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Chasing her passion
by Mitchelle D’Souza December 01, 2017
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Twenty-year-old Emirati Dubai Abdulla Abulhoul dons many hats — author, former Young Arab of the Year and film director. Here she is, revealing the secret to her success

At a time when people her age are just about beginning to discover their calling, 20-year-old Dubai Abdulla Abulhoul has already attached a score of epithets to her name.

Author of the first Emirati fantasy novel in English in 2012, Galagolia: The Hidden Divination (she was also then the youngest person to be conferred that title), Dubai was named Young Arab of the Year in 2016 for her work in youth advocacy, literature, and journalism. At present, she is a columnist at Al Bayan Newspaper and The Gulf Today.

The young titan graduated from New York University, Abu Dhabi, with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Political Science and a minor in Literature in May this year. During that tenure, she researched women’s political participation in the UAE. Having been selected as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, she is currently completing her MSc in Global Governance & Diplomacy at the university.

About her tryst with literature and writing, Dubai says, “I have been passionate about both reading and writing from a very young age. I was always fascinated by the written word’s ability to introduce me to different cultures, countries, and belief systems, that I wouldn’t have known or been exposed to otherwise. I was, and still am, a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, and I grew up with the characters I read in those books. The series inspired me to one day become a writer, and to create fictional worlds of my own.”

Elaborating on her debut writing work Galagolia, she enthused, “Growing up, I read, like many kids my age then, series of books like Narnia, Harry Potter, and Eragon. However, as much as I was fond of them, I quickly realised that I could relate neither to the names of the characters, nor the places they came from. I have always wanted to read a fantasy novel with characters I could relate to, and that motivated me to write my first novel a few years ago.”

Dubai recently published her three-book series on fantastical djinn figures in association with Kalimat at the Sharjah Book Fair. Revolving around the stories of djinns in Emirati folklore, her endeavour has been to document stories of djinns in the UAE that have been passed down orally from one generation to the next, for fear that they would one day disappear. The series is not an archival attempt, but rather it is an introduction of the UAE’s rich historical folklore to younger generations.

Like her premier novel, the three-book djinn series, Um Al Subbian, The family of Dussais, and Khattaf Raffay, dwells heavily on fantasy too.

“I love reading fantasy and fiction in general, and I especially enjoy writing it. Ironically, I find that fantasy and fiction gives me a kind of alternative space to comment on reality in ways that writing non-fiction does not. For example, with my latest series on djinn, a big theme among all the stories is how societies tend to alienate or misunderstand those who are born ‘different’ than everyone else (in the case of the series, those who are born as djinn). While this is a theme that children might not be able to grasp at a young age, my hope is that they will reflect on it as they grow older,” she expressed.

It’s not just literature and the arts that this prodigy has an affinity for. She has some legitimate experience in world affairs too. Last year, Dubai was appointed as the youngest member of the 13-member Emirates Youth Council by the UAE Government, and she has done apprenticeships at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C., and McKinsey & Company.

In spite of having achieved so much in such little time, Dubai has her head firmly on her shoulders. She states that she has many more milestones to achieve and credits her family and well wishers for her success.

“I owe my success to the support my family, friends, and mentors provide me with on a daily basis. I try not to think about my work being ‘successful’, as I would not want that to distract me at this age. For now, I have simply focused on making some of my goals a reality, and there is so much more that I hope to accomplish in the coming years, namely contributing to the advancement of my country’s artistic and creative fields, she beamed.”

For now, the go-getter is focusing on continuing her djinn series over the next few years and pursuing her Master’s in Diplomacy at the University of Oxford.

But before signing out, Dubai has a word of advice for young aspirants of the arts and creative fields. Her success mantra is a very simple one.

“Never let your age, or what other people think of your work, stand in the way of achieving your goals. Most obstacles we use as excuses tend to only exist in our heads, and it took me a long time to realise that. Moreover, we have so much to do in regards to advancing and contributing to our country’s literary and artistic fields, which I find to be very inspiring and motivating,” she concludes!
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The author is an Emirati novelist-writer

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