By Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer
“Would you be kind enough to stop by my office whenever you have a chance?”
“Sure!” I responded to the request my American professor had made in front of all my fellow students during a course I was taking that semester. I was quite worried, simply because professors only make such demands when they are about to disclose bad news and want to spare the student the embarrassment and humiliation of having to hear it in front of his or her classmates.
I did not waste any time, and went to see him the next day. I cannot describe the relief I felt when he said, “Tell me, how did you manage to become such a good English writer when English is not your first language?” He continued, “I would like you to share with me the strategies you have used to reach this level. I am thinking of sharing your story with the department community. Together we will find a way to make it available to an even larger community in our field later on.”
I recalled this story after reading the abundant comments printed in the press, posted on Internet forums, or discussed on social networks about the creative writing produced by the new generation of authors. Some commentators tend to accuse these young, talented Saudi writers of borrowing their material, saying things like, “This writer is incapable of producing such a sophisticated work. He/she must have stolen this novel from some other well-known novelist or adopted the writing style of a more experienced novelist.”
It is unfortunate to see how, outside, others perceive and nurture young talents as opposed to how we, in this society, treat them. Outside they acknowledge, encourage, and open doors for them. We, on the other hand, unfortunately use all our means and power to destroy them. We do everything possible to prove that they are not good and that there is no way on earth that they could have come up with any good ideas by themselves. We might also go so far as to accuse them of stealing the work from someone else!
I have long wondered why young writers in our society are treated this way.
One justification I can think of is that the authors of such harsh attacks were, themselves, once treated in the same manner by the same society when they first displayed their talents.
That “demolishing period”, if I can call it that, made them deeply angry and instilled in them a sense of vindictiveness. Hence, these negative emotions are ready to express themselves whenever they see new, talented people being acknowledged and praised by a substantial segment of society.
I cannot be sure of the accuracy of my justification, but I well recall the statement Raja Al-Sanna, the author of “The Girls of Riyadh,” made in a television interview when she was asked by a talk show host how she would respond to those who constantly accused her of various issues.
Al-Sanna said firmly, “I would like to thank the enemies of success who never stop finding ways to show how worthless I am!!”
Regardless of whether we like or dislike the works produced by our young writers, our responsibility as a society is to genuinely welcome their words and encourage and guide their endeavors. These aspiring young people deserve our high appreciation. So, let us, from now on, provide them with a supportive atmosphere so that they can further develop their exceptional abilities and make us all proud.
The writer is a Saudi academic who can be reached at email@example.com.