Hoda El Shawa
Literature is Art’s first Gateway!
All roads led Hoda to Literature! Even though Hoda specialized in English Literature, but her passion for Arabic stories and Literature drove her to write children’s books which extended to adolescences literature and then theater.
Huda holds a Master Degree in Comparative Literature and has taught English at the Language Center at Kuwait University and at the British Council in Kuwait.
Today in her portfolio she has numerous children’s books in addition to Sheikh Zayed book award, and a State Encouragement award for Children Literature and she still aspires for more.
How did Hoda start Writing?
While tutoring my daughters, I discovered that teaching English was fun and full of activities and pleasure. While on the other hand, I found that teaching Arabic language was dull and boring; which frustrated my daughters. On top of that, I found out that there no original Arabic books but translations of different languages.
Hence, I decided to start writing. My first experience was a story called “Anbar” inspired by my daughter Laila, who loves horses and the hero of the story was a horse.
After that, I wrote “Bird’s Journey to Mount Qaaf” which was inspired by the Persian heritage; published by Dar Al-Saqi. This book made me win the Sheikh Zayed Book Award in 2008; which encouraged me to continue writing. Then I wrote “Animal against man in front of Jin’s King”; which in turn was nominated for the Sheikh Zayed award for short stories. These two books were produced by Loyac and turned into Plays and were performed at the Green Island.
After the success with Children’s books, I decided to write for the young Adults. My first story in this field was “The Secret Revealer” and after that came the “Elephant’s Journey”, “Bethlehem Dragon”, and “The “Apollo on the Gaza’s Beach.”
Did you have any difficulties writing children’s books since it’s a delicate age group? Which was harder writing for children or young adults?
Children’s books depend on the artistic production of beautiful and appealing drawings that is full of imagination and art. Children today have high artistic taste which is flowing with animations, social media, and IPad Applications; thus what we offer for children must be unique, new and resembles them. One of the characters; that I portrayed in my last book “Jelnar the Princess of Zinjbar” is a strong female leader that reflects the Eastern girls.
However; when writing books for young adults, we need to rise to their level of thinking and take into consideration their concerns and problems. You need to refrain from preaching and respect their intelligence.
What about censorship? Do you think it limits creativity?
There are some challenges to write or even refer to some Society Taboos; therefore, I self- censor my books. However, there are a lot of topics that are not yet addressed that concern the young adults and can be written in a framework that is accepted by our community.
Do you think that Children’ lack of interest in the Arabic Language is due to parents pushing their kids more towards the English Language?
I do agree with this. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach their children the Arabic language and read with them. The blame also falls on the Educational system and curriculum that led to lack of interest in the Arabic Language. The Arabic curriculum is weak and boring and there is no encouragement for reading.
How do you create a generation that reads?
Students learn languages through their interactions with arts such as literature, theater, fine art, music, and Cinema. Mostly our kids learn these arts through a foreign language and on top of that the educational curriculum doesn’t encourage reading or other activities.
In the age of technology, how can children be encouraged to read?
The challenge is to ask” Who will read a book in the IPad and Mobile era? In my opinion, no end can eliminate the other and the sentimental joy that a hard book brings cannot be substituted by a phone or tablet.
What are the challenges to creating a generation that reads?
The school with the support of the family should encourage reading. The passion to learn spouts from the educational institution and the school is the first step in creating a reader.
How do you view Children’s Literature and writers specialized in this field?
We see a qualitative shift in children’s and adolescence literature. This shift is due to the awards presented for the children’s literature category such as Sharjah Reading Festival dedicated to the literature of the Arab child, as well as other programs spread throughout the Arab world, which enhances the value of reading and the literature of children and young people.
What I wanted to say is that it’s a good shift and there are better quality books and writers which is inspiring. I try personally to read all the new books published by Arab authors but the problem remains in the availability of these books.
The Arab nation is a small and young nation and the flourishing of Children’s literature is based on the excellent work of schools and good books.
In general, are the authors of children’s books sidelined?
Children’s literature is part of the cultural movement as of the rest of the Fine arts. I’m optimistic with the initiatives taken by the private sector and civil society which has exceeded all the expectations and bureaucratic obstacles, and in turn, has helped in raising awareness and knowledge.
