Arab Today, arab today qatari programme of writing
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Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Qatari programme of writing

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Qatari programme of writing

Doha - Arabstoday

It began with two simple yet potentially controversial invitations. The first, to women, was to \"Write about your life in Qatar from a woman\'s perspective\"; the second, extended to include men, was to \"Write about how Qatar is changing\". It led to an extraordinary testament of youth - the previously unheard voice of the \"hinge generation\", poised uneasily with one foot on either side of the widening gulf between the past and the future. \"We just gave people the prompt and let them respond to it,\" says Dr Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, an Indian-born American who studied literature at the University of Florida and moved to Doha in 2005 as the assistant dean of student affairs at Georgetown University. In 2008, during a consultancy with Qatar University and with the aid of a grant from the US Embassy, she launched Qatar Narratives, a six-week programme of writing workshops for women, and found she had located a previously untapped vein. It was the start of an outreach project that has gone on to touch thousands. Rajakumar has recently moved on to concentrate on her own writing after three years as director of reading and writing development at Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP), the joint venture between the foundation and the London publishing house. Outreach has been a key part of BQFP\'s brief from the outset, and she leaves behind a thriving programme of writing workshops, book signings and book clubs, in English and Arabic, that over the past three years has engaged thousands of adults and children with the written word. For World Book Day alone, thousands of books were given away across 25 schools. \"The core mission, to promote a love of books to both readers and writers, is unique to BQFP and very well received because there isn\'t anyone else actually doing this,\" she says. What surprised her most about the writing projects, she says, was the extent to which \"people were willing, even in a small community, to put their names next to their pieces, as this was in doubt at the beginning\" - and the alacrity with which \"an impromptu community of writers sprang up, and met every month in salons - it was expats, Qataris, men and women\". The writing and reading groups \"have been one of the few places where expats and nationals have been able to interact in meaningful ways. I\'m honoured to have created and developed the Mixed Book Club ... for both types of members, this was the first time they met people outside their community and spoke about deep topics.\" One of the key achievements of the project, she believes, is that it has \"shown people within the community that it\'s OK to have an opinion, because often in the Middle East it\'s uncomfortable to go out in public and say something. I think it is very complicated; some of it has to do with censorship and repercussions; a lot of it is modesty and [fear of] not reflecting well on your family.\" Qatar Narratives evolved into a book of the same name, published in 2008 and featuring the writing of 25 women - half of them Qatari, the rest residents from countries including India, Pakistan, the US and the UK. It was, says Rajakumar, a natural progression, made possible by the BQFP venture. \"There is so little written about the Gulf and the Middle East, and the things that are written are usually written by expats - even if they are Arabs they are usually living in London or Paris,\" says Rajakumar. \"There is so much happening in this country right now and it is happening so fast nobody really has a chance to think about it, and so I thought a book would be a good idea - to take a snapshot of a moment in time, and from the personal view.\" It was followed by Then and Now, which included writing by men, and in 2010 both books were distilled into Qatari Voices, a collection of essays by 21 young Qatari men and women.

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