A Nanaimo teenager has won a $5,000 award for a short story she wrote based on her time living through the war in Syria.
Late last month the Amazon Canada First Novel Award was announced and 17-year-old John Barsby Secondary School student Rama Altaleb won the Youth Short Story Category for her piece, Lost Childhood.
Vancouver Island was well-represented in the youth category, as a Victoria teen was also among the five runners-up.
Along with the $5,000 prize, Altaleb also participated in a mentorship lunch with editors of The Walrus magazine.
“I was really happy and my parents were really happy. They felt really proud,” Altaleb said of the win. “I want to keep going. I feel that I shouldn’t stop writing now. It’s just the beginning.”
Altaleb and her family were living in a Jordanian refugee camp before sponsors helped them move to Nanaimo in 2018. She said her story touches on “the way that war has stolen innocent girls’ childhood.”
“It’s based on kind of my past experiences and my memories during the war in Syria,” she said. “I wrote the story because I want to show the world the consequences of war on children, and because I am one of these children I wanted to show it through my words. Through my own writing.”
Altaleb said she didn’t write Lost Childhood with the competition in mind, but when she received an e-mail about it she decided to submit her story. She said it was a coincidence.
“I felt I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to see how far I would go,” she said. “And then I applied for it and after a few weeks I got an e-mail from them telling me I’ve been shortlisted.”
Although Altaleb drew from her experiences living through war, she said it wasn’t a hard topic to cover in her writing. She said writing it down was cathartic.
“For sure it wasn’t easy but I wrote it after I felt confident enough about it,” she said. “Actually, for me, writing’s like a healer. It’s like a way to [relieve] your stress so I really enjoyed writing it. I don’t think it was hard.”
Altaleb said she already took part in the mentorship lunch remotely over Zoom. As someone who’s been living in Canada for less than three years, she said the meeting was beneficial.
“It’s really nice learning these new things,” she said. “For me it’s all new things so it was really helpful.”
Lost Childhood will be published on www.thewalrus.ca later this year. Altaleb said now that she’s got a taste for writing, she wants to keep going.
“First I’ll move to longer stories and then in the future it’s my dream to write my memoir,” she said.