Kuttab Publishing prints the work of two special needs authors
“When I first met Zainab, I had no idea she would be such a talented artist,” says the journalist and writer Salha Obeid about the shy 20-year-old sitting next to her. “In fact, when I read about her situation, I didn’t think I would be able to talk to her at all.”
Zainab Al Tenaiji has learning difficulties, which affected her development. She had to leave school when she was 17 and found comfort in drawing detailed anime characters and making up stories for each one of them.
Her mother feared she would have a disadvantaged life but now, thanks to the vision of Jamal Al Shehhi, the founder of Kuttab Publishing, Al Tenaiji’s story is the subject of a new book called Colours of Life.
“I am really proud,” says Al Tenaiji. “It was really difficult for me growing up but now I am happy.”
Colours of Life tells Al Tenaiji’s story and her animated drawings populate the pages. The book is part of a project by Kuttab Publishing, where Al Shehhi pairs people with special needs with professional authors, who act as ghost writers. Obeid was tasked with writing Al Tenaiji’s book in June last year and Colours of Life was launched at the Sharjah International Book Fair in November.
“I like to discover new writers and give them opportunities,” says Al Shehhi. “I think a lot about people with special needs because it is very difficult for them to enter the market and it is our responsibility to support people with talent. I want people to know our talents; most of them are hidden.”
A different taste
Mohammed Al Ghafli was born blind in one eye and with limited vision in the other. By the age of 6, he was completely blind.
However, with the help of Al Shehhi, he recounted his story to Shakir Nouri, an Iraqi writer and columnist, and together the pair wrote Life Has a Different Taste, which was launched concurrently with Colours of Life.
In April, at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, both the writers and their ghost writers were part of a panel discussion organised by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority to discuss the importance of sharing their stories and to help raise awareness.
“I realised a dream by publishing this book,” says Al Ghafli. “Putting my experiences, all the negative and positive ones, into one book is something that can help others. It is not only for people like me, it is for ordinary people, too.”
The power of words
“Writing is not a privilege,” says Al Shehhi. “It is a necessity and it is our front line of defence in the world today.”
Al Shehhi founded Kuttab three years ago. Earlier this month, he published Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s newest book, Flashes of Thought.
He says he hopes to continue to publish more writers, particularly from within the Emirati community, and wants to seek out talent from unexpected corners.
“Writing reflects a message, a personality and a reason, and it is also the way we learn about each other.
“If you didn’t read these books, you wouldn’t know about Mohammed and Zainab and this is excellent awareness. I think they are very brave and talented and I hope people really gain from reading their stories.”
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Updated: May 29, 2013 04:00 AM