September 23, 2023

Between the Lines

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Exploring the Craft and Convictions of Umaima Al-Khamis

The Saudi novelist and short story writer Umaima Al-Khamis is a prominent figure in the Kingdom’s literary and cultural scene. She has maintained a strong presence in this field for more than three decades, pursuing several successful literary ventures and receiving numerous awards. Born in Riyadh in 1966, she grew up in the house of her father, the literary figure, poet and enlightened intellectual, Abdullah bin Khamis. In her youth, she wrote poetry and literary articles, publishing the first of these during her early years of high school. Later, she shifted to short stories and her first collection Wal-dhul’u hayna istawa (And the Rib, When It Settled) was released in 1993. In 2021, her story collection Al-ghazaalah: Qasas najat min kahf al-’uzlah (The Gazelle: Stories That Survived from the Cave of Isolation) was published. Between the two collections, she released more than 17 novels and children‘s books, including the novels Al-Warifa and  Masra al-gharaniq ila mudun al-’aqiq, which won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2018. She also won the Abha Short Story Award in 2001. Her works have been translated into several languages, including French, Italian, English, Korean and Japanese.

Below is our illuminating conversation with Umaima Al-Khamis, exploring her rich journey through the realm of storytelling and literature. What follows is the transcript of our talk:

Q- What was it like being the daughter of the pioneering intellectual Abdullah bin Khamis? How was growing up in his house? How did he influence you? How did you discover his library, and what was your feeling when you picked up the first book from his collection?

The family woke up and went to the field. All I did was grab my pen and follow them. Literature and journalism were the crops we cultivated. Their branches grew and their trees blossomed above the walls of our home. I used to wait for the newspaper that my father would open and close, so I could pick it up when he was finished with it. I would then immerse myself in the magic of the words and the writers who appeared with their impressive profiles at the edge of the articles. At that time, I knew that someday I would join this world. I knew it with a certainty beyond a child‘s wishes. I knew that there was a seat waiting for me there.

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