By Nadine Awadalla, Zeina Foda, and Farah Tawfeek
CAIRO, Egypt – Professor Melanie Carter, poet and senior instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition, gave a lecture titled “Imagining the Book: Student Initiatives” on the 7th of April in the American University in Cairo, AUC, to showcase creative literary work of four AUC students that align with the ideas of the Al-Mutannabi Street Starts Here project.
The lecture was based on a creative writing course started by Carter and Professor Amanda Fields, where students have the chance to develop a “work-in-progress,” short story, essay or series of poems into long manuscripts that would address their ideas on the context of culture. Carter explains, “what students begin with is almost never a work-in-progress, rather its something much more fragile: an idea, a fragment of an idea and sometimes just hope.”
The first two speakers that Carter introduced, Hussam Sultan and Nada Helal, focused their manuscripts on social problems such as poverty, social inequality and street children. Sultan’s story features a 9-year-old girl named Samira to directly highlight the social dynamics of living on the street in Cairo. Helal, a Middle East studies major, tackled the same social issues, but set in India and based on an “untouchable” Hindu boy, Raj and reflects upon how he lives “in constricted social boundaries and how he escapes that.”
Inspired by Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland, English language and comparative literature major, Amerah Abu-Ward, uses this course to draw upon the power and dangers of books in culture throughout history; an idea that resonates well in AUC’s Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project.
This course not only impacted student’s thoughts, but also shifted AUC graduate Dina Al-Abd’s career focus from mechanical engineering to writing children’s literature and even went on to publish one of the region’s first children’s magazines, Kaleidoscope.
“The most compelling part of the course is that it’s non-prescriptive and that everyone was allowed to truly bring in something that was their own and develop it within that class,” says audience member Yasmin Motway, visiting senior instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition. The lecture was an opportunity to showcase the works of AUC’s up-and-coming writers.