Writer, film-maker telling the region’s untold stories
DUBAI - Maram Taibah, a writer and film-maker, has set out to tell the region’s Middle East’s untold stories through her passion for writing, while helping other Saudis achieve their own writing goals.
A few years ago, Taibah said she realised that she had lived most of her 20s in paralysing fears, which led her to travel to Cancun, Mexico, despite concerns about safety. She later studied in the United States. Her travels became about excavating her most authentic self, facing her endless fears and searching for the truth — her truth, at least.
Taibah said she found her way at a young age through film-making, after earning a master’s degree in film from Boston University. She created two successful short films and decided to give back to young Saudi writers by becoming a full-time creative writing coach in the kingdom.
“I have been writing since I was a child and I have always wanted to be left alone to tell stories,” said Taibah, a 32-year-old from Saudi Arabia’s west coast.
Author of “The Road to Elephants,” Taibah writes in English.
“I experimented with a lot of art mediums and different fields because it was hard for me to accept that it’s possible to just be a writer. It took me a long time to get to this point but I’ve always loved cinema and I wanted to merge my writing with my visual side, so it felt like a perfect combination,” she said.
Taibah grew up in Riyadh before finishing her education in Jeddah. Following her time in the United States, she moved back to the kingdom to experiment with screenwriting and film and worked with young writers as a mentor.
“There was a lot of experimentation,” she explained. “I had a travel blog as well that was up for a few years and I started writing on a TV show, which is not in production yet, but it’s been a baby of mine that’s growing in the dark.”
Taibah is writing a fantasy novel and planning to publish a fantasy novella in the coming months.
“When I first returned to Saudi Arabia, it was a bit quieter than it is now,” she said. “I am discovering more and more writers here in the kingdom. There are communities of writers in the country and people with brilliant ideas.”
She spoke of a lack of mentorship for English writers during her time growing up in Saudi Arabia, which she mentioned as her main obstacle.
“I didn’t have a mentor,” Taibah noted. “I didn’t have anybody who was there for me to read my work constantly and give me feedback and that’s the case for a lot of people. Now, it’s opening up and people are starting to admit to themselves that they want to be a writer.
“It’s becoming something and I hope more support will show up. There is some [support] from different resources and I personally like to support writers but it’s becoming a more open space.”
She conducts workshops in Saudi Arabia as well as online writing events while coaching a few writers in their creative process.
“I coach about six people at the moment,” she said. “It all started when I used to coach my cousins when I was much younger in college and they are writers as well. It grew last year and became something that I packaged as a [service].”
For the young writer, consistency has been key.
“A lot of writers struggle with not having the muse today,” she said. “Some days, you just have to sit down and write. It’s going to feel dry and you’re going to be scratching your head and then a breakthrough just happens because you showed up.”
Having started several projects, she argued that the most crucial element of seeing any plan through is for it to come from the heart and to feel it in the gut.
“It’s not enough to have a good idea and not all of them will come through from your soul, so you have to feel it in your body, like a hum that feels right and that has enough juice for you to go to the end,” she said. “It took me a while to learn that and discern it.”
Although there were many Saudi female writers in the 1990s, a buzz has been triggered in the industry, with many more Saudi readers and writers coming up.
“It’s much easier to proliferate content and share ideas than it was before,” Taibah noted.
“Because books get attention through word of mouth, very often that’s the main source of attention. Right now, it’s much easier to communicate with people and share content online. Readership has become unsurprisingly wider from what I hear from experts.”
She described reading books as the point where it all starts.
“Writing instructors all over the world will drill that into you and I honestly agree,” she said. “I find a lot of people wanting to write with amazing stories but they either get tied up when they sit down or don’t have the language and you need both to tell a good story.”
She advises prospective writers to enrich their vocabulary and language by reading well-known writers and absorb the art of storytelling so it can come through more intuitively rather than “crack into something” that has not had a lot of time spent on it.
“Writing is a form of expression and storytelling is so intrinsic in our lives. It’s part of our DNA,” she said. “Human existence won’t continue without storytelling and, in the region, we have so much content and so many untold stories. I think it’s time we tapped into them.”