Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Young Muslim Writers' Awards 2017

by Catriona Troth

This December saw the 7th presentation ceremony for the Young Muslim Writers' Awards, and the second time I have been privileged to attend the event.

The Young Muslim Writers' Awards was founded by the Muslim Hands charity, and for the last five years has been supported of the Yusuf Islam Foundation. As organiser, Zainub Chohan, told us at the opening of the ceremony, the award seeks not only to raise child literacy in the British Muslim community, but to help every child realise that any career path is open to them – including that of being a best-selling author.

How important this is was underlined this week by an article in the Guardian (“Diversity in publishing – still hideously middle-class and white?”)

As one of the judges, poet Mohamed Mohamed said, of discovering the Young Muslim Writers’ Awards: “Oh my gosh, this actually exists!” 
Shortlisted authors, judges and sponsors at YMWA 2017

Awards are given in nine categories – for short stories and poetry in each of Key Stages 1-4, and additionally in Key Stage 3 (11-14 year olds) an award for journalism. This year all the short listed poems, short stories and essays were included in a beautiful anthology, which enabled everyone to share and appreciate the depth and breadth of writing the young people are producing.

Poetry ranged from six year old Umar Ibrahim’s hilarious and imaginative, Roald Dahl inspired Oggletrog, to Hanniya Kamran’s thoughtful and thought-provoking Am I? – which Tim Robinson of the Royal Society of Literature described has ‘having a complexity that challenges and undoes stereotypes.’

Themes for the stories were no less wide-ranging – with one taking place inside a refugee camp while another was about a super-strawberry who feared being turned into jam!

The KS3 Journalism prize, presented by journalist and lecturer Nabida Ramdani, covered topics from Women’s Rights, Child Soldiers, Acid Attacks and Grenfell Tower. The maturity of the work produced by these writers (aged 11-14 years) was humbling. The winner was Zaina Kahn for an essay on child soldiers, but the piece that sucker-punched me was Ameerah Abika Kola-Olukotun’s ‘We Must Take Action’ which sensitively recalled a visit to Nigeria. The shrewd observations of contrast between rich and poor and the ever-present fear of abduction by Boko Haram reminded me of Olumide Popoola’s When We Speak of Nothing.

The afternoon included entertainment too, provided by master storyteller Alia Alzougbi and beatbox poet DreadlockAlien (aka Richard Grant).

Patrice Lawrence, author of the wonderful Orangeboy and judge in the KS4 short story award, spoke with inspirational passion of growing up in Brighton with a Trinidadian mother and an Italian step-dad, “always knowing I had other stories to tell.”

Last year’s Writer of the Year, Lamees Mohamed offered advice to her fellow young writers (‘I’m only 14 years old – it’s just what I’ve picked up so far): to read widely, to look at the world around you, to listen, look and care.

This year, the overall award for Writer of the Year for 2017 went to 6 year old Umar Ibrahim, who won not only the KS1 poetry award, but the short story award too, for The Tree Kings, “the custodians of the secrets and scripts of the ancient library of Baghdad,” which opens: “It was night-time. The six moons washed the land in a gentle light."

Judging by Umar’s two entries, if his imagination continues to flourish and grown, we can look forward to a very special talent indeed bursting upon the literary scene in a few years.

Finally, the ceremony closed with the presentation of the Special Recognition Award. Two years ago, when I last attended, the award was given to Malala Yousafzai. This year, it was given to another survivor of an attack upon education. Muhammed Ibrahim Khan is a survivor of the 2014 Peshawar school attack. Muhammad Ibrahim was shot four times whilst trying to help his friends, after helping four other school children to safety. Initially expected to be paralysed for life, he has regained the ability to walk and is now studying for his GCSEs in Britain.

Here is just a flavour of some of the depth and breadth of writing on display:

“Raindrops hit the window and slide down like tears, tiny glass-like droplets through which I watch the sky churn up all the world’s pain and anger.”
Nada El-Hamoud, The Game, winner KS4 short story

“Their hearts shattered by the grief of losing their eldest daughters, they trudged through the village, ghost of what they once were.”
 Ameerah Abika Kola-Olukotun, We Need to Take Action, KS3 journalism

Every day, a large rumbling machine would come, with its four wheels running down the straight tracks either side of super strawberry. He could see two thick legs and heavy boots resting on the machine and between them would be a large, sharp knife that would cut the stems of the fruit.

The Adventures of the Super Strawberry, Haadi Siddiqui, winner, KS2 short story.

My fantastical name is Oggletrog
I live in a cave next to a bog
Each morning I munch-nibble a frog,
Each evening I munch-nobble a hog

Umar Ibrahim, winner, KS1 Poetry

Entries are now open for the 2018 awards, which so if you are eligible, or you know someone who is – tell them to get writing! Can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

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