June 15th, 2023 (Dubai, UAE): Dubai-based author Sara Hamdan has achieved a regional first in publishing: Her debut novel, What Will People Think?, got snapped up in a major two-book deal with US publisher Holt following a highly competitive auction. Holt is the prestigious publisher of literary giants including Hilary Mantel, Toni Morrison and Liane Moriarity, as well as memoirs by Mariah Carey and Matthew Perry. Sara – a Netflix short story award winner, former New York Times journalist and ex-editor at Google – joins Holt’s elite list of authors after participating in the First Chapter ELF Seddiqi Writers’ Fellowship.
The novel, What Will People Think? is the heart-warming story of a young woman’s career aspirations to become a stand-up comedian in New York City as she balances the traditions of her Palestinian upbringing with the need to live life – and to love – on her own terms. It has been pitched as The Marvellous Mrs Maisel meets Crazy Rich Asians. It is scheduled for publication in the winter of 2025.
“We are thrilled and proud beyond belief that Sara, one of the first cohorts in the First Chapter programme, has achieved this level of success so soon after completing it in February,” said Ahlam Bolooki, CEO of the Emirates Literature Foundation. “With the support of Seddiqi Holding, we designed First Chapter to give writers from the UAE, with stories that resonate here, the platform to be published internationally, and to have Sara’s talent recognised in the US and UK is so wonderful to see. We know she is a trailblazer, the first in a long line of authors putting writing from the Emirates on the map. We have exceptional writers in the fellowship programme and are expecting more publishing deals to be announced soon.”
Sara signed with literary agents Meredith Miller at UTA and Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown when she was part of the inaugural Emirates Literature Foundation and Seddiqi Holding mentorship programme, First Chapter. Sara’s mentor for the First Chapter programme was Yrsa Siguroardottir, the Icelandic award-winning crime novelist.
Sara Hamdan said: “I am so appreciative of the support that I received from First Chapter and would like to thank Emirates Literature Foundation and Seddiqi Holding for believing in me – this is our collective win. From the mentorship to the tribe, I found among my fellows, the programme gave me the tools and confidence to think of myself seriously as a writer. As a Palestinian-American, I am so excited to share my story with the world featuring a strong, warm Arab female lead. It’s time!”
Writers accepted in the First Chapter programme each receive six hours of one-to-one mentorship from an international author, 40 hours of workshops and talks from world-renowned writers and experts spanning the whole of the industry and encompassing all stages of writing, publishing and promoting a book. The programme also provides introductions to international agents, editors and publishers and access to writing classes from international partner writing institutions such as the Gotham Writers Centre in New York.
Seddiqi Holding has agreed to partner with the Emirates Literature Foundation for five years, with the aim that the Fellowship will create a notable pool of authors based in the UAE with audiences all over the world.
Applications for entry for year three of the programme will open in September 2023. More details can be found here.
About the Emirates Literature Foundation:
The Emirates Literature Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation which supports and nurtures a love of literature in the United Arab Emirates and the region, through a programme of varied cultural initiatives.
Established in 2013 by Royal Decree issued by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the Foundation aims to foster a love for literature, with a focus on the Arabic language.
In line with the National Reading Policy of the UAE, the Foundation has implemented several long-term projects including the First Chapter, the School Librarian of the Year Award, Kateb Maktub, and From the Inside Out, as well as conducting year-round student education programmes, book clubs and mentorship programmes. The Foundation’s previous initiatives included the 2020 International Literary Festivals Conference, the 2017 Dubai International Publishing Conference and the 2016 Dubai Translation Conference.
The Foundation is also the governing body of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, the UAE’s premier literary festival.
About the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature:
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is the Arab World’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word, featuring international and regional writers, poets, thinkers, and speakers from around the world. Over the last 15 years more than 2000 authors from over one hundred countries have spoken at the Festival. The Festival reached more than 380,000 people, in person and via live streaming. Sessions included Brian Cox, Oliver Jeffers, Bonnie Garmus, Jeffery Archer, Bolu Babalola. For the first time ever, the Festival had a guest curator, BAFTA-nominated writer and poet, Lemn Sissay.
The aim of the Festival is to develop a culture of reading as an enjoyable habit in the UAE, and its efforts have been recognised through many awards over the years. By providing an equal platform for international and locally based talents, the Festival continues to build the literary landscape in the UAE and further afield. Alongside the main programme, the Festival organises an Education programme, reaching students across the seven emirates of the UAE. There are also student competitions, held in Arabic and English, which allow young people to showcase their skills through poetry, short stories and reading.
Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the Festival is a key part of the Emirates Literature Foundation, which was established in 2013 by Royal Decree. In partnership with Emirates Airline and the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), the Emirate’s dedicated authority for heritage, arts, and culture, the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature will be back in 2024. For information and updates about the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature visit the website: www.emirateslitfest.com
Seddiqi Holding was established in 2007 to consolidate the existing businesses belonging to the Seddiqi family into a holding group. As part of a growth strategy, the companies underwent a major restructure that saw the development of a succession plan for future generations and the establishment of an Executive Committee and Board of Directors as the governing bodies for Seddiqi Holding. The group operates a diverse collection of high-performing companies across various sectors. These include Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, the longest standing and largest business unit within the group; Swiss Watch Services; Seddiqi & Sons Investment which includes Seddiqi Properties and Mizzen.