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“The West does not need to be impressed by anyone, and one story can be viewed through many different lenses”, said Candice Carty Williams, a British writer and journalist of African descent speaking at the Sharjah International Book fair.

Williams, who wrote the best-seller novel Queenie in 2019, told moderator Mohammed Wild Salim that as part of her vision to give voice to minorities in the West, she had started a literary prize for the underrepresented, which attracted hundreds of writers. Candice of Caribbean–Jamaican descent talked about how “we sit inside British culture, and grow up in a country that is Western, not fitting in here or there”.

“I desperately wanted to hear stories from other communities, other people. My work takes me on a journey itself,” remarked Williams. When asked who her readers were, she replied that it is mainly women but lots of men read too and had told her they related to her writing.

Mauritanian academic Dr Mini Abu Naama, who has won an award for Mauritanian historical literature, termed language as the ‘incubator of creativity’. His country, which has a unique location in the west coast of Africa, has seen a rise in poetry and novels in their literature.

One of the first novelists Ahmed Abdel-Qader was able to express the aspirations of contemporary Mauritanian society, he pointed out. “The writer is the ambassador of a society’s issues, and he mentioned social issues that are new to Mauritanian society,” he added.

“We exist as people because we have so many different voices, we are made up of different stories, places and times and this diverse culture can be lost if we are silent. Often the wrong people are telling our stories. We see White perspectives on Caribbean and African culture,” Williams emphasised. She also said it was “important to build authentic stories and spaces so that we can always have the truth told by us and not by other people”.

When asked what literature can do to solve pressing societal issues in the sub-Saharan African country, Abu Naama mentioned how novels have taken their rightful place in his society and that the government has recently instituted an award for “best artistic work”.