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New Dallas group lets Muslim writers hone their craft and make connections

Muslim Writers Collective Dallas - Amal and Manal Ahmed Bookcase Posed
Jacob Wells
/
KERA News
The founders of the Muslim Writers Collective in Dallas, Manal Ahmed (left) and Amal Ahmed (right), pose together in front of a bookcase.

Two friends in North Texas, a journalist and medical student, wanted to find other Muslims who enjoy writing so they launched the Dallas chapter of the grassroots Muslim Writers Collective.

Explore more stories from Arts Access.

Over the summer, friends Amal and Manal Ahmed hosted a gothic-themed writing party inspired by the horror film "Midsommar." They gathered with friends to work on their latest pieces while eating snacks and sipping drinks.

The party sparked an idea. What if they expanded the group to other Muslim writers from across the D-FW area? After brainstorming and creating social media accounts, they launched the Dallas chapter of the Muslim Writers Collective — a national initiative with groups in cities like New York, Seattle and Boston.

With the collective, Amal and Manal want to build a space where Muslims can develop as writers. Amal said it’s about encouraging people to embrace their complex identities — that they’re more than their job title.

“The stereotype about Dallas is that everyone here just has really professional white collar jobs,” she said. “But also people have all these different sides of them and I think not having the space [to express that] is something that has been lacking.”

Muslim Writers Collective Dallas - Amal Ahmed Laptop
Jacob Wells
/
KERA News
Amal Ahmed, a founder of the Muslim Writers Collective in Dallas, works on her laptop.

Amal and Manal hosted the Dallas chapter’s first meeting in mid-October by a pool at a friend’s apartment complex. Around 10 to 15 people from across North Texas gathered to share short stories and prose with each other.

The energy at the first meeting was exciting, Manal said.

“There are a lot of people who are interested in seeing this grow, and are eager to figure out like, when’s the next event? How is this going to look in the future? Will it be like writing workshops where we critique each other's work?”

Those questions are still being answered, but Amal said the goal ultimately is to “[give] people the opportunity to come together, share their work and find like-minded creative folks.”

She’s also excited for the collective to become a way for Muslim writers to support those who may not have as much knowledge about the field of writing.

“I think that'll be a really cool part of it, just like growing the kind of information and resources that we can build within our community,Amal said.

So far, around 40 people have signed up to join the collective. The co-founders said they’ll host monthly meetings and send out a monthly newsletter to share updates with the group.

Personal connection

For Amal and Manal — a journalist and medical student respectively — writing is an essential part of their lives.

During the pandemic, Manal started submitting her short stories to journals and contests as a way to set writing goals. Writing helped her reflect on her experiences in medical school.

“I think writing is a really good way to not just explore and process whatever I am experiencing in medicine, but also to explore other parts of my identity and things that I’m interested in,” she said.

Muslim Writers Collective Dallas - Manal Ahmed Patio
Jacob Wells
/
KERA News
Manal Ahmed, a founder of the Muslim Writers Collective in Dallas, speaks to Amal Ahmed (not pictured) on the apartment balcony.

Writing has also allowed Manal to make meaningful connections. At the first meeting of the Muslim Writers Collective Dallas, she said she bonded with another medical student over their experiences interacting with patients from diverse backgrounds.

“Those are the conversations that I missed sometimes with my peers in other settings where it's like yes we need to know all the science and the physiology and what the most appropriate treatment is,” she said. “But ultimately we're caring for our patients and that is something that's very emotional. That's something that you actually have to connect to people to be able to do well.”

Amal writes often as a journalist covering climate and the environment for Floodlight News, a nonprofit newsroom. She’s looking forward to challenging herself to write in different mediums like the short stories that she enjoys reading.

“I feel like I mostly just do straight reporting and nonfiction narratives,” she said. “So I'm so excited to just have this opportunity to push myself.”

Manal hesitates to generalize about Muslim Americans, but said first-generation Muslims often feel pressure from their parents to pursue a career in STEM. “That’s the vibe that we got growing up here in America.”

She wonders if things would have turned out differently if she could have attended a similar writers’ group when younger.

“If I was nurtured in this manner, would I have become a writer in another universe?” she asked.

That’s why she wants to cultivate a space that allows young Muslims more creative freedom.

“I think it's really important, again, to have these outlets and to create a culture where it's okay if you want to write, if you want to do something creative, if you want to be a designer, an artist, etc.,” she said. “Hopefully as the generations become more well established here, we’ll have more opportunities.”

Want to join the Muslim Writers Collective Dallas? The next meeting is on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Halcyon Coffee. You can fill out this form.

Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter/Producer. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.