Monday, December 21, 2009

for 3rd time just one woman makes ipaf shortlist

Left: pic of Mansoura Ez Eldin.

Why do so few Arab women writers make the IPAF shortlist?

The shortlist of six contenders for the annual International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF,) announced last Tuesday at the Beirut International Book Fair, is arousing much interest, as in the previous two years of the prize’s existence.

There is speculation, for example, over whether for the third year running it will be an Egyptian author who gets the prize which is worth $50,000 to the winner, plus the $10,000 awarded to each shortlisted author. There are two Egyptians on the shortlist, together with authors from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.

The prize was set up by the Emirates Foundation of Abu Dhabi in association with the Booker Prize Foundation of London, and is often dubbed the Arabic Booker. The 2010 prize received 115 eligible submissions from 17 Arab countries, from which the longlist of 16 titles was selected in November.
The winner will be revealed at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on March 2, the first day of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

The two previous prizewinning novels were both published by Dar Al-Shorouk of Cairo. Bahaa Taher won in 2008 for “Sunset Oasis”, and this year Youssef Ziedan won for “Azazel”. One aim of IPAF is to encourage translation of Arabic literature, and the winning novel is guaranteed publication in English.

“Sunset Oasis” was published in English by the Hodder & Stoughton imprint Sceptre earlier this year and was recently chosen as a book of the year by several British and American publications. “Azazel” will be published in the UK next spring by Atlantic Books in spring 2010, and is also to be published in six other European languages.
The latest shortlist includes a further Dar Al-Shorouk title: Egyptian writer Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel’s “A Cloudy Day on the West Side”.

A young girl is taken from home by her mother, who is fleeing an abusive husband, and is left in an Asyut village. Her life intersects with the lives of others including English archeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter, Lord Cromer and historian Abdul-Rahman Al-Rafa’i.

For the first time there is a Saudi on the shortlist, Abdo Khal with “She Throws Sparks” published by Al-Jamal Publications of Baghdad and Beirut.
The novel is a satire on the destructive power of power and wealth

Two other Saudis made the longlist: Abdullah Bin Bakheet with “Street of Affections” published by Dar Al-Saqi, and woman writer Umaima Al-Khamis with “The Leafy Tree” published by Dar Al-Mada.
From Lebanon there is Rabee Jaber [pictured top] with “America” (Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi, Morocco and Lebanon), about Syrians who travel to America in the early 20th century in search of a new life.

Jordanian novelist Jamal Naji’s with “When the Wolves Grow Old” (Ministry of Culture Publications, Amman) concerns the secret lives of social climbers who have risen from Amman’s poor areas to positions of wealth and power.

Raba’i Madhoun, a Palestinian who grew up in the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza and now works in London as an editor on Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, is shortlisted for “The Lady from Tel Aviv” (Arab Institute for Publishing and Studies, Beirut). In the novel a Palestinian returning to Gaza after many years of exile in Europe engages in dialogue and sharing of memories with an Israeli woman sitting next to him on the flight to Tel Aviv.

As in the previous two years, the shortlist features only one woman. She is Egyptian Mansoura Ez Eldin [pictured top] for “Beyond Paradise” (Al-Ain Publishing, Egypt) which focuses on the female editor of a literary magazine who tries to free herself from a painful past by writing a family history. Ez Eldin and Rabee Jabir were among the 39 Arab writers aged 39 or less chosen by a jury in October for Beirut39, a project which will introduce the writers to a wider readership and will publish an anthology of their work.

The administrator of the prize since its inception has been the Lebanese poet, author and journalist Joumana Haddad, who is on the Beirut39 list. But there is concern in some quarters that women are so scantily present on the shortlists.

At least this year two of the five judges were women. In the first year only one of the judges, who numbered six, was female - Syrian writer Ghalia Kabbani. Last year the only woman on the five member panel, the Lebanese scholar and critic Youmna El-Eid, chaired the judges.

