The Salam Award: New Fiction Prize Urges Pakistani Writers to Imagine

Imagine if there was an award to support the work of Pakistani science fiction (SF) writers? Well, now it’s reality!

The Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction, named after eminent Pakistani physicist Dr. Abdus Salam, is accepting submissions from writers of Pakistani origin who write in the English language.

The award, launched in February 2017, aims to promote SF and related genres of writing in the country.

The winning story will receive a Rs. 50,000 cash prize along with market guidance and a potential publication opportunity. The submission deadline for the inaugural edition of the prize is 31 July 2017. The guidelines and submission instructions are available on the award’s website:

The award’s founder Tehseen Baweja works as a consultant but says he takes frequent breaks from work to dream that his projects, such as The Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction and ProjectDosti, will one day make a difference. Tehseen, who lives in Texas with his wife and books, has received support for his initiative from DWL’s co-founder and award-winning author Usman T. Malik.

We spoke with Tehseen about his vision for the Salam Award, the award’s jury and ‘imaginative’ fiction. Here’s what he had to share:

Please tell us about the motivation behind the award. How did you come up with the idea?

Imaginative or speculative fiction has always intrigued me, but one day I realized that I am completely dependent on western writers to pique my curiosity. There is very little science fiction coming out of Pakistan and I wanted to make an effort to change that. These stories help us question some of the most fundamental assumptions about life, and every question makes us a tad bit less rigid in our thinking. This is a tiny effort towards that less rigid and more accepting society!

The award is named after Prof. Dr. Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s first and only winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, to pay tribute to him. What inspiration does the award draw from Dr. Salam’s life and work?

The obvious inspiration is his path-breaking research and the excellence he achieved in his work. The less obvious, is his marginalization because of his different religious ideologies. As a society, we need to appreciate individuals and groups who think outside the box and Dr. Salam is a great example of that. His life also evokes a sense of collective introspection, to see how we are treating those who dare to challenge the status quo. With this effort, we are trying to send a message that it’s not only acceptable to think unconventionally, its actually very rewarding.

The award is titled The Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction. What exactly do you mean by “imaginative fiction”? How would you like potential participants to interpret this term?

The title deliberately uses the term Imaginative to keep the scope broad. The submissions can belong to any sub-genre of science, fantasy, speculative or weird fiction. If you think it challenges an assumption or two, or asks a good ‘What if’ question, we invite you to submit it. If you think you have written a story that has a weird element, send it along.


Mainstream Pakistani fiction, especially in Urdu, has historically been dominated by realist literature. How do you think Pakistani writers writing in English are different from their counterparts writing in Urdu and other regional languages with respect to speculative fiction? What quality of writing do you expect to receive for the award?

We are waiting to be surprised. We believe the tiny publishing industry in Pakistan has failed to cater to a wide variety of fiction writers in Pakistan, especially the speculative. The speculative stuff that does get published is often restricted to Djinns and magic and is mostly in the context of religion. We hope that encouraging English language writers to write in this genre would produce a much needed wider variety and allow us to enjoy fresh ideas that meet at the intersection of Pakistani culture and speculative fiction.

Please tell us a little bit about the award’s jury.

We are fortunate to have some renowned science fiction personalities as our jury for 2017:

  • Jeff VanderMeer is the NY Times bestselling author of the Southern Reach Trilogy, which is being adapted into a movie by Paramount Pictures. He has won the World Fantasy award, Nebula Award, and Shirley Jackson Award, among others, and his work has been translated into 36 languages.
  • Usman Malik is a Pakistani American science fiction writer. His work has won the Bram Stoker and British Fantasy awards, been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, twice for the Nebula Award, and appeared in several Year’s Best anthologies.
  • Mahvesh Murad is a science fiction critic, columnist and editor of anthologies such as Apex Book of World SF 4 and the upcoming The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories (Solaris Books). She is also the host of’s weekly interview podcast Midnight in Karachi.

I would like to mention that the enthusiasm we received from them was exceptional which can only be attributed to their understanding of how transformational this genre can be.

It’s highly commendable that you have laid the foundation of this short story award. But it’s not merely a cash prize. There are also some other great incentives for the participants to compete to win the award. Would you like to share these incentives with our readers?

Definitely! The cash prize of Rs 50,000 is just a small part of the reward. What this award can do is catapult the writer of the winning story to limelight in a few short weeks. To start with, having your story reviewed by our jury – some of the well known writers and critics in the science fiction industry today- is in itself a big perk, but if that is not enough, the story will also be reviewed for possible publication in a high tier science fiction magazine by Ann VanderMeer. In addition to this, Seth Fishman who is a literary agent for The Gernert Company, will review the story for market guidance.

How can writers submit for the short story award? Are there any guidelines they need to follow?

We encourage everybody to submit their imaginative fiction stories for this award before the July 31st 2017 deadline. The story can be submitted directly on our website There are no elaborate rules since we want to encourage a wider participation, but the story should be less than 10,000 words and should not have been published before. However, any stories that target a specific group or community, or contain hate speech would not be accepted.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We want to encourage all the readers of DWL to attempt writing an imaginative fiction story for two very specific reasons. Firstly, when a lot of people hear the terms science fiction or imaginative fiction, they think about stereotypical themes like alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse, however, after spending just a little bit of time exploring what sub-genres exist in this category, the possibilities become endless. By attempting to write, you will get a chance to explore! The second and the most important reason is that reading and writing imaginative fiction allows you to question some of your well-established assumptions and lets you ask the most important question of all i.e. ‘What if?’ which is at the core of our progress as a species.

Please visit to read the submission guidelines and submit your short story for the prize.