Ritaj Alhazmi


Grabbing a world record like it's child's play

 

In 2012, Ritaj Al-Hazmi, a bright, curious Saudi girl with a hunger for knowledge, moved to the United States, where her father, an engineer, was finishing university. Then three years old, Ritaj spoke only Arabic, which didn’t take her very far in Rahway, New Jersey.
 
One day, her parents heard about an English reading program at the local library. Her father, Hussain, decided to bring Ritaj, a decision that proved fateful in the child’s development.
 
Flash forward to May 2021,when Ritaj, back in her native Dhahran, was dubbed the world’s “Youngest Series Writer” by the Guinness Book of World Records at age 12. With three published adventure novels, Ritaj is a rising child star in Saudi, a country where success starts young.

 



Thirteen-year-old Saudi author Ritaj Alhazmi was named the world's Youngest Series Writer in May 2021 by the Guiness Book of World Records

“I like to write because I like to create worlds and characters and stories that people want to read,” said Ritaj, whose name in Arabic is roughly translated as “key to enlightenment.” “And I like plot twists.”
 
One major plot twist in Ritaj’s extremely productive young life has been her proficiency as a writer – in English. Her visits to the N.J. library gave Ritaj a clear path to unleash her literary skills, which she honed for a decade and now shares with young Saudi authors.
 
Since her early entry into the world of storytelling, Ritaj visited began to regularly frequent libraries and bookstores, where she dreamt about the stories she had read and began to think up some of her own.
 
One day, her parents asked her if she was ready to write her own book. She was.
 
In 2019, she self-published her first novel, "Treasure of the Lost Sea," which is a tale about how people’s lives change from living alone to journeying across worlds.

 


Ritaj and Dr Sam Horseman, IES President and Wa'ed Innovation Ecosystem Lead, at a Wa'ed Google Grind Event in 2019 in Dhahran. 

That same year, she attended Riyadh International Book Fair. She appeared on the TV show ‘mbc,’ where she talked about being a young writer, and what it meant to her.
 
A few weeks later, Ritaj attended a meeting in Dhahran of Wa’ed’s Innovation Ecosystem Society (IES), the Middle East’s largest association of entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators and investors. The "Google Grind" event’s main speaker was Mohammed Al-Husein, a Saudi writer offering listeners tips on how to become a published author.
 
Ritaj, then 11 years old, raised her hand. She caught the eye of Dr Sam Horseman, IES president and Wa’ed’s Innovation Ecosystem Lead, who called the young girl up onto the stage. Over the next two years, IES showcased Ritaj’s work.
 
In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as she put the finishing touches on her third novel, Ritaj hosted a Wa’ed Summer Series on writing and publishing for 20 adolescents, where she used Powerpoint presentations to lay out her steps to literary success.
 
The online talks had a big influence on young participants such as Sara Rabbani, an eighth grader at the International Indian School of Dammam who is also an aspiring writer.
 
“I liked the stories and the way she told them,” said Sara, who just completed her own morality tale, “The King and the Poor Worker.” “She has really inspired me in my own writing.”




Ritaj Alhazmi discovered her love of storytelling in libraries and book stores. 
Sara’s father, Faize, who teaches marketing and management at KFUPM Community College, was struck by Ritaj’s confidence and poise. “She is so inspiring,” he said.
 
Yasmeen Siddig, a graduate of Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University in Dammam, helped organize the Summer Series and worked closely with Ritaj to structure her webinars.
 
“Usually when you are dealing with a kid, you are ready to deal with a kid,” said Yasmeen, who has a 12-year-old sister of her own. “But Ritaj is not like that. There’s a maturity in her and the way she expresses her thoughts and ideas that is well beyond her age.”
 
In May 2021, Dr. Sam moderated Ritaj’s application to make her claim for the Guinness record in a video presentation that ran well over an hour. During her submission, Ritaj cited her appearances at Wa’ed’s Google Grind events as well as her hosting of the Summer Series.
 
Ritaj says her approach to writing is methodical but leaves room for surprise and fantasy.
 
“When I start writing, I try to visualize the scene,” said Ritaj, who starts eighth grade at a Dammam private school this fall. “Usually, I don’t know how a scene will end when I begin writing. When I teach writing, it is important to listen, to let people express their special literary voices.”
 
Ritaj helped refine her listening skills in Wa’ed’s IES association, where she is the youngest of about 1,600 members. Her fast rise to prominence and recognition as a Guinness Book world recordholder is a powerfu example of what Saudi entrepreneurs can achieve through IES.

"IES is for leaders and winners and Ritaj's success shows just how diverse our group really is," said Dr Sam, its founder and president.

When she’s not spending up to two hours a day writing 1,000 words of her latest novel, “The Fantasy Sky,” Ritaj is teaching English writing and doing homework. She is planning a non-fiction book on “What Kids Can Do to Fight Climate Change” she wants to pitch to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
 
But first, she’s spending time doing things 13-year-olds often do, like eating cheesecake with strawberries, reading Harry Potter novels and thinking up science fiction plots.