Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Emerging Arab writers meet in Abu Dhabi for week of IPAF literary masterclasses

 Picture from the first day of the nadwa (via IPAF)

Six emerging Arab authors today started a week-long writer’s workshop - or nadwa - as part of the 2012 nadwa programme of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, often known as the Arabic Booker). The annual nadwa brings together emerging talents from the Arab literary world, identified by former IPAF judges as ‘ones to watch’, and gives them the opportunity to hone their skills under the tutelage of IPAF shortlisted authors. This year's mentors are Iraqi novelist Inaam Kachachi and Sudanese novelist Amir Tag Elsir who have both been shortlisted for IPAF in previous years.  Tag Elsir's IPAF shortlisted novel The Grub Hunter was recently published, in the Heinemann African Writers series, in English translation by William Hutchins. He was a mentor at last year's nadwa together with fellow IPAF shortlistee Egyptian novelist and journalist Mansoura Ez Eldin.

Amir Tag Elsir 

As in its three previous years the nadwa is sponsored by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region. It is taking place over eight days in the privacy of a desert retreat in Abu Dhabi. During this time, the six writers will each produce a work of fiction. Guided by their mentors, the writers will be encouraged to critique each others’ work as well as discuss broader subjects of literary interest, such as the use of dialect in fiction. The new work from the nadwa will eventually be translated into English and published as a bilingual volume.

This year’s authors, two female and four male, range from 33 to 43 years of age. They come from six countries: Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Palestine, Iraq and the UAE. Two of them - Sara al-Jarwan and Palestinian Waleed Ouda – are based in the UAE. Al-Jarwan made history as the first female Emirati novelist, when she published in 1992 (though written years before in 1984) her novel, Shajan Bint Al Qadar Al Hazin (The Melancholy of the Daughter of a Sad Destiny).

Sara al-Jawan pictured in Banipal magazine

Mentor Inaam Kachachi was shortlisted for IPAF for her second novel, The American Granddaughter, in 2009. She was a mentor at the inaugural nadwa in 2009, with Mansoura Ez Eldin who went on to be shortlisted for IPAF in 2010 for her novel Beyond Paradise. Kachachi's fellow mentor thisyear, Amir Tag Elsir, was shortlisted for IPAF in 2011 for The Grub Hunter.

Kachachi describes the IPAF nadwa as an always enjoyable and mentally stimulating event that "provides an opportunity to discuss the art of the novel." She adds: "The first time I participated, on the island of Sir Bani Yas, was a unique experience because of the varied ages, perceptions and literary styles of the participants. We also felt a genuine pleasure in seeing new writing taking form in front of us, holding it in our hands, and then later reading it in a printed book."


Inaam Kachachi 

IPAF Administrator Fleur Montanaro, coordinator of the nadwa, explains that the nadwa is like no other literary workshop in the Arab world: "It brings together young writers from many different Arab countries in a non-competitive atmosphere and allows them to discuss each other's work and support each other in their creative endeavour." She finds that "some changed the way they write as a result of the workshop, and others have gone on to be nominated for IPAF and other prizes.’

The inaugural nadwa took place in November 2009 and included eight writers. The resulting fiction was published in English and Arabic by Dar Al Saqi Books in Emerging Arab Voices: Nadwa1 launched at Sharjah International Book Fair on 27 October 2010 and in the UK in January 2011. Two further workshops were held in  Abu Dhabi, in October 2010 and October 2011 and a second book, Emerging Arab Voices: Nadwa2, published by Arab Scientific Publishers, was launched at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2012.

IPAF, now in its fifth year, is the leading international prize for Arabic literature. The IPAF 2013 will be announced in Abu Dhabi on 6 December.  The shortlist will be revealed on 8 January and the winner on 23 April. The Prize is now funded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) which recently took over IIPAF funding from the founding funder, the Emirates Foundation. IPAF is run in association with the London-based Booker Prize Foundation in the UK, and  "aims to celebrate the very best of contemporary Arabic fiction and encourage wider international readership of Arabic literature through translation".