One of the women judges this year is Raja’ Ben Salamah, a lecturer at the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Humanities at Manouba University, Tunisia whose published works include "A critique of the Man of the Masses, The Construction of Masculinity and Desire and Writing".

The other woman judge was Egyptian Shereen Abu El-Naga, lecturer in English and comparative literature at Cairo University. But Abu El-Naga resigned the day after the shortlist was announced. The National newspaper of Abu Dhabi quoted her as saying that the voting method was the main reason for her resignation: “There was no dialogue or debate between myself and the other panellists and we could not debate our choices.”

However when the chairman of the judges, Kuwaiti novelist and short story writer Taleb Al-Refai, announced the shortlist he said: “A democratic objective discussion was held, the most important target of which was to reach a list approved by the judging panel. The selected books represent the opinion of the panel, with due respect to and appreciation of the longlisted novels.”

The other judges are French academic and translator Frederic LaGrange, head of the Arabic and Hebraic Department at the Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV), and Omani writer and poet Saif Al-Rahbi.

Only three of the 18 authors shortlisted for IPAF so far have been women. This is much lower than the proportion of women in Beirut39, which has 12 women authors, almost a third of the total.

Reviewing the IPAF judging process in its first three years, Yousef Awad [pictured], a Jordanian PhD student at the University of Manchester whose thesis is on Arab women’s literature, particularly that by Arab-American and Arab-British women writers, sees dangers of “tokenism” in having had considerably fewer female than male judges so far (four out of 16), and only one woman on each IPAF shortlist to date.

He thinks the judging panel should have more women, “and of course more representatives of other marginalised groups – in the wider sense of the word.” The shortlisting of one woman writer “reflects the tokenistic agenda I am trying to point out

He argues that because Arab women tend to write about their private experiences, their works may not be well understood or well-contextualised. Whereas Arab male writers “usually concentrate on the public experience – politics, class struggle and so on – and this makes it easier for readers to identify with the characters they depict and the themes they explore.”

In addition, Arab women writers may be under more pressure than men to be “non-confrontational” in order to be published, and this may lead to compromises and to mediocre writing.

Susannah Tarbush

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ipaf shortlist announced

The shortlist for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) prize was announced today, by Kuwait fiction writer Taleb Alrefai, Chair of Judges for the 2010 prize, during a press conference at the Beirut International Book Fair. The prize is worth $50,000 to the winner, plus the $10,000 that goes to each shortlisted winner, totalling $60,000. The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday 2 March 2010, the first day of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

The shortlist comprises; MUHAMMAD AL-MANSI QINDEEL, (Egyptian); MANSOURA EZ ELDIN, (Egyptian); RABEE JABIR, (Lebanese); ABDO KHAL, (Saudi Arabian); RABA’I MADHOUN, (Palestinian) and JAMAL NAJI, (Jordanian). IPAF is a prestigious literary award celebrating the very best of contemporary Arabic fiction.

The six books, selected from a longlist of 16, are:

Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel
A Cloudy Day on the West Side
Dar Al-Shorouk

Mansoura Ez Eldin,
Beyond Paradise
Dar Al-Ain

Rabee Jabir
Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (Arab Cultural Centre)

Abdo Khal [pictured]
She Throws Sparks
Al-Jamal Publications
Saudi Arabian

The Lady from Tel Aviv
Arab Institute for Publishing and Studies

Jamal Naji
When the Wolves Grow Old
Ministry of Culture Publications

Chair of Judges, Kuwaiti fiction writer Taleb Alrefai commented: “A democratic, objective discussion was held, the most important target of which was to reach a list approved by the judging panel. The selected books represent the opinion of the panel, with due respect to and appreciation of all the longlisted novels.”

