New prize for Pakistani writers of imaginative fiction

by Tehseen Baweja

How do you help somebody break free from the shackles of orthodoxy and conformity? This is a very real and deep-rooted problem in today’s Pakistani society with no simple answer. But one thing that is bound to help is encouraging those who dare to think outside the box, and The Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction is an ambitious effort to do just that.

We have to accept that the environment in Pakistan hasn’t exactly been conducive to produce great science fiction writers. Some would name popular Urdu writers like Ibn-e-Safi, Mazhar Kaleem and Ishtiaq Ahmad, but in truth, their novels can only fit in the category of spy fiction. Moreover, the aggressively nationalistic themes in those novels were not exactly an advertisement of inclusivity. However, chaos ultimately inspires creativity in those who observe closely and this is exactly what we are witnessing with the recent rise of some really good imaginative fiction writers and columnists like Usman Malik, Mahvesh Murad, Sami Shah and others. There are plenty of other creative minds though who fade away into oblivion just trying to make ends meet. The Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction is an effort to find those gems and incentivize them to unleash their creative potential.

As an avid-reader of science fiction, I always tried to find local writers in this genre but could never find more than a couple of names. I strongly believe that there is no dearth of people who can write really well in this genre, but as a society, we have taught ourselves to curb our imagination rather than let it run wild. Hence, nothing has ever existed in Pakistan before to encourage people in this direction. I am hopeful though, that if incentivized and encouraged appropriately, we can gradually change this. This is why we are launching The Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction.

We invite all Pakistanis to submit their short stories by next summer for a chance to win Rs 50,000 (USD 500). The greater reward though is having your story reviewed by the likes of Jeff Vandermeer, Usman Malik and Mahvesh Murad our esteemed judges for the first year. If that is not enough, the winning story will also receive an editorial for review and possible acquisition for publication by Tor.com Consulting Editor Ann Vandermeer, along with market guidance from a literary agent.

In addition to providing an opportunity to budding fiction writers from Pakistan, the award is also a tribute to the great Pakistani scientist Dr Abdus Salam. It is also important to mention here that the reason to name the award after Dr Abdus Salam is two-fold. The obvious one is to pay tribute to the only noble prize winner from Pakistan, but another more subtle one is to highlight and protest the sad fact that challengers of main stream ideologies are often marginalized in our society. Instead of celebrating diversity of thought, we have cultivated a culture that encourages conformity. This sad practice curbs our curiosity, which is the essence of the progress of our species. With this humble yet ambitious effort, we can encourage people to think differently and try to make our society more accepting.

More details about the award including the rules are available at TheSalamAward.com