Meet Ismaila, the Award-Winning-Writer and New Prodigy in Gambia’s Literary Scene


By Momodou Jarju

Ismaila Saidybah has signed his name in the literary fraternity of The Gambia.

Born in 2000 in Jarra Soma, Lower River Region, the new prodigy has become the award-winning-writer of the Covid-19 Short Story Competition, pocketing D3,000.

The competition, which was part of efforts aimed at fighting against the deadly Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) in the country, was organized by the National Center for Arts and Culture (NCAC) in collaboration with the Writers Association of The Gambia (WAG).

A total of 34 writers submitted their short stories, out of which 24 got shortlisted.

This was later slashed to 12 finalists whose stories will be published in an anthology.

Saidybah, who is also the Secretary General of the Young Writers Association of The Gambia (YWAG) is elated and honored to win his first award since he started writing at a tender age.

“It’s another great achievement in my writing career and it will motivate me to break any barrier along the way to excel in my writing career,” said Saidybah, the Coordinator of Writers Space Africa, The Gambia Chapter.

The advent of the deadly Coronavirus has changed the lives and livelihoods of people across the globe. And efforts are carried out worldwide to fight the respiratory disease to ensure life goes back to normalcy.

According to the young budding writer, the competition is a contribution of ideas to a clarion call for young writers to add their voices on the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Saidybah receiving his prize, Photo Credit: WAG Forum on WhatsApp

‘Writing Is My Calling’

Saidybah, who is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Language at the University of The Gambia (UTG), has published his first work in 2019- a novel titled Sins Of A Father.

The UTG student is a believer. He said everyone has a calling in life. And it is that calling or avenue one has to take or use to contribute his or her quota towards the advancement of humanity.

“I find writing as my calling in life,” he indicated.

The former Tahir Senior Secondary School student said writing has always been his passion since he was a child. He was exposed to books at an early age and this prepared him to become a writer.

Like many writers, Saidybah drew his inspiration from different writers both in The Gambia and outside, whose writings, he said ignited the passion in him “to also throw my hat into the ring.”

Gambian writers like Nana-grey Johnson, Michael Hamadi Secka, Hassoum Ceesay, Dr. Tijan Sallah and Modou Lamin Age-almusaf Sowe, and international writers like Sydney Sheldon, Mike Hammer, Chinua Achebe are his source of inspiration.

Saidybah is a dreamer too. The new prodigy’s wish is to contribute towards the development of literature in The Gambia and Africa at large.

“I also want to promote and create a literary mindset in Gambian students in order to motivate and inspire them into reading and writing. In essence, I wish to take African literature to another level, The Gambia in particular,” Saidybah said.

officials at the award ceemony (2)

Thoughts on Gambian Literature

Now seeing himself as a full-time writer, Saidybah shared his thoughts about the country’s literary culture. To him, Gambian literature is developing at a very fast rate.

He observed that young and dynamic people who have the potential of becoming great writers and literary enthusiasts are emerging in the spotlight and they are now witnessing more book launches than previous years when writers did not have the favorable environment to write and express their feelings.

“In 2019 alone for instance, we have had about 19 book launches in The Gambia; this is a breakthrough. With the enthusiasm I see in our young people, I think Gambia literature will evolve beyond expectations,” he said.

Saidybah’s optimism for Gambian literature is strong. In the next five years, he sees a bright future for the country’s literary fraternity as well as its arts and culture.

“I’m optimistic that Gambian literature will evolve to parallel international standards in five years from now,” the young writer said.

Meanwhile, as most writers, Saidybah is a pen educator, enlightener and entertainer. He thus advised the young writers not to give up in their crusade.

“I understand that writers in this country are faced with numerous challenges but I’ll advise them to keep restraint and have faith that things will get better. Let them stay focus and strengthen their passion with confidence, commitment and determination,” he said.

Aside from writing, Saidyba’s hobbies include reading, football, and drinking china green tea (Atayaa) with friends.