The Nadwa 2012 participants:

Yemeni journalist and author Huda al-Attas was born in Hadhramaut, in 1973. She teaches in the Sociology Department of the Arts College in Aden University and is head of the non-governmental organisation Yemeni Institute for Social Studies. She has published four short story collections and won several prizes, including the Sharjah Prize for female short story writers. For several years she had weekly columns in Gulf and Yemeni newspapers and she currently writes for the Arab and Yemeni press. Her work has been translated into more than seven languages and has been the subject of PhDs and many critical studies. A human rights and political activist, she is a member of several unions and associations.

Emirati writer and cultural researcher Sara al-Jarwan lives in Abu Dhabi. In addition to her novel The Melancholy of the Daughter of a Sad Destiny, her short stories, articles and screenplays have been published. After serving in the armed forces, she wrote Diaries of a Woman Soldier during the Gulf War (1991). She has won several prizes, including the Best Emirati Book in 2003 for her short story collection The Dream Icon (2003) and the 2012 Owais Award, in the best novel category, for The Virgin, the Saint and the Magician (2011).

Lebanese writer Charbel Kattan was born in Maghdouche, Southern Lebanon, in 1970. He finished his schooling in Lebanon before moving to South Africa in 1990, where he continued higher education and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Computing. He currently lives and works in Johannesburg and is married with two children. He has been a member of a number of emigration committees and written articles about the experience of exile and its challenges. Suitcases of Memory (2010), his first novel, was longlisted for IPAF 2012.

Palestinian writer Waleed Ouda was born in Kuwait in 1973. He has a doctorate in Computer Engineering and currently works managing technical projects in Dubai. He has published several academic and literary books, including four novels between 2010 and 2012.

Egyptian author Mohammad Rabie was born in 1978, and graduated from the Faculty of Engineering in Cairo in 2002. His debut novel Kawkab Anbar (2010) won first prize in the emerging writers' category of the Sawiris Cultural Award in 2012. His second novel Year of the Dragon was released in 2012.

Iraqi novelist, poet and screenwriter Ahmed Saadawi was born in 1973 in Baghdad, where he works as a documentary film maker. He is the author of a volume of poetry, Anniversary of Bad Songs (2000) and two novels, The Beautiful Country (2004) and Indeed He Dreams or Plays or Dies (2008). He has won several prizes and was selected for Beirut39, as one of the 39 best Arab authors below the age of 40, in 2010.wr

Iraqi writer Inaam Kachachi was  born in Baghdad in 1952. She studied journalism at Baghdad University, working in Iraqi press and radio before moving to Paris to complete a PhD at the Sorbonne. She is currently the Paris correspondent for London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat and Kol Al-Usra magazine in Sharjah, UAE. Kachachi has published a biography, Lorna, about the British journalist Lorna Hales, who was married to the famous pioneering Iraqi sculptor Jawad Salim, and a book in French about Iraqi women's literature produced in times of war. She produced and directed a documentary about Naziha Al Dulaimi, the first woman to become minister of an Arab country, in 1959. Her first novel Heart Springs appeared in 2005 and her second novel The American Granddaughter, was shortlisted for IPAF in 2009. An English translation of the novel was published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing in 2010.

Sudanese Amir Tag Elsir is a writer and doctor born in 1960. He studied medicine in Egypt and at the Royal College of Medicine in Britain. He has published 16 books, including novels, biographies and poetry. His most important works include The Dowry of Cries (2004), The Crawling of the Ants (2008), The Copt’s Worries (2009) and The French Perfume (2009). His novel The Grub Hunter (2010), shortlisted for IPAF 2011, has been translated into English by William Hutchins for publication this month in the Heinemann African Writers Series. It has also been  translated into Italian.

Report by Susannah Tarbush


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