SIBF 2020 audiences lost in the big, beautiful world of words

Accomplished young authors Awais Khan and Mishel Hamad talk about what words mean to them, personally and professionally, at the 39th Sharjah International Book Fair     


Sharjah, November 08, 2020

To be a master and subject at the same time; that’s one way to describe the constantly shifting status quo between us and the world of words, isn’t it? Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF 2020) picked this omnirelevant topic to engage its virtual audiences for an author discussion titled ‘Knowing the Word’.      

Speaking to Eman Al Yusufat the online session held yesterday on the ‘Sharjah Reads’ virtual platform, young Pakistani novelist Awais Khan, and Mishel Hamad, Kuwaiti author and youth icon who began writing at age 14, recounted the distinctive relationships they have formed with words at both personal and professional levels. 

“Here in Sharjah, the word lives in all its glory,” said Eman welcoming the session’s guests, and opened discussions with a question about the meaning that words have in the lives of the two authors.

In response, Khan, who has  described them as the link between him and the world. “I am from Pakistan, and through words in my books, I have a unique opportunity to portray the lives of people we don’t ordinarily see.   

Speaking about the power of words, Mishal noted there are no adjectives in any language that can describe the effects of words on individuals. “A word enters a person’s heart like a bullet, It might be small but each one is very impactful.”   

It was bookstores, not toys that lured young Awais, who said his relationship with words began with his passion for reading. “It wasn’t until college though that I realised that I might want to express myself as well,” said the young novelist explaining that at age 25 he started taking formal training in creative writing at the Faber Academy in London to make the transformation from being a reader to a writer.

“To be an author and be able to express myself through words is many things, but most importantly, it is liberating,” added Khan. 

Hamad, who has several published titles like Remains of a City and Work goes On to his credit and regularly volunteers for community intellectual development programmes targeting the youth, opined that reading was the basis for success in any area of life, not only in the profession of writing. He emphasised that young generations must be put into the habit of reading early on as they grow up to become innovators, leaders and form the backbone of any society. “The problem in the Arab world though is that the culture of reading is yet to be fully developed among our youth. Sharjah is making enormous strides in the direction, taking the message of the importance of ‘being a reader’ to the Arab youth.”

“Words form communities, they drive communities. I want to spread good words everywhere. I have words even on my coffee cup, he added.

The discussion turned to the social media revolution and the new role the word must play on unforgiving platforms that reduce human expression to a character count.  

Hamad, who has gained massive popularity on social media said simplicity was key. “We are naturally predisposed to liking words that are easy, sentences that we can read and understand quickly. Also, words from your heart reaches other hearts.”

Awais was asked about how he selects the words for the titles of his books. “In the Company of Strangers was born as I mixed in certain circles in upper-class Pakistan. On the surface we were friends, but deep down I felt that I was, in fact, in the company of strangers. It was in this context I found inspiration for both the book and its title.”

Both authors agreed that aspiring authors should work on developing a distinctive writing style and literary personality, reflected in their choice of words. “No matter how much I like Tolstoy’s works, I cannot copy his style – that would be plagiarism,” Awais offered.

Organised by Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), SIBF 2020 concludes on November 14. Being held under the theme, ‘The World Reads from Sharjah’, the 39th edition has adopted a fully digital format to host its cultural programme of 64 unique events, which are being streamed on SBA’s virtual platform over the 11 days of the fair. Register for upcoming discussions at sharjahreads.com.  

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