The panel of five judges were also revealed today. All specialists in the field of Arabic literature, they come from Kuwait, Egypt, Tunisia, France and Oman. They are: Taleb Alrefai (Chair), Kuwaiti novelist and short story writer; Shereen Abu El Naga, Egyptian lecturer of English and comparative literature at Cairo University; Raja’ Ben Salamah, Tunisian lecturer from the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Humanities at Manouba University, Tunisia; Frédéric LaGrange, French academic, translator and Head of the Arabic and Hebraic Department at the Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV); Saif al-Rahbi, Omani writer and poet.

The prestigious literary prize, now in its third year, aims to recognise and reward excellence in contemporary Arabic creative writing and to encourage wider readership of such Arabic literature internationally through translation. It is run with the support of the Emirates Foundation and the Booker Prize Foundation.

At the press conference Jonathan Taylor, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said: “IPAF is increasingly regarded as the leading prize in the Arab literary world. Its impact is indisputable, with its winners and shortlisted writers recognised as some of the most significant voices in contemporary Arabic literature – many of whom are now available to a wider world in translation thanks to the prize.”

Salwa Mikdadi, Head of the Arts and Culture Programme at the Emirates Foundation, added: “The Foundation is proud of its association with this increasingly influential prize. In three short years, the intellectual strength and operational independence of both the board of trustees and the judging panels have made it into the major fiction prize in the Arab World."

The 2010 prize received 115 eligible submissions from 17 Arab countries - Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia and Algeria – and the longlist of 16 titles was announced this November.

Joumana Haddad [pictured], the Prize Administrator, commented: “We are proud that the IPAF is contributing in increasing the interest in contemporary Arabic literature, whether reading or translating wise. No other Arab literary prize has ever enjoyed this much attention and influence, which proves that the IPAF came to fill an urgent need in our cultural life”.

The shortlisted finalists, in addition to receiving $10,000 each, can look forward to reaching wider audiences and potentially securing publishing deals – both within the Arab World and internationally. The previous two winners for the prize – Bahaa Taher (Sunset Oasis) and Youssef Ziedan (Azazel) – have not only secured English publications of their novels in the UK, through Sceptre (Hodder & Stoughton) and Atlantic Books respectively, but also a number of international deals as a result of the prize.

Here is a description of each of shortlistee:

A Cloudy Day on the West Side – Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel
Dar Al-Shorouk, Cairo, 2009

Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel evokes the period of great archeological discovery and nationalist struggle in Egypt. A young girl is taken from home by her mother when she is forced to flee her abusive husband. After changing her name and fastening a crucifix around her tiny arm, the mother leaves her daughter at a village in Asyut. The fate of the girl, who grows up to become a translator, intersects with that of a number of historical figures from the period, including Howard Carter, Lord Cromer and Abdulrahman al-Rifa'i. This thrilling tale is brought to life by the author's detailed and vivid descriptions of real historical events and places.

Egyptian novelist Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel was born in 1946 in the Egyptian delta city of al-Mahalla al-Kubra, where his father was a worker. His first novel, Breaking of the Spirit, was inspired by events surrounding workers' unrest in the city. A medical school graduate, he worked as a doctor in the countryside before dedicating himself to writing. He currently lives in Kuwait, where he works as an editor for monthly magazine Al-Arabi. He has won two awards for his writing, the State Incentive Award in 1988 and the Sawiris Foundation Award in 2006. He has published several novels, short story collections and children's books and his novel Moon over Samarkand has been published in English by the American University in Cairo Press.

Beyond Paradise – Mansoura Ez Eldin
Al-Ain Publishing, Egypt, 2009

Mansoura Ez Eldin engages with Egypt's rural middle class through the character of Salma. The editor of a literary magazine, Salma is trying to dispose of her negative self-image by liberating herself from a past loaded with painful memories. The process encourages her to write a novel in which she tells her family history: a history of love, a history of the body, a history of movement across the social classes within her village, a history of madness, and a history of writing. Through this process Salma’s identity is split into two. On the one hand she observes and narrates in the present, whilst on the other she delves frantically into the hidden depths of her memory.

