In the Arabic folkloric epic 1001 Nights, heroine Shahrzad is condemned to death by the mad king Shahryar. Shahrzad’s skillful storytelling saves her life. Every night, she entertains Shahryar with part of a tale. In his eagerness to hear the rest, he delays her execution nightly and eventually spares her altogether.
Joey Bui (NYUAD ‘16) was familiar with the story; Shahrzad’s tales had featured in her Vietnamese mother’s storytelling repertoire. So when she decided to establish a student group for oral storytelling this semester, she naturally thought of The Nights.
"Who is the ultimate storyteller?" Bui asked. "It’s Shahrzad."
The idea for the group came this summer, as Bui attended slam poetry nights for the first time in New York City. A long-time creative writer, she decided that NYUAD student writers needed a small, intimate space that would encourage them to share their work and form a community.
"I was worried" before the first event, says Bui. "It’s an open mic, so it just falls apart if no one’s there." But the idea proved popular. The first evening’s event ran an hour longer than she had planned for, and 40 students showed up for the next one.
One evening last month, dozens of students settled into couches and beanbag chairs for Shahrzad’s final event of the semester, with the theme "Missing." The audience sipped hot chocolate and snapped approval as performers expressed love, loss, and the NYUAD experience through poetry, narrative, and rap.
"Shahrzad is a fantastic space to share stories and ideas, ranging from the mundane to the political to the personal," says senior Alistair Blacklock, who read a poem at Thursday’s event. "It lets us bond together through listening to and learning from each others’ words and experiences."
Those experiences, of course, are as diverse as the NYUAD student body. Shahrzad’s student storytellers hail from myriad locations, hearkening back to the tradition of the The Nights, which includes stories from around the region. Indeed, this diversity is part of Shahrzad’s unique dynamic. "Having a writing community for a mixed group of people reflects our community more than a slant towards a single culture," says Bui. Shahrzad, like NYUAD, "is a mix."