Thursday, November 10, 2011

only one woman on 13-strong 'arabic booker prize' - IPAF - longlist

International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) 2012 longlist is announced
Susannah Tarbush

The longlist of 13 novels competing for the 2012 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF - popularly knows as the 'Arabic Booker'), worth a total of $60,000 to the winner, was announced today. The entrants comprised 101 novels from 15 countries, published in the past 12 months. It is striking that there is only one woman among the longlist's 13 authors - in statistical terms, 7.7% of the list. The sole woman on the 2012 longlist is Iraqi-Danish writer Hawra al-Nadawi for Under the Copenhagen Sky (Dar al-Saqi). Al-Nadawi left Iraq with her family for political reasons when she was six. She grew up in Denmark learnt Arabic at home, and lives in London.

Under the Copenhagen Sky (Taht Sama' Kobinhaghin) by Hawra al-Nadawi

This low female presence on the longlist is in marked contrast to last year when the 16-book longlist included seven women - ie 43.8% - the highest proportion in the prize’s history. The chairman of the 2011 IPAF judges, Iraqi poet and novelist Fadhil al-Azzawi, said when the 2011 longlist was announced: "We are delighted with the very high percentage of women who reached the longlist compared with previous years.” It is understood that 2011 was an exceptional year for the proportion of women writers from whom IPAF entries came; presumably publishers submitted a lower proportion for the 2012 prize.

In each of the first three IPAF shortlists, there was only one woman among the six shortlistees. In 2011 there were two. The organisers and judges of IPAF have stuck to the principle, as surely they must, that works submitted just be judged solely on literary merit and that there should be no tokenism as regards gender of geography. The low representation of women on the IPAF longlist raises wider questions about women and the Arab literary and publishing scene. Complaints about the low representation of women in a literary prize are hardly unique to IPAF or the Arab world: it was unhappiness about a perceived male dominance of the Booker Prize that led to the launching in the UK in 1996 of the Orange Prize for fiction by women.

For the first time in the first four years of IPAF's existence the 2011 prize went to a woman - Saudi writer Raja Alem for The Doves’ Necklace. The co-winner was Moroccan Mohammed Achaari with The Arch and the Butterfly. The Doves’ Necklace, for which London-based Andrew Nurnberg Associates is the UK agent, recently secured English-language publishing deals with The Overlook Press in America and Duckworth Books in the UK. Achaari’s novel will be published in English translation by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) in 2012.

Stephanie Gorton of Overlook Press said when the Alem deal was announced: "Overlook is proud to be publishing this book for an English-language readership. We are excited to collaborate with Raja Alem, who has overcome significant obstacles to gain recognition for her brilliant writing and as the first woman to win the IPAF. The Doves' Necklace is a dark, elegant, and wonderfully entertaining novel that deserves all the acclaim it has received, and is sure to receive in the future."

The longlisted authors are from seven countries. Lebanon and Egypt each have four authors on the list, while Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Tunisia and Jordan are each represented by a single author. A Saudi novelist won the prize in 2010 and 2011, but the 2012 longlist has no novel from Saudi Arabia or any other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state, nor from Yemen. The 2011 longlist had two works by Morcccan novelists (both of them former ministers of culture) which made it to the shortlist, and one of which won IPAF, but Morocco does not feature on the 2012 longlist and neither does Libya.

IPAF says: A number of the longlisted novels have a Lebanese war theme: other common themes include displacement – both for expatriate Arabs and those who have lost loved ones in childhood – and the challenge of rediscovering one’s roots and identity.”

The longlist includes a previous winner of the prize, Egyptian Youssef Ziedan with The Nabatean. Ziedan won IPAF in 2009 for Azazel, due to be published in English translation by Atlantic Books in the UK in April 2012.

Youssef Ziedan

The $60,000 cash prize, first awarded in 2008, is composed of the prize of $50,000 plus the $10,000 that goes to each of the six shortlisted books. IPAF was launched in Abu Dhabi in April 2007, and is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation and by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy. The Foundation funds the prize, which is also supported by Abu Dhabi International Book Fair and Etihad Airways.

The shortlist will be announced on 7 December in Cairo and the winner in Abu Dhabi on 27 March on the eve of the Abu Dhabi Inernational Book Fair held from 28 March – 2April.

As in previous years the identity of the judges is still secret at this stage in the judging process. IPAF says only that the judges are “five specialists in the field of Arabic literature”. The judges’ names will not be disclosed until 7 December when the shortlist is announced. The as-yet-unidentified chair of the judges said today: “The fifth cycle of IPAF takes place in exceptional circumstances, with many Arab uprisings against despotic regimes which have been entrenched in most regions of the Arab world for long decades."

He or she added: “Without actually asserting that the novels nominated for this prize cycle directly prophesy the Arab Spring, we can say that many of them paint a picture of the stifling conditions prevalent before the explosion of uprisings. They take the reader into the underground world of the secret police and portray the thirst for freedom of many of their heroes and secondary characters, at the same time exposing the opportunism of those who co-operate with those secret forces.”

