Author Noura Al-Khoori on the power of storytelling

Emirati writer Noura Al-Khoori published her first children’s book Fanteer the Fluffy Flamingo in 2013. In this blog post, she talks about stories from childhood, her new book Golden Dates, and the tradition of storytelling in the Arab world

I grew up among a family of storytellers – my parents, aunts, uncles. Storytelling was there even before reading books.​ Most of the stories told were either improvised or passed down from older generations.

All Arab cultures have storytelling deeply rooted in tradition, as storytelling was the early form of passing down information. Arabia has a rich oral culture that had encompassed poetry, oratory, elocution and other forms of literature.

While the culture of storytelling may have waned as an art recently, there are efforts to conserve it. Storytellers are now sought after at cultural events and schools with the emphasis of recreating the previous settings of the typical storyteller of old Arabia, and that includes using the Arabic language with its various dialects. 

​But to encourage Arab youth to read more we need to write in trends that are to their liking, as well as in the media and forms they use most (e.g. literature produced for e-readers and smart phones since these are trendy and more accessible).  ​

​Personally, the love of books, reading and writing inspired me to become a writer. I have been keeping journals since I was 11 and always indulged in that private time each day where I would sit in solitude, reflect and pour out thoughts onto paper. I also wrote for the literary magazine back at university and where I was employed in a company. More recently I decided to write for children after I became a mother. Everything around me inspires me!

From childhood, all the stories my parents told me, as well as the common fairytales, inspired me. In addition to ​themes from childhood, mothering my four children, observing other kids and happenings around the world, feelings and values, or even the most remotely insignificant things like an insect or the scent of baby skin were sources of inspiration. ​

My recent book ​Golden Dates holds a special meaning to me as it carries the cultural and historic significance of the date palm tree​ and its fruit, and reminds me very much of the old and high palm trees that stood proudly in my late grandfather's garden, where I spent a lot of my childhood playing. ​

And of course there’s the classic literature of Arab poets in the Umayyad And Abbasid era and Andalusia, works of more modern laureates like Naguib Mahfouth and Ghassan Kanafani, as well as the poetic and musical work of the Lebanese Rahbani brothers. ​

Nowadays, there is huge demand for contemporary novels written especially by young people. In the GCC, there’s demand for novels set in the olden days of the Arabian Peninsula as modern days, and for children's books that are diverting away from the typical moralising and teaching lessons, as well as those written outside-the-box in terms of creative style.