Egyptian novelist and journalist Mansoura Ez Eldin [pictured] was born in Delta Egypt in 1976. She studied journalism at the Faculty of Media, Cairo University and has since published short stories in various newspapers and magazines: she published her first collection of short stories, Shaken Light, in 2001. This was followed by two novels, Maryam's Maze in 2004 and Beyond Paradise in 2009. Her work has been translated into a number of languages, including an English translation of Maryam's Maze by the American University in Cairo (AUC) Press. This year, she was selected for the Beirut39, as one of the 39 best Arab authors below the age of 40. She was also a participant of the inaugural nadwa (writers’ workshop) held by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in Abu Dhabi this November.

America – Rabee Jabir
Al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi (Arab Cultural Centre), Morocco and Lebanon, 2009

America evokes the story of the Syrians who left their homeland in the early twentieth century to try their luck in the young America. Spurred on by a sense of adventure and the desire to escape poverty, they made the epic journey. Leaving their homeland with only a few belongings, their journey takes in everything from their travels across mountains and plains, to their gradual integration into American society, later becoming citizens of America and fighting its wars. In particular, the novel focuses on the character of Marta, who travels alone to New York in search of her husband, with whom she has lost contact. America is a tribute to those who left Syria in search of a new life from those who remained behind.

Lebanese novelist and journalist born Rabee Jabir was born in Beirut in 1972. He has been editor of Afaq, the weekly cultural supplement of Al-Hayat newspaper, since 2001. His first novel, Master of Darkness, won the Critics Choice Prize in 1992. He has since written 16 novels, including: Black Tea; The Last House; Yousif Al-Inglizi; The Journey of the Granadan (published in German in 2005) and Berytus: A City Beneath the Earth (published in French by Gallimard in 2009).

She Throws Sparks ­– Abdo Khal
Al-Jamal Publications, Baghdad/Beirut, 2009

A painfully satirical novel, She Throws Sparks depicts the destructive impact that power and limitless wealth has on life and the environment. It captures the seductive powers of the palace and tells the agonising story of those who have become enslaved by it, drawn by its promise of glamour. She Throws Sparks exposes the inner world of the palace and of those who have chosen to become its puppets, from whom it has stolen everything.

Abdo Khal is a Saudi novelist born in al-Majanah, southern Saudi Arabia, in 1962. He studied political science at King Abdel Al Aziz University in Jeddah before starting writing in 1980. He is the author of several works, including: A dialogue at the Gates of the Earth, There's Nothing to be Happy About, and Cities Eating the Grass. Some of his works have been translated into English, French and German. In addition to his writing, he is a member of the board of directors of the Jeddah Literary Club and the editor-in-chief of the Ukaz newspaper, for which he writes a daily column.

The Lady from Tel Aviv – Raba'i Madhoun
Arab Institute for Publishing and Studies, Beirut, 2009

Raba'i Madhoun tackles the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli issue, focusing on a pivotal time of anxiety and suspicion, with tensions on the point of boiling over. The novel’s protagonists are Palestinian exile Walid Dahman, who is returning home to Gaza after many years in Europe, and Israeli Dana Ahuva, who happens to be sitting next to him on their flight into Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport. Their dialogue takes the reader into the far realms of memory, history and the self. The Lady from Tel Aviv is a novel that, in its complexity, intricacy and ambiguity, avoids the dogma of ready-made ideology.

Palestinian writer Raba'i Madhoun was born in al-Majdal, Ashkelon, Israel, in 1945. Along with his parents, he was uprooted from his homeland during the 1948 Nakba exodus and as a consequence his childhood was spent in the Khan Younis Palestinian refugee camp situated in the Gaza Strip. He studied at Alexandria University, Egypt, and since 1973 has worked as a journalist. His written works include the short story collection, The Idiot of Khan Younis, an academic study (The Palestinian Intifada) and his autobiography, The Taste of Separation. He currently works as an editor for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper in London.