Based on that, I have founded “TAQA Productions” for theatric productions, a free modem for theatric creativity; where, it combines the creations of young and old to develop performing arts.
I recently turned one of my stories “Elephant in the city”; which targets the children at primary school, to a play. It was produced based on an old Arab art” Shadow Art” that has been used thousand years ago in the streets of the Arab world to tell significant stories. It is basically Muppets made of leather and moved behind a screen by artists. I have collaborated with a group specialized in Shadow Arts and are called “Wamda” which is managed by Dr. Nabil Bahgat who has more than 20 years’ experience in the field.
It took a whole year to finalize production for the play that was presented for school students, and we hope this can be repeated in the coming school year.
Who is your target Audience?
The schools are my target audience and I have corresponded with private school and presented multiple shows for the students. The show was followed by a workshop for discussions and questions; which made them happy to be in a world that is a paradox of their reality. In addition, the workshop allowed them to discuss their daily concerns and issues and thus we provided them with a fun educational tool in the Arabic language.
What do you think of the Theater that is specialized in children’s literature?
Although government institutes are doing their best in engaging in Children Theater which is evident in the child-theater festivals as well as other activities; however, Children Theater still requires more mature initiatives.
Have you ever expected to receive an award in writing?
I have won the Sheikh Zayed Book Award and Kuwait State’s Encouragement Award my book “Elephant’s Journey”, which is a great honor. Receiving these awards provided me with energy to provide more.
You have used in one of your books drawing from a British artist, it is said those who write have a wide imagination for drawing; did you ever thought of painting?
No, because I’m horrible at drawing thus I use artists which I have good relations with so we can generate creative work.
Do you have your own rituals when writing?
I like to write during the day and one of my favorite rituals is to write in my library; which is my consultant.
What are you currently working on?
We are currently working on a historical theatrical script. I would like to point out that I’m attentive to the relation between the Western and Eastern culture and where they coincide. I have shed several lights on this subject in the scripts of “Elephant’s Journey”; which is a gift from East to the West through the adventure of Harun- Al Rashid’s elephant adventures to the West Emperor. I am currently working on a script called “Automata”, a story about the gift from the West to the East.
هل تطمحين إلى تحويل نصوصك إلى أعمال تلفزيونية؟
لم لا؟ سيكون أمراً جميلاً ومع انتشار وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي والنشر الإلكتروني أصبح تحويل النصوص إلى وسائل أخرى مفتوحاً على أوجه متعددة ومتنوعة للوسائط الالكترونية والرقمية.
Do you aspire to have your work produced for TV?
Why not! It will be amazing. With the evolution of the social media and electronic publishing, the production of scripts is accessible on multiple and varied aspects of the electronic and digital media.
A place you relax in?
My own Studio
Dream you Accomplished?
Some of the difficult projects have been achieved. The Energy studio has presented a local theatrical performance in Arabic at the Sheikh Jaber Cultural Center called “Ikara”. It is a musical performance script composed by me inspired by the Greek period of Kuwait’s history. The performance required a great effort of music, dancing, and singing. The show included a large cast of actors and artists and it was challenging being the first local show to perform at Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Center. I also realized a dream of turning my story “The Dragon of Bethlehem”; a story about a young Palestinian boy in a camp near Bethlehem, into a musical written by the musician Faraj Suliman and performed by Edward Said conservatory of Music Orchestra in Palastine. Moreover, there are more artistic projects in production.
Dream to Accomplish?
To keep on performing, and to always have the support, admiration, and acceptance for my work and to have my work performed in different countries.
What is your Motto in Life?
Reach out beyond yourself
Sometimes our inner thinking makes us miss a lot of what is going around us; thus, let’s remember that we have to overcome our inner circle.
What are your interests?
Reading is a salvation for me and it is essential as air and water.
What Writers you read?
Ghassan Kanafani, Mahmoud Darwish, Farid Eldine Al Attart, Ibn Batuta
Last book you read?
“Back to Haifa” for Ghassan Knafani; a book I’m reading for the second time for a new story project.