10 Emirati authors you need to know about: from Maha Gargash to Omar Ghobash

March is celebrated annually as the Month of Reading in the UAE

Maha Gargash, Omar Ghobash and Shamma Al Bastaki. Pawan Singh / The National, Mona Al Marzooqi / The National, Christopher Pike / The National

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The UAE literary scene is a work in progress.

Ahlam Bolooki, the director of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, says local authors have made great strides over the years, with novels, short story collections and children's books achieving regional and international acclaim.

"When the festival started in 2009, there was only a handful of Emirati authors who were involved. Since then, the number has grown and they are a major part of the event," she tells The National.

Ahlam Bolooki
Emirates Airline Festival of Literature director Ahlam Bolooki. Courtesy Emirates Literature Foundation

“I have also been seeing this thirst among the youth in writing, being involved in intellectual conversation and expanding their literary knowledge.

"While that is positive, we still have more work to do,” she adds.

With that evolution, a growing number of Emirati writers are forging a path with pioneering and innovative works.

So, as the UAE celebrates the Month of Reading throughout March, Bolooki shares with us 10 Emirati authors we should all know about. These are listed in no particular order.

1. Sultan Al Amimi

(C) Sultan al Amimi, Director, Poetry Academy, Abu Dhabi Heritage Festival Committee, visits with guests after attending a panel at the 2015 Abu Dhabi Book Fair, remembering Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei (not pictured), a heritage adviser to the Crown Prince and former chairman of Abu Dhabi Media who died in a car crash in November last year. (Silvia Razgova / The National)  (Usage: May 11, 2015, Section: NA, Reporter: Anam Rizvi) *** Local Caption ***  SR-150511-bookfair15.jpg
Sultan Al Amimi visits with guests after attending a panel at the 2015 Abu Dhabi Book Fair. Silvia Razgova / The National

"He is one of the most developed writers in the country," says Bolooki. "One of his novels, PO Box 1003, was adapted for television in 2019, while his other work, One Room is Not Enough, was longlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction and translated into French, Portuguese, Russian, Hindi and Spanish.

"Sultan is well respected as an author and as a public intellectual and is a true champion of Emirati and Arabic literature."

2. Shamma Al Bastaki

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, December 21, 2016:    Shamma Al Bastaki student at New York University Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi on December 21, 2016. Christopher Pike / The National

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Emirati poet Shamma Al Bastaki. Christopher Pike / The National

"I think she is going to be one of our greats," Bolooki enthuses. "As a poet who writes in English she has such talent and poise. The way she weaves her words and performs her work indicates she is someone who has mastered the craft through her studies.

“The interesting thing about what she does is that, while she writes in English, her work is rooted in the region and her Emirati-ness.”

3. Abdullah Al Nuaimi

“A daring author who addresses social issues and is quite forward-thinking," Bolooki states.

"He started as a social media influencer who addressed social issues in the UAE and the region. He went on to transfer that approach quite nicely into his Arabic books [including Espresso and The Moon of Riyadh].

“He has keen interest in women's rights and [through his writing] aims to diminish the distance between Arab men and women, as well as promote values of tolerance and co-existence between nations and other societies.”

4. Mohammad Al Murr

"An Emirati literary icon and one of the most important storytellers in the country.

"He has published more than 15 volumes of short stories and has two collections translated in English: Dubai Tales and The Wink of the Mona Lisa, and Other Stories from the Gulf.

“If you want an insight into Emirati societies and the real Dubai life told through a local who is a deep part of the city's fabric, then you can’t go past Mohammad Al Murr.”

5. Ameera Bin Kadra

"A children's author who approaches the genre in a fresh, engaging and fun style. A number of her children's stories, including My Grandmother's Henna Tree and Good Night, were translated into English.

"She has also written several stories for segments in the Arabic version of Sesame Street."

6. Nadia Al Najjar

“Her popularity is growing among Emirati readers and the writing community. She has written three Arabic novels and a children’s book.

"Her best known work is called Mada'en Al-Lahfa (Cities of Passion), which won first place in the Emirates Award for Fiction in in 2015.

“The novel consists of 16 chapters, and each chapter is named after a different city, ranging from Dubai to Damascus.”

7. Amal Al Sahlawi

“An Emirati poet who studied Arabic literature at the University of Sharjah and writes freestyle [stream of conscious] and classical poetry.

“Amal tackles feminism, philosophy, existentialism and the anxieties of modern life.

“She is also part of Untitled Chapters, a group of Emirati female writers who gather and support each other with poetry events and writing workshops. I remember attending one of the events about three years ago, when she performed a couple of her poems. I was taken aback by how incredibly beautiful they were.”

8. Maha Gargash

Dubai, April, 16, 2019: Emirati librettist Maha Gargash gestures during the media conference at the Dubai Opera in Dubai. Satish Kumar/ For the National / Story by Anna Zacharias
Emirati author and librettist Maha Gargash. Satish Kumar / The National 

"A groundbreaking author. She wrote two English novels, The Sand Fish: A Novel from Dubai (2009) and That Other Me (2015), which were published through HarperCollins.

“The former became commercially popular and it was a story set in the UAE in the 1950s and follows a rebellious young woman trapped in a repressive society.

"While she hasn't written anything new in a while, Maha is one of the rare Emirati authors who was globally published and is worth noting."

9. Omar Saif Ghobash

Omar Saif Ghobash, author and Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy. Courtesy Emirates Literature Foundation  
Omar Saif Ghobash, author and Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy. Courtesy Emirates Literature Foundation  

"His book Letters to A Young Muslim (2007) really spoke to a lot of people. There are not a lot of Emirati writers who addressed what it is like for a child growing up today and listening to different narratives about Islam.

“He is someone who is able to connect religion, society and politics together and make sense of it all, while offering a fresh perspective.

“A diplomat as well as a writer, he is an important thought leader in the UAE.”

10. Salha Obeid

"She wrote several Arabic short story collections, including The Postman of Happiness and The Hidden White Thread, which won the 2015 Sultan Bin Ali Al Owais Cultural Award in the best fiction category.

"Salha has already developed a strong voice within the UAE writing community.

“I find her style to be very mature and rich. When you read her work, you feel that it comes from someone assured and who is already well read.”