When the Wolves Grow Old – Jamal Naji
Ministry of Culture Publications, Amman, 2009

When the Wolves Grow Old reveals the secret lives of the social climbers who have travelled from Amman’s poor quarters to positions of wealth and power, providing an insight into the world of the city’s preachers, politicians and charitable institutions. The book is told by a succession of characters who narrate incidents and scenes that repeat, conflict and develop from one character to the next. However the protagonist, 'Azmi al-Wajih, remains silent and shrouded in mystery throughout the novel: is he the only one of these wolves that does not grow old? When the Wolves Grow Old is a story of human frailty and the complex interaction between sex, religion and politics.

Jamal Naji is a Jordanian writer of Palestinian descent, born in the 'Aqbat Jaber refugee camp, Jericho (Ariha) in 1954. He began writing in 1975 and his published works include: The Road to Balharith, Time, The Remnants of the Last Storms, Life on the Edge of Death, The Night of the Feathers, What Happened Thursday and The Target. He was president of the Jordanian Writers Association from 2001-2003 and he currently works as head of the Intelligentsia Centre for Research and Survey in Amman, Jordan.

The 10 other books on the longlist were:

The Leafy Tree
Dar Al-Mada
Saudi Arabian

Muhsin Al-Ramly
Fingers Pass
Arab Scientific Publishers

Mahmoud Al-Rimawy
Who Will Cheer up the Lady
Dar Fadaat

Ali Bader
Kings of the Sands
Kaleem Publishing

Abdullah Bin Bakheet
Street of Affections
Dar Al-Saqi
Saudi Arabian

Hassan Daoud
180 Sunsets
Dar Al-Saqi

Sahar Khalifeh
Origin and Branch
Dar Al-Adab

Samir Qasimi
A Great Day to Die
Al-Ikhtilaf Publications

Alawiya Sobh
It’s Called Love
Dar Al-Adab

Rosa Yaseen Hasan
The Guards of the Air

Sunday, December 13, 2009

moroccan memories in britain

Britain’s Moroccans share their memories with 'Masaraat'
Susannah Tarbush

The strong Moroccan presence in the North Kensington area of West London is revealed by a stroll along Golborne Road, which runs at right angles to the famous Portobello Road. Among the businesses lining the street are the Moroccan Tagine restaurant, Le Marrakech butcher, Le Maroc grocery, the Moroccan Fish fishmonger, a shop named Fez selling Moroccan artifacts, and a street stall laden with Moroccan foods.

The Trellick Tower block is home to the Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Project – the only center of its kind in Britain, catering for the needs of Moroccan and other Arabic-speaking women. The street also hosts the Kensington Mosque Trust, while the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre is located in a nearby street.

A few minutes’ walk from Golborne Road, along Portobello Road, is a street stall where young Moroccan entrepreneur Saida Boukabchaba [pictured top] sells bottles of Moroccan argan oil and other natural beauty products. Boukabchaba is the director and owner of the Argan Oil Tree Company which markets the oil as a natural anti-ager.

Some estimates put the number of Moroccans in Britain as high as 70,000. They have settled not only in London, but in places such as Trowbridge in the south west of England, the town of St Albans some 35 kilometers north of London and the Scottish capital of Edinburgh.

As a tribute to North Kensington’s Moroccan community, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea included several Moroccan-related events in its current three-month ‘Across the Street, Around the World’ festival.

The events included a recent screening at Kensington Town Hall Library of the touching and engrossing 47-minute documentary film “Masaraat: Life Journeys”. The film is an oral history of Britain’s Moroccan migrants. It was directed and produced by Saeed Taji Farouky [pictured below], a filmmaker of Palestinian and Egyptian parentage. He shared the camerawork with Gareth Keogh, cofounder with him of the prizewinning documentary production company Tourist with a Typewriter .

The film focuses on a wide spectrum of first and second generation Moroccans, mostly Arab or Berber, who tell of how they or their parents migrated to Britain, and describe their personal experiences.

