While literary historians have been intently working on excavating women writers' voices buried in the sands of time, Omani women writers are making themselves and their concerns heard through their modern poems and blogs.
Take, for example, Nasra al Adawi, who lives and breathes poetry. A coordinator at the Spanish Language Centre in Muscat, Adawi writes to make a difference in society. She has written and published two collections of poems, the proceeds of which have been directed towards helping cancer patients. Currently, she is writing to raise funds for breast cancer patients in Tanzania. Had someone told Adawi 10 years ago that she would one day be an author, she would have laughed it off.
Reem al Lawati, who works in a bank, published her first collection of poems last year. She began writing at the age of 15, under a nom de plume, as she was reluctant to disclose her identity. Explains Lawati, "People interpret your writing as only originating from personal experiences, rather than being a product of imagination. My parents understand, as they know me, but it's a different matter handling other readers."
Lawati takes up contemporary issues faced by Arab women. She also writes on relationships, including the much taboo topics of love and romance. "For instance, I once wrote a poem about the way a man looks at a woman, a girl falling in love and her parents' reactions," she says, "I talk about issues that people are not acknowledging." But Lawati admits that there are limitations for her as a writer. "It's not as if anyone has explicitly said that you cannot write about some things; it's more of one implicitly understanding that there are certain issues one can avoid," she says.
Despite the limitations, both Adawi and Lawati are dedicated to writing what they believe in and to writing on their own terms. While Lawati writes what she wants, regardless of the fact that readers may not be able to disassociate her life from her poetry, Adawi admits that she takes into consideration her audience because her work is cause-oriented. Both concede that there is a limited audience for poetry as opposed to other literary forms such as the novel. In addition, language can sometimes be a barrier. "I use difficult Arabic in my poetry, which sometimes even my mother has difficulty in comprehending, despite her being an Arabic teacher," Lawati says. "But, I am not willing to compromise with my language or style."
Sharing their zeal are a number women poets and writers, who are part of a writers' association in Oman. Their creativity has reached the public through literary platforms, such as 'Nizwa' - an arts and cultural magazine; the newspaper sections devoted to young poets; and poetry competitions.
As a consequence of the oral tradition of storytelling and the absence of formal education for many women, there is limited documentation of women's writings in Oman and neighboring regions. Yet, one name that has not succumbed to the passage of time is that of Al Khansa, the great pre-Islamic woman poet. Or for that matter Scheherazade's.
"How can we forget the great Arab woman storyteller, Scheherazade, who narrated 'A Thousand and One Nights'?" says Thuraya al Nabhany, a student at Nizwa University. Nabhany, who writes stories, plays and poems, published her first novel, 'The Exes', when she was 18. Her works are based on fantasy and inspired from video and computer games. "However, I like my stories to end with some kind of message," she says. Nabhany has received tremendous parental support and is greatly inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien and his 'Lord of the Rings'. She believes that Omani men and women writers receive equal opportunities.
And while ancient Scheherazade lives on in the minds of the readers, today's Omani women too have captured mindspace through blogs.
Nabhany and Adawi represent the dedicated tribe of women bloggers. Adawi uses her two blogs primarily to talk about her poetry. On one blog she displays her poems. The other one is an interactive space for writers and through which Adawi interviews other poets. "I wanted to have a website but could not afford one. So, I decided to blog, as it is a means of displaying my work," she says. Thuraya echoes her views, about having wanted to create a personal website to share her creative ideas. "My blog is a mixture of personal, social, religion-related and event-based issues," she says.
Adawi's blog exclusively displays and discusses poetry as she feels blogs provide a great platform for poets who want to showcase their unpublished writings. For Nabhany, however, the blog comprises "personal thoughts," the cyber version of how she discusses issues in real-life."
And there are a number of Omani writers out there, as Adawi discovered. "I have interacted with so many writers through my blog," she says delightedly. Nabhany says that she is aware of a number of Omani women who are blogging for the same reasons that she is. "It is always interesting to share and discuss our thoughts," she says.