By Zareen Muzzaffar
In Riyadh, sometimes the silent voices resonate the loudest. Armed with a desire to create a sanctuary for creativity and an avenue to express themselves, the ladies of the Riyadh Writing Club are making their voices heard and people are indeed listening.
At the helm of this group is its founder, Hala Abdullah, who shares with us how they’re pushing the boundaries one literary word at a time.
Tell us about yourself.
I am the founder and co-president of the Riyadh Writing Club, which was established on Dec. 9, 2010 and have supervised the extensions of our club to our sister clubs in Kuwait and Jeddah. I am a 22-year-old Saudi Marketing student with a passion for the English language. I started writing seriously at the age of 15 – really took it on as a part of my identity. In addition to writing poetry, I enjoy performing it.
What inspired you to start the club?
After finishing high school, I took a gap year where I just stayed home to write. To my frustration, I found the lack of inspiration to be overwhelming. I needed writers around me. In a place where creativity is seen to have no value and is not in the least way encouraged or appreciated, I needed to get over my lack of inspiration by finding people who understood what I was going through, and who thought the way I did: through writing. I needed to be surrounded by people who appreciated words – like me – and who found salvation in writing.
How long did it take to gather club members?
We started off as four members; myself, my best friend and co-president, and two other girls. By the end of our first year we had about 15 members, and the number has been increasing steadily since then.
Did you use social media or word of mouth to invite more members to the group?
We use social media to put the writers’ projects out in the world. Through Twitter, we reach both our members and our audience. We notify members of meeting times and venues and we notify our readers of projects being published on our blog. It’s been very helpful having such easy-to-use tools at our disposal.
How many members are currently part of the writing club?
Currently, we are approximately 30 members in Riyadh, 30 in Kuwait and about four in Jeddah.
Can you explain a typical writing club meeting. What happens during the meeting?
Meshael Al Blehed, my co-president, usually starts off the meeting by reciting her piece out loud. The members of the club offer their constructive criticism; tell her what they thought of the piece. All members then read out their pieces. Finally, I finish off the recitations by reading my piece. As soon as the members tell me what they thought, I begin to tell them what inspired me to write about our project this way, why I chose to go about it in this manner rather than another, what I was doing when inspiration hit me – maybe even what song I was listening to. Then every member shares their story, too. Once we’re done, we as a club get to pitch in ideas for next month’s project. Every member cites their own suggestion and we take it up to a vote. Majority wins.
Are the writings primarily works of fiction or non-fiction? How are the creative thoughts encouraged via the club?
That is completely up to the members. We encourage our girls to write whatever they want, however they want it (censorship begone!). So we get a mix of both usually. Our girls write fantasy, autobiographical work, existentialist poetry, feminist poetry, romantic poetry and prose, and so on and so forth. We do not limit our members to a style or genre, but rather urge them to go about their projects from a completely out-of-thebox perspective. It has paid off!
What are some of the challenges or drawbacks (if any) you may have faced?
I have to say, even though I had the great luck of getting heart-warming support from my family, not all my members have been as fortunate. Some parents did not support their daughters’ decisions to join and that has been a difficulty we’ve had to overcome. The society hasn’t been supportive either. Mind you, we are aware that we have our loyal readers, but still: our society as a whole doesn’t recognize us still. Given that we haven’t found any place willing to have us host our meetings we’ve had to comfort the parents by asking them to accompany their daughters to a few meetings if they so pleased.
You can follow The Writing Club on Twitter: @TheWritingClub