The acclaimed Dubai poetess and filmmaker, Nujoom Alghanem is grateful for having grown up in Dubai, as it’s where she acquired her love of Emirati culture which inspires her work...
As a child, the well known Emirati poetess Nujoom Alghanem remembers sitting on the rooftop of her grandparents’ house in Bur Dubai after school, watching huge dhows sail slowly, silently down the Creek. There was little else to do, apart from reading or drawing she explains. “Fortunately, my grandparents’ house, where I used to live, was full of novels and poetry books, both classical and modern.”
And so began her love affair with literature, poetry and later in life – film. This early love of culture is something that’s she’s proud of, and she’s grateful for the fact that she grew up in the UAE as it’s where she acquired it.
The Emirati culture she says is “old and modern at the same time.” “But the most important thing about it is its uniqueness; even in its continued adaptation and tolerance of other cultures; other styles and other ways of presentation – whether in literature, theatre, music, art, dance or cinema.
“The UAE is a safe, stable, modern, clean, well organised, beautiful, rich, tolerant and very generous country. You never feel bored here, because all aspects of life are represented. It’s great to feel like that about your own country,” she continues, “and it deserves to be appreciated. Honestly speaking, when I see what’s happening in other parts of the world, and especially in the Arab world, I feel blessed [to live in the UAE] and I’m grateful for the leaders we have here,” she adds.
Nujoom, as she is known, has published seven volumes of poetry since 1989 and is widely regarded as one of the best modern Emirati poets alive. Born in 1962, she first started memorising verses of poetry while at school where she took part in poetry competitions called ‘Mutarahat Sheriah’. The idea was to recall a verse that started with the same final letter of the opponent’s verse.
In the late 1970s, she began to write her own poetry, inspired by the work of classical poets such as Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish – who she still admires as a “true poet in terms of language and style”.
Her first attempts she admits, were not very good and it wasn’t until she realised she had to be “original and creative” that her poems became “genuine” and developed their own unique “spirit and identity”.
In the early 1980s, Nujoom began publishing her work in local newspapers and then in 1989, her first book of poetry Masaa Al Janah (Paradise Evening), was released. Her early work, however, isn’t included in the first book as she made a decision to stick to writing free verse.
Her inspiration at the time came from the events of the Arab world during the 1980s. “Most writers [in the region] were personally affected when Israel attacked Lebanon and many innocent people were killed for no reason,” she explains. “I had a close Lebanese friend who lost many family members because of that bombing. As a result I sympathised with her and her family and felt the need to express my feelings poetically.” The long poems she wrote as a result were published in the cultural supplement of Al Khaleej newspaper.
In 1991, a volume of poetry called Al Jarair (The Consequences) was published; after which came Rawahel (Journeyings) in 1996; Manazel Al Jilnaar (Homes of Pomegranate Blossoms) in 2000; La Wasf Lima Ana Feeh (No Describing what I am in) in 2005; and most recently Malaikat Al Ashwaaq Al Baeeda (Angels of Distant Longing) in 2008, All of these gained her praise in literary circles.
So well known and appreciated is she now that she appeared as a guest at the 2010 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and returned as a special guest for the 2011 festival. In fact Nujoom shared the stage with the acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood and each read aloud extracts of their own work in their own language.
Nujoom then read some of Atwood’s work in Arabic, while Atwood read an English translation of Nujoom’s poetry – much to the delight of the enthralled audience.
“I was delighted to meet her, share a stage with her and read her work in Arabic,” says Nujoom humbly. “The event was staged to honour Margaret Atwood and to celebrate her work here in the UAE. It was a great honour for me. Yet, Margaret was really kind and insisted on reading some of my short poems aloud too. I felt proud as a UAE writer to be with a writer of her experience and literary status and I was thrilled to hear my poems read out by her. I think she also appreciated how I read her work in Arabic. The audience were very pleased too. The event meant a lot to me personally,” Nujoom says.
This was not they first time however that the Emirati poetess had taken part in a literary festival. She’s been to many such occasions around the world in recent years.
As if being a celebrated modern Emirati poetess, were not enough however, Nujoom is also a professional film director with a BA in TV production and direction from Ohio University in the US and an MA in cinema production from Griffith University in Australia. Not only has she directed a number of acclaimed short films, she received an award for ‘Best Emirati Female Filmmaker’ at the Fifth Dubai Film Festival.
She is also responsible for the documentary Between Two Banks based on the story of the last local rowing-boatmen in Dubai. However, it is perhaps Nujoom’s latest film Hamama which has gained her the most recognition. The 64-minute documentary made in 2010, followed the life of an elderly female shaman (a type of healer) and earned her the ‘Special Jury Prize’ in the ‘Muhr Emirati’ category, at the 7th Dubai International Film Festival in December 2010.
She is also a committed wife and mother. Married to a another poet, who also works a researcher and a scriptwriter, Khalid Albudoor, Nujoom has three daughters: Nahar, Fatima and Reem. Her two eldest are studying in Boston, in the US and the youngest is attending school in Dubai.
But film and poetry remain her passion. She continues to touch the lives of both Emiratis and non-Emirati either through both and it is perhaps this ability which gives her such widespread appeal.
Dr Omnia Amin, a Professor at Zayed University, says that the language of Nujoom’s poetry is such that it “permeates the soul with a rich and flavoured life experience that goes beyond the five senses. Her ability to mix the spiritual and the physical; the real and the unreal and the mythical with the present, is what makes her poems resonate in the mind more than any other writer”. But don’t take her word for it. See for yourself...