghafly and Salih Abo Usboa speak at SIBF 2016 about why they committed to the messages conveyed in their writings


In a discussion organised at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) 2016, renowned writers and critics spoke about personal and external triggers that shaped them as writers, what has made them run its course relentlessly since, and ways in which their literature has developed and been received through the years.

Moderator Mohammed Weld Salim introduced the session highlighting that while literary criticism is essential, the value of authors voicing their rationale behind a writing a book is invaluable. He first question, “What pushes you to write?”, prompted myriad responses.

“I have been a dreamer since my childhood. I started writing because my family encouraged me to read and write creatively. I remember the books I received from my brother and the rewards from my father for writing him poems. As I grew up, the upheaval in Palestine prompted me to write more. I dreamed of a free Palestine and a united Arab world, which I realized through my writings. I wrote not just to earn a living but because I felt a strong moral responsibility of sharing my beliefs with people,” said Dr. Salih Khalil Abo Usboa who has authored many collections of short stories on literary resistance, is a literary critic and professor.

Sister Souljah, best-selling American author said, “My seemingly ‘raw’ voice and my spirit of questioning, which I developed as early as age 4, was branded inappropriate by people. It was then that I decided to make my voice heard through literature. Everything I have ever written, from No Disrespect to The Coldest Winter, is layered and multi-dimensional. It could reflect my pain, be a cry for help or a celebration. I write in a way that among all the layers presented, my reader finds one to connect with immediately – an emotion or a message in the multitude of feelings expressed to identify with.”

“When my characters are from other countries, I make it a point to travel to those lands, accumulating experiences that will allow my readers to breathe the same air, eat the same food and dance to the same tunes that my characters do. Age and

experience brings you wisdom, which only means you have a lot more to give as a writer,” she added.

“Influenced by Martin Luther King’s quote on following the path of creativity or the darkness of selfishness, I picked the former and started writing to document my personal voyages through my books. Writing alleviates my pain and is a way to chronicle my cultural accumulations. I find an oasis in my world of writing – one that gives me solace and comfort. I want my readers to find the same oasis as I know many have gone through what I have,” said Maryam Al-Ghafly, an Arabic writer with four well-received novels to her credit.

The panelists spoke about how good writing does not come out of arrogance; it is a conversation between two souls. And that is why it is essential, even while delivering personal experiences, to write where the reader is as otherwise there is a risk of intimidation. They highlighted how they have been forever mindful of the souls they have written to and thus been able to make profound connections.

SIBF has been running for 35 years, and has established itself as the third largest book fair in the world.


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