Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Meet our graduates: Dima Alzayat

Shortlisted for this year’s James Tait Black Awards and the Dylan Thomas Prize, Dima graduated with an MSc in Creative Writing in 2013.

Born in Damascus, Syria, Dima Alzayat grew up in San Jose, California, and studied Economics and Film at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Dima Alzayat, Creative Writing graduate
Dima Alzayat, Creative Writing graduate

After graduating, she originally worked in film, then at the Los Angeles Times as a contributing writer and editorial assistant, before moving into creative writing (fiction) - gaining an MSc from Edinburgh and a PhD from Lancaster University.

Dima’s first book, a collection of short stories titled Alligator and Other Stories, was published by Picador in 2020 and shortlisted for the 2021 James Tait Black Award for Fiction – one of four titles described by Fiction Judge Dr Ben Bateman as “represent[ing] the very best qualities of global anglophone literature - epic, experimental, and engaged with pressing concerns both political and planetary.” It was also shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize.

Here Dima talks to us about how her masters at Edinburgh charted her course to becoming a published author, researcher and writing instructor.

Resilience and commitment

Before starting her MSc, Dima had written a few short stories but describes her Edinburgh experience as having “greatly shaped me as a writer - it was the first time that I took my writing very seriously and others did too.”

Describing the impact of the programme, she reflects “I received such valuable guidance and feedback that helped me to become a better writer, as well as the reassurance I needed to stick with it.”

“My studies set me firmly on a path in which I was committed to writing. Even if I had to go on and do other jobs, following the course, writing fiction became my main pursuit.”

Asked what advice she would give to anyone interested in being a writer, she says... 

Whatever path you take to writing, whether it’s a structured path through academia or a very independent pursuit, you have to be ready for a long haul.

If you want to write well, tell a good story, and refresh literature so it feels new and exciting, you will benefit from reading a lot and writing in some kind of regular manner over a period of years.

Most importantly, if you can, try to not take jobs that sap all of your energy, so that you have the mental capacity to be creative and focused when you do sit down to write.

Dima’s new story, Gentle, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Short Works on Friday 22nd October 2021.

Listen to Gentle on BBC Radio 4

Are you interested in Creative Writing at Edinburgh? 

As the first UNESCO World City of Literature, Edinburgh is the ideal place to study Creative Writing. Tailored towards your practice in either fiction or poetry, our taught masters (MSc) programme will help you develop your creative and critical skills in a supportive community of intelligent readers and acute listeners. We also offer a PhD in Creative Writing.

Find out more and apply for our MSc in Creative Writing on the University of Edinburgh Degree Finder

Related links

Read our interview with student Heather Milligan about the James Tait Black shortlist