22 October 2018Last updated

Real Women

“I left my corporate job to become a spoken word poet”

Japanese-Emirati Afra Atiq took the leap to pursue her passion and tells us how she’s been pushing boundaries ever since

24 Apr 2017 | 11:16 am


The spoken word poetry field is very niche. What challenges have you come up against?

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive...But, of course, each field has its challenges.

“If I am honest, I would say that the biggest challenges come from within – from myself. You are the one who gives yourself wings.

“My family have been really supportive – they love what I do and are proud of me. But there has been some opposition from within the Emirati community. Some people say, ’You’ll never find a husband’; ‘You’ll be a spinster for the rest of your life.’ But I don’t listen to it... I believe negativity like that just comes from people’s insecurities.” 


What do you hope to achieve by what you do?

“I just do it because I love it. I used to have a corporate job... I left it to do my PhD and to be a poet.

“It’s never been about me, or wanting to achieve anything. It’s only ever been about wanting to show people that you can do anything you set your mind to. And also to support the wider arts and culture movement. 


What do you think holds people back from achieving, or from even pursuing their dreams?

“I think it’s a fear of failure. Fear of judgement. Not thinking you can actually do it. We don’t realise how much we hold ourselves back mentally.

“With something like spoken word poetry, obviously confidence comes with experience. But, also, I have a great support system of people who love me and support me and love what I do. And I can’t imagine my life without that source of strength.

“I think you have to realise that your voice matters, your story matters, your words matter, and just overcome the fears.”

“When I won an award from the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, I was elated. It really hit me afterwards... I did a conference call with my writing group and said, ‘I’m really emotional right now... but this award is for all of us. For every time someone told you ‘No you can’t’.”


You recently spoke at a school. How important is it to you to inspire the next generation?

“I’m more than happy to invest time in this so that other people can get the opportunities they deserve.

“I went to a talk at DESS School...I walked in there and there were 500 kids. It was the most intimidating crowd I have ever performed to...But I really didn’t want to say ‘No’ to a school.

“I always wonder how my life would have been if someone had said to me when I was a kid, ‘Your voice is important.’ So I never say no to schools. It’s so important for kids to know that their voices are powerful and valid.

“I think that is part of the reason why social media is so popular... As humans, we need to hear different voices. We need a diversity of voices and ideas that will carry us forward. Social media may have its downsides, but it does give us that – an opportunity to speak and be heard. And I think people want that more than they even realise.” 


Portrait photo by Anas Thacharpadikkal

For more information on Afra, visit