Known as the English Professor with the “soothing voice,” Omar Sabbagh is a poet whose life and journey is an inspiring one for his students at the American University in Dubai.
Hailing from a Lebanese father and an Iraqi-Syrian mother, Omar was born in London in 1981 and grew up as a real British citizen. “To this day, my spoken Arabic is weak,” says Sabbagh, “I get by but not great. I am very British in my mindset but my heart is very Lebanese.”
He became a bookworm at the age of 12, his mother feeding him with classic literature by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. “My dad was politically-orientated, with more practical things, and my mom had the more humanities, literature and history stuff and she passed that onto me.”
Omar’s education was built by studying at one prestigious institution after another, starting from King’s College School in Wimbledon, in the suburb of London. Next was Oxford University where he outshined all other students in the interview thanks to his superior reading skills.
“I studied politics, philosophy, and economics, and although Oxford is a beautiful place, it was a nightmare from the summer of the first year through to the end.” During his time at Oxford, Sabbagh says he had to deal with with some “mental health issues” and had to take medication.
He needed a brake after Oxford and took a gap year with a friend in Beirut. But he strived for more and soon returned to Kings College in London, finishing his Master’s degree in 2004 in English Literature. Omar’s bookworm nature was his golden ticket. “They took me in and I ended up with the highest distinction, third in the class.”
He then started a PhD at Cambridge university but decided to quit after only nine months to “become a poet.” “What a stupid idiot I was, I thought I was going to be like a great poet.” So he went back to King’s College to complete a PhD in English Literature while, in the meantime, he finished a second MA in Creative and Life Writing.
After a job as an Assistant Professor in Creative Writing at the American University of Beirut, where his parents had met longtime ago, Omar moved to Dubai during the summer of 2014 to teach at AUD.
Sabbagh believes that “you are never necessarily born a writer, but reading leads to writing, and if you’re susceptible to reading, then you’ve got the mindset that’s already imaginative, and having read gives you the skill set to shape your writing and how to write better.”
He has published many books, fiction, essays and poetry. And he believes that some of his best works is the poetry book “My Only Ever Oedipal Complaint”. “I don’t really care how much sales it gets, I just want it to be there, to exist.”
At the end, Omar owns a lot to his “very liberal and open-minded” parents who never put any pressure on him to become what they wanted him to be. “There was no pressure to be anything other than what I wanted.”