The longlist includes three writers who were shortlisted, but did not win, in previous years. They are Jabbour Douaihy of Lebanon (shortlisted for June Rain in 2008); Tunisian Habib Selmi (The Scents of Marie-Claire, 2009) and Lebanese Rabee Jaber (America, 2010). Ezzedine Choukri Fishere was longlisted for the Prize in 2009, for Intensive Care.

Fadi Azzam

Also on the longlist is Syrian author Fadi Azzam whose longlisted novel Sarmada was recently launched in London in English translation, by Adam Talib, as the first title of new imprint Swallow Editions the brain child of the Germany-based German-writing Syrian writer Rafik Schami.

The eponymous location of Azzam’s novel is a Druze village in southern Syria, and the novel is steeped in Druze tradition and culture. There is also another Druze-related novel on the longlist: The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber, set in Ottoman times. A new novel by the prolific Jaber, born in Beirut in 1972 and one of the Beirut39 athors, was recently published under the title Tuyyur Holiday Inn (The Birds of Holiday Inn - Dar al Tanwir, Beirut).

The New York district of Brooklyn features for the second year running in the title of a longlisted book, Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge by Egyptian Ezzedine Choukri Fishere (published by Dar al-Ain). The 2011 longlist featured Brooklyn Heights by Egyptian Miral el-Tahawi, which progressed to the shortlist.

The fact that four of the 13 longlisted authors have previouly been shortlisted in the four IPAF judging cycles, with one of them being an IPAF winner, may give rise to concerns that IPAF is not spreading its net widely enough. But equally it could be seen as testimony to the record of certain Arab authors in regularly producing high-quality works of fiction. There may also be resentment that Egypt and Lebanon between them account for authorship 8 of the 13 books. But this continuing dominance of Egypt and Lebanon is hardly surprising, given the historical pre-eminence of these two countries in Arab writing and publishing.

The announcement of the longlist is bound to increase speculation as to the identity of the judges during the four weeks remaining until their identity is unveiled. IPAF and its PR Colman Getty of London exercise utmost discretion and were today unwilling to identify all 15 countries from whose authors books were submitted for IPAF 2012 least this makes it possible to identify at least some of those submissions which have failed to make the longlist.

The 2012 IPAF longlist (authors in alphabetical order)

by Fadi Azzam
publisher: Thaqafa

Paving the Sea
By Rashid al-Daif
Riyad al-Rayyes

The Vagrant
by Jabbour Douaihy
Dar al-Nahar

Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge
by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere
Dar al-Ain
Rabee Jaber
The Druze of Belgrade
by Rabee Jaber
Al-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi

The Unemployed
by Nasr Iraq
Al-Dar al-Masriya al-Lubnaniya

Toy of Fire
by Bashir Mufti

Under the Copenhagen Sky
by Hawra al-Nadawi
Dar al-Saqi

Suitcases of Memory
by Sharbel Qatan

Nocturnal Creatures of Sadness
by Mohamed al-Refai
Dar Merit
Habib Selmi
The Women of al-Basatin
by Habib Selmi
Dar al-Adab

The Amazing Journey of Khair al-Din ibn Zard
by Ibrahim al-Zaarur
Dar Fada'at

The Nabatean
by Youssef Ziedan
Dar al-Shorouq

from the IPAF Press Release issued through Colman Getty:

The Prize, which celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2012, has become a leading cultural event in the Arab world. Lauded as the ‘foremost literary award for writing in Arabic’ (The National) and ‘the yardstick of literary excellence’ (The Times), it is the first of its kind in the Arab world in its commitment to independence, transparency and integrity. Its aim is to celebrate the very best of contemporary Arabic fiction and encourage wider international readership of Arabic literature through translation.

In the past five years the Prize has secured English translations for all of its winners: Bahaa Taher (2008), Youssef Ziedan (2009), Abdo Khal (2010) and joint winners Mohammed Achaari and Raja Alem (2011). Taher’s Sunset Oasis was translated into English by Sceptre (an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton) in 2009 and has gone on to be translated into at least eight languages worldwide. Ziedan’s Azazel will be published in the UK by Atlantic Books in April 2012, and Abdo Khal and Mohammed Achaari’s books will also be published in 2012, by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing. Raja Alem’s The Doves’ Necklace has recently secured an English language publisher, with The Overlook Press in America and Duckworth Books in the UK. All of the winning titles, and a significant number of shortlisted and longlisted books have been translated internationally in South America, Europe and Asia.

Jonathan Taylor, Chair of the Board of Trustees, commented: “Five years on, it is hugely gratifying to see how the prize is fulfilling its purpose: to recognise and reward the best of Arabic literature and to encourage translation internationally. We are also delighted to see how the prize has stimulated Arabic fiction writing, as a genre.”

Salