Prof. Abdullah Abu Sayeed | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 05, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 05, 2016


Prof. Abdullah Abu Sayeed

Prof. Abdullah Abu Sayeed is a renowned writer, television presenter and activist. Born in Kolkata in 1939, Sayeed is the son of a well-known playwright. He attended Dhaka University in East Pakistan after Partition. As a youth, Sayeed devoted his time to writing poetry and prose and led a literary movement in the 1960s as editor of the magazine Kanthashar (The Voice). He then opted for television and hosted a number of popular shows. He also taught literature at Dhaka College for around three decades.

Through his Bishwo Shahitto Kendro, or World Literature Centre, Sayeed attempts to keep alive the rich Bengali literary tradition through books which are slowly being replaced by other forms of media in the modern era. Sayeed's dedication to reignite the passion for reading books among the youth and increase access to literature led him to found the World Literature Centre in 1978. What started with 25 university students reading and discussing great works of literature in an Enrichment Programme eventually grew to include high school students and other readers under Sayeed's stewardship. Each group in Sayeed's programme goes through a 22-week reading course each year, completing more than 100 books over seven years. Readers meet in "reading circles" whereby they discuss Bengali and non-Bengali literary and non-literary works.

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With the assistance of the Ministry of Education, Sayeed's Enrichment and Development of Reading Habit Programme spread throughout Dhaka and eventually throughout Bangladesh. Today, this activism has spread to 11,500 schools in all 64 districts and the programme has hundreds of thousands of graduates. Over the course of time, Sayeed has successfully developed the centre itself as a library and a publishing house. A library with 1, 75,000 books and a thriving publishing house provide financial support for the centre's numerous activities. 

In response to the lack of public libraries in Bangladesh, Sayeed launched a countrywide mobile library programme in 1998. With the help of funds from the Norwegian government, its mobile libraries today make stops at 1900 locations in 58 cities throughout the country. To date, approximately 160,000 readers have become members of the mobile library programme which delivers 3, 74,000 books to its readers. 

He has received numerous awards throughout his lifetime, including the National Television Award (1977), Ekushey Padak (2005) and Bangla Academy Award (2011).  In 2004, he was honoured with the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts in recognition of his work. The versatile writer has written and edited more than 50 books, and his body of work is ever-growing. 

As an activist, Sayeed also devotes his time to attend to environmental issues. Today, Sayeed's centre offers programmes in the arts and possesses a film and music library. Sayeed manages it all with more than 300 staff members and more than 12,000 volunteers that include many of his former students. He aspires to build an extensive network of libraries, bookmobiles, and reading circles across Bangladesh; of publishing 750 of the world's classics in Bangla; and of putting up a new twelve-story cultural complex in Dhaka. But, most importantly, Sayeed dreams of cultivating an enlightened new generation of Bangladeshi citizens whose values and understanding of other cultures are enriched by reading. He wishes to see his country's future leaders emerging from such a group one day. 

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