With the aim of increasing the literary output of the Arab world, Sekka launched its first literary prize in October 2021. Submissions for nonfiction, fiction and poetry written in English by those from or residing in Arab countries were open for two months, during which hundreds of entries were received. The winners of the first and second place submissions in each category, which are listed below and published in the pages of The Power of Words Issue, were judged and chosen by Jonas Elbousty, PhD, Afra Atiq, PhD, Shahd Alshammari, PhD, and Amal Al Sahlawi.
- First place winner: Myriam Amri for ‘An Archipelago of Grief’
- Second place winner: Fatima Alharthi for ‘Pear’
- First place winner: Sharon Aruparayil for ‘Shoeboxes in the Sky’
- Second place winner: Zainab Mirza for ‘The Drive Home’
- First place winner: Shaikha Sabti for ‘A Relationship with My Dad’
- Second place winner: Mariam Elkholy for ‘Post-war Pubs’
Myriam Amri is a Tunisian writer and visual artist. She is 27 years old and is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Harvard University. Her research and creative practices investigate capitalist imaginaries and materiality in North Africa using nonfiction, photography and filmmaking. Her recent writings have appeared in Rusted Radishes, MashallahNews and Kohl Journal.
Fatima Alharthi is a Saudi writer and the editor-in-chief of Sard Adabi . She writes fiction and nonfiction. Her work has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Flyleaf Journal, Santa Clara Review and Tahoma Literary Review, amongst others.
Sharon Aruparayil is a senior psychology student at the American University of Sharjah. She is 21 years old and is originally from India but has spent most of her life in the Middle East. She currently resides in the United Arab Emirates and is a researcher in the social sciences.
She is interested in harnessing social theories and methodology to inform public policy, specifically through the study of social norms, stereotypes and behaviour in South Asian immigrant communities across the world. She hopes to pursue this interest in graduate school.
As a hobby, she likes to combine her interest in psychology with fiction, which is reflected in her prose, which is deeply reflective and vivid and emphasises the psyche of the characters.
Zainab Mirza is a 34-year-old Indian writer based in Kuwait. She has a master’s in marketing and has accumulated a range of experiences working in start-ups, events, social media and digital marketing. She currently works at a non-profit developing growth opportunities and transformational education programs for Kuwait’s youth. She has also been a trainer for writing camps and workshops for children and adults in Kuwait.
She has performed poems and short stories at events curated by Word of Mouth, the US Embassy, Kuwait Poets Society and Khaleejesque. Her articles have been published in Bazaar, Khaleejesque, Fanack Chronicle, Studentalk, Sekka and the Eurasia Foundation Blog. She also writes a newsletter called ‘On Tuesdays We Type,’ tackling mental hurdles writers face with tips on how to make writing less intimidating and more fun.
Zainab is a co-founder of The Divan, a community offering individuals a safe space to discuss ideas and question assumptions, and the founder of a writing community called Typelings.
Frustrated with the limited representation of South Asian residents in local literature, she is currently writing Kuwait-based short stories from a South Asian lens, exploring social issues and themes of identity and belonging from the perspectives of those often considered outsiders.
Shaikha Sabti was born in the Philippines and spoke Ilocano as her first native language; she has been in Kuwait, where she learnt English and Arabic, since she was only six. She is the eldest daughter among her four siblings. Growing up, Shaikha felt like she was living in two worlds as a Filipina and Kuwaiti; her self-awareness made her overprotective, and as a kid, she didn’t relate much to others. Gradually, she stopped making new friends and started looking for what she really wanted to do – reading and writing. Throughout her college life, she participated in art activities and joined the Robotic Club. She also wrote a theatre play script. During her senior year, she found her passion in building mobile applications and websites; she received her CAPSTONE certificate from American University of the Middle East with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering. She is now working as a developer in the IT sector but continues to find herself among words – her first solace, her only reprieve from the demands of two opposing cultures.
Mariam Elkholy is an aspiring poet and high school senior based in Kuwait, with an Egyptian nationality of origin. Eighteen years old, she joined local writing communities in Kuwait, where she both submits and critiques writing each week with established writers and English major graduates. Juggling both writing and school, or ‘enduring the demands of passion’ as she would call it, her work has been described as ‘mature for her age’ and ‘always of grand meaning.’ Mariam only recently began to believe that her works reek of talent, and amateurism is not something she is ready to settle for, as she wishes to continue her studies in the realms of English literature. The main drive behind Mariam’s poetry is speaking the truth of youths and showcasing the world through their eyes, as she believes it is their role to make the world a better place and always vouch for peace, wholly and unabashedly. She also believes poetry can help tie experiences and people in one brilliant bubble of coherency and purpose. Classic poetry is always on Mariam’s reading list, for she enjoys its authentic style as it binds her to the roots of English soils. Because she thinks it is, unfortunately, on the verge of extinction, she tries to revive that historical essence in her pieces amongst the many modernist styles emerging in the world as of recently – all whilst hoping to induce the beauty and movement that complex poetry yields in the hearts of her generation.
To read the winning submission and the judges’ reflections on the prize in The Power of Words Issue, click here.
The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.