Just six hours before the deadline for entering the Emirates Airline Literature Festival's writing competitions, a group of NYUAD students had just completed a roundtable peer-review writing workshop, collaboratively crafting their works to focus on the experience of their readers. Held by the University's Academic Resource Center (ARC), the discussion involved the winning entrants of two of the ARC's recent writing contests, three of who then submitted their work to the festival just before the deadline and walked away with a prize. Mohit Mandal (NYUAD '15) won first place in the Oxford University Press Story Writing Competition, and Jorge Zárate (NYUAD '14) and Cristóbal Martinez Yanes (NYUAD '15) placed first and third, respectively, in the Taleem Poetry Competition.
Mandal's short story focuses on the separation of an Iraqi soldier from his family and the open door of his return home. In what was also his first writing competition, Mandal found that the peer-review process greatly aided his piece. "When you write, it makes sense to you. It's good to have someone else go over it," he explained. For Mandal, who hopes to complete a literature concentration at NYUAD, the competition "allowed me to experiment with something which had lingered in my mind." "It was an open door for me," he added, "and something I would definitely do again."
All winning submissions will be published and featured at the Emirates Airline Literature Festival, which is currently taking place in Dubai and will run until March 10. Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the event is proclaimed as "The Middle East's largest celebration of the written and spoken word." Indeed, the festival features an education day connecting authors to school students, workshops and master classes — on creative writing, calligraphy, getting published, children's literature, and more — fringe festival activities, and several writing competitions, including the Oxford University Press Story Writing Competition and the Taleem Poetry Award Competition.
Though pleased by the students' success at the festival, the highlight for Zhu was watching the writing community being fostered by the ARC's competitions. "It was really rewarding to see the students take ownership of their own work," she said, "and to be invested in the work of others."
The winning entries were responses to one of two of the ARC's December writing contest prompts. The first, "Who Am I, Who Are You?" called for students to submit a poem of up to 32 lines on the theme of identity; the second, for which students submitted short stories of less than 1,500 words, was entitled "The Open Door." The ongoing project of NYUAD Global Academic Fellows Elina Mishuris and Anni Zhu, the ARC writing contests are intended to "provide students with an opportunity to write outside academics," said Zhu. Building on the creative writing opportunities offered by student interest groups such as The Headless Society, the writing contests are, added Zhu, aimed at creating "an outlet and avenue for these students. The energy is there."
As for the Festival, Mishuris and Zhu had hoped that NYUAD students would submit their work, but had no competitive expectations. For Zárate, who started writing poetry after high school "but never seriously," his poem I am is the first poem he has written and allowed other people to read. A successful first piece, Zárate views his work as both "a final draft and a work in progress." "I wanted my peers to be able to read me in the piece," said Zárate, "although there's nothing in the poem about being a doctor," added the pre-med sophomore.
It was really rewarding to see the students take ownership of their own work and to be invested in the work of others.