For most graduate students, getting a PhD will be their greatest recent accomplishment. However when Tariq Al-Hayder came to study at GW he was not only a teacher, but a published novelist as well.
Originally hailing from Saudi Arabia, Al-Hayder taught English at King Saud University in Riyadh for a year. Whether in the classroom or not, he has been very much aware of longstanding racial prejudices within his society thus propelling him to write his first novel, Helat Al-Abeed (Slave District).
The novel focuses on a friendship between two men, a young Saudi and a man of mixed race. This complex relationship allows Al-Hayder to discuss racial troubles often not marked in Saudi society.
“In the novel, I equate a certain type of tribalism with your more run-of-the-mill racism. But because a lot of Saudis are so immersed in it, they don’t see it,” said Al Hayder.
The novel was presented at the Riyadh International Book Fair in Saudi Arabia and sold out in only six days. Al-Hayder is completely surprised at the success of the novel. “I had no expectations as to how successful (or not) it was going to be. I just wanted to be done with the thing, to be honest!” he said.
Regardless of the surprising success, Al-Hayder has always wanted to be a writer. He attributes his love of fiction to his early reading of Judy Blume books. Going on further to say, “It’s always been a goal of mine to write a novel. Of course, I always assumed it would end up in a shoebox under my bed.”
Fortunately the novel is now in the hands of hundreds, not under a bed back in Saudi Arabia. And just like Al-Hayder’s book has gone along way from its origins Al-Hayder is now halfway across the world too. But to him the move to GW only seems fitting, “I felt that I would find an ideal environment for exploring the concepts of identity, race, the tribe and all the myths that are connected to those ideas,” he said.
The real question though is will Al-Hayder ever write another novel? “God-willing,” he replied.