English literature: Young writers mentored at LUMS workshop

Eight of 250 applicants selected for five-day creative writing workshop.

Aroosa Shaukat August 09, 2012


Learning that “passionate reading” of literature is key to good writing, eight aspiring writers took part in a five-day workshop at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums) that concluded on Thursday.

“I wanted to tap into the potential of young writers and explore their hunger for literature,” said Bilal Tanweer, a teacher of fiction writing at Lums who conducted the workshop.

Eight young writers were selected for participation in the workshop from some 250 applicants, most of them from Lahore and Karachi and one from Peshawar. Entry was free and open to people aged 18 to 26. The entire process, which took about three or four weeks, was conducted through social media.

“I hadn’t thought there would be more than 150 applications. The response was much better than I was expecting,” said Tanweer, adding that he chose the applicants with the best-written stories. “It didn’t matter what the content was. As long as you could see potential in the writing,” he said.

Tanweer said he had been inspired by a writing workshop conducted by Kamila Shamsie in Karachi that he had attended in 2004 and he had hoped to provide a similar experience to the young participants. “It gave me a chance to immerse myself in the whole experience of reading and writing,” said Tanweer.

He said the workshop’s participants were required to stay on campus for five days as it gave them a greater chance to interact with their peers. Two weeks before the workshop, works by Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Flannery O’Connor and Mohsin Hamid were sent to the participants to help them prepare.

Haneya Zuberi, an international relations major at Ohio Wesleyan University in the US who is in Lahore for her summer break, said the workshop helped her explore other writers through the reading exercise. “This was the first time I read Calvino and O’ Connor,” said Zuberi, 21.

She said the best part of the workshop was getting to spend five days with people with the same interest in literature. “We had free food and free accommodation. It was just a great way of bringing people with a love of literature together in one place,” she said.

Each day of the workshop was divided into two sessions: intense reading and discussion, followed by writing. Mohsin Hamid, the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, was a guest speaker on the fourth day. On the last day, the participants read excerpts from their writings over the course of the workshop and received critiques from their colleagues and Tanweer.

The work of Babar Suleman, one of the participants, explored the sexual desires of a married woman. He said that reading was a dying habit in Pakistan. “The base of readers is just too small in our society and it is even smaller for literature in another language,” said Suleman, who is pursuing a master’s degree at Lums.

Shakeel Ahmad, 23, a graduate of the National University of Science and Technology, said that such workshops represented “baby steps” towards developing a society that loved literature.

“Our aim is to make it a sustainable effort,” said Tanweer, adding that he hoped to hold bigger workshops and hold them regularly.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2012.