The London-based Migrants and Refugee Communities Forum commissioned the film as part of its project ‘Moroccan Memories in Britain: an Oral and Visual History’. The festival screening was presented jointly by Farouky and by the coordinator of the Moroccan Memories project, Myriam Cherti [pictured], who has a PhD in migration studies from Sussex University.

The two-year project started in January 2007, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. There were six partners: Centre de la Culture Judeo-Marocaine, the British Library Sound Archives, Oral History Society, the Living Memory Association, History Talk and the Mass Observation Archive.

The project aimed to bridge the gap between past and post 1960 Moroccan migration to Britain through creating an oral and visual history archive collection. The presence of the Moroccan community goes back to at least to the 19th century. But the experiences of those arriving within the past 40 to 50 years had not previously been documented or recorded.

One of the project’s goals was to build an archive for the Moroccan community, and to make it accessible to the wider public. Another was to build and strengthen ties between the generations of Moroccans, and to provide a forum where the three generations could discuss their experiences.

Farouky says he wanted to make “Masaraat” for two reasons. The first was curiosity; given his background he is very familiar with Britain’s Palestinian and Egyptian communities, but he knew little about the Moroccans. “The Moroccan communities in the UK are very underrepresented.”

The second reason was that the questions he directed to the interviewees in the film were questions, as an Arab migrant himself, “I ask myself all the time”. When, for example, he asked a Moroccan whether he would go back to his ancestral country, he was in a way asking himself the same question.

The project included the collection by trained fieldworkers of some 120 interviews and life story recordings. The recordings were made in London, Crawley (near the south coast of England), St Albans, Trowbridge and Edinburgh.

The project material has been placed in the Sound Archives of the British Library and certain other locations. The attractive and user-friendly Moroccan Memories website is rich with information on the project, and includes excerpts from some of the life story recordings.

Cherti says the project found that Moroccans in Britain still have close links with their places of origin. For example the Moroccans of Trowbridge maintain close links with the city of Oujda, while the Moroccans of St Albans retain ties to Meknes. Such connections are “vibrant, even among the second generation.”

She notes that the third generation of migrants typically “tries to remember what the second generation was trying to forget”. It has a renewed interest in its forebears’ language and heritage and is in search of its identity.

The Moroccans interviewed in “Masaraat” include chef Mohammad Tadimi who arrived in Britain 20 years ago. He established a catering business, Exotic Tagine, in the Kingston upon Thames in south-west London. A Moroccan Jewish migrant, Sydney Assor, explains in the film the place of Jews in Moroccan society.

Mustapha Akoub, who has degrees in law from Morocco and from Glasgow University in Scotland, is an interpreter and teacher of Arabic. His lively young children speak English with a broad Scottish accent.
Also interviewed in Scotland were members of the Oussellam family, whose father Abdellatif and his wife migrated to Britain as teenagers. (One of their children, Bilal, has achieved fame as a prizewinning breakdancer in Scotland, performing under the name Ma’Roc in recognition of his origins.)

The Moroccan Memories project has a touring exhibition, which includes screenings of “Masaraat”. The exhibition travelled around the UK early this year, and went to Tangier, Rabat and Essaouira in September-November. “Masaraat” was also shown in Tangier in October as part of the city’s ‘Tanger Sans Frontieres’ festival.

Myriam said the project tries to create a space for dialogue, and “Masaraat” is very helpful in this. “We’ve screened this film across the UK and in Morocco and the debate has always been very interesting and fascinating, because everyone reads something different in it.”

The film is also of educational value. It has been screened at universities as part of modules on migration, and Cherti says “we would like to continue with this in secondary schools”. In addition, the project has produced a 94-page educational resource pack for schools, suitable as part of citizenship studies.
Saudi Gazette 7 December 2009

zeid hamdan video

Zeid's Little Bomb from Epsilon Delta on Vimeo.