Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Writers retreat to Abu Dhabi resort for IPAF workshop

IPAF hosts eighth nadwa at Abu Dhabi desert retreat of Qasr Al Sarab

 mentors and participants in the nadwa

A group of six emerging Arab authors - four women and two men -  is currently gathered at the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort in Abu Dhabi for the annual 'nadwa' organised by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). The week-long workshop, running from 3-10 November, brings together writers from Bahrain, Morocco, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As before, it is sponsored by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region.

The workshop involves daily group discussions as well as the opportunity for one-on-one guidance with the mentors. It is led by two prominent Arab literary figures: Mohammed Hasan Alwan from Saudi Arabia and Hammour Ziada from Sudan. Each has been shortlisted for IPAF: Alwan in 2013 for The Beaver and Ziada in 2015 for The Longing of the Dervish.  

The six participating writers range in age from 30 to 38 years old. They were identified by the organisers as emerging talents following an application process. Two of them - Eyad Abdulrahman and Nidaa Abu Ali - are from Saudi Arabia. The two other participants from the Gulf region are Leila al-Mutawa (Bahrain) and Lamees Yousef (UAE). From Syria there is Rabab Haidar, and from Morocco Hecham Mechba.

The annual nadwa in Abu Dhabi has nurtured a number of writers who have gone on to be shortlisted for, or even to win ,the annual IPAF. Previous participants include Mohammed Hasan Alwan, Iraqi Ahmed Saadawi, Egyptians Mansoura Ez Eldin and Mohamed Rabie, and Syrian Shahla Ujayli. The previous nadwa, in July 2015, was the first to be held in Jordan.

a group discussion

Hammour Ziada comments: “The writing workshop is not a collective endeavour to create a piece of writing. Rather, it is like winds blowing from different directions, turning the pages of the novel as it is being written, or water flowing from various channels onto a single plant.”

Mohammed Hasan Alwan says: “A nadwa such as this reaffirms to us that writing is an activity worth travelling and taking time out for in an isolated location, something that has become an unthinkable luxury in today's world. Since writing a novel is a lengthy project, it sorely needs the different perspectives offered by six writers who have withdrawn from the routine of their daily lives and joined the nadwa purely for the sake of writing. In a single week the nadwa's special programme puts writing under two microscopes: the writer alone with his text in deliberate isolation and the other writers who read the text as it is going through initial birth pangs, identifying with the writer in his moments of confidence and doubt.”

IPAF is the leading international prize for Arabic literature. Sponsored by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and run in association with the Booker Prize Foundation in the UK, the Prize aims to celebrate the very best of contemporary Arabic fiction and encourage wider international readership of Arabic literature through translation.

The Mentors

Mohammed Hasan Alwan was born in Riyadh  in 1979. He graduated with a doctorate in International Marketing from the University of Carleton, Canada. Alwan has published five novels to date: The Ceiling of Sufficiency (2002), Sophia (2004), The Collar of Purity (2007), The Beaver (2011), and A Small Death (2016), as well as a non-fiction work, Migration: theories and key factors (2014). His work has appeared in translation in Banipal magazine ("Blonde Grass and Statistics", translated by Ali Azeriah), in The Guardian ("Oil Field", translated by Peter Clark), and in Words Without Borders ("Mukhtar" translated by William M. Hutchins). In 2009-10, Alwan was chosen as one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 40 by the Beirut39 project and his work was published in the Beirut 39 anthology. He was also a participant in the first IPAF Nadwa in 2009. In 2013, The Beaver was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and in 2015, its French edition (translated by Stéphanie Dujols) won the Prix de la Littérature Arabe awarded in Paris for the best Arabic novel translated into French for that year.

Hammour Ziada was born in Khartoum in 1977. He has worked for charitable and civil society organisations, and as a journalist for a number of Sudanese newspapers, including Al-Mustaqilla, Ajras al-Horriya, and Al-Jarida. He was Chief Editor of the cultural section of the Sudanese Al-Akhbar paper. He is the author of several works of fiction includinng A Life Story from Omdurman (short stories, 2008), Al-Kunj (a novel, 2010), Sleeping at the Foot of the Mountain (short stories, 2014). His second novel, The Longing of the Dervish (2014), won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2014 and was shortlisted for IPAF  International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

the mentors and participants with Fleur Montanaro, IPAF Administrator and nadwa coordinator

The Participants

Eyad Abdulrahman  (Saudi Arabia) is a writer and novelist, born in Medina in 1987. He obtained a BA in Computer Engineering from Utah University, an MA in Software Engineering from Chicago University, and a second MA in Computer Science and Education Technology from Harvard University. He is currently finishing his doctorate from Harvard University, focusing on the same field of study. His published works of fiction include a collection of prose texts entitled Emancipation (2012) and two novels, The Misfortune of Life (2014) and The Caliph (2015).

Nidaa Abu Ali (Saudi Arabia) is a writer and diplomat, born in 1983. In 2009, she obtained an MA in Strategic Studies, specialising in counter terrorism, from Singapore, and worked as a political analyst at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism as well as at the Middle East Institute in Singapore. She is the author of four novels: The Days Passed (published in 1998 when she was 15), The Heart Has Other Faces (also 1998), Paper Flutes (2003) and Shadow and Mirror (2011). She also works as a journalist, publishing literature and film reviews and political analysis.

Rabab Haidar (Syria) is a writer and translator, born in 1977. She has a BA in English Literature and is a translator accredited by the Palace of Justice in Damascus. In 2013, she published two books in translation: The Book of the Female, the translation into English of a volume of poetry by the Bahraini poet Iman Aseeri, and (from English to Arabic) the autobiography of a contestant on the Arabic ‘Survival’ programme. Her first novel Land of the Pomegranate was published in 2012.

Leila al-Mutawa (Bahrain) is a novelist and journalist, born in 1986. She is well known for her articles and writings defending women's rights, which have been widely translated, and she writes several blogs. She has one published novel My Heart is Not for Sale (2012) and has mentored aspiring writers on the Al-Jil workshop project. The Saudi writer Fahd 'Arishi wrote about her life in his book of biographies of influential people, Dreams Do Not Die (2015).

Hecham Mechbal (Morocco) is a researcher and novelist, born in 1979. He obtained a PhD in Rhetoric and Discourse Analysis from Tetouan University, where he is a member of the Rhetoric and Discourse Analysis forum. His field of research is rhetoric and narrative. As well as a number of academic studies, he is the author of a biography of a political prisoner, Dreams of the Darkness (2003) and two novels: The Free Bird (2009) and Bells of Fear (2014). He is a regular contributor to academic journals and participant in seminars in Morocco and abroad. The Free Bird won the Moroccan Channel 2 Prize in its third edition, and in 2010 he was awarded the Abdelmalek Essaadi University Award for Excellence.

Lamees Yousef (UAE) is a presenter and novelist. After studying Media at Sharjah University, Lamees Yousef worked in media and events management at the Dubai World Trade Centre. She researched and presented ‘Cultural Dimensions’, a programme for Sama Dubai TV in collaboration with the Dubai Cultural and Scientific Association, which won the 2015 Al-Owais Award for Creativity. In 2014, she published a novel, Rock, Paper, Scissors, and her next novel, White Clothes in the Cooking Pot  was to be launched at the 2016 Sharjah Book Fair.

Susannah Tarbush, Londo; pictures courtesy of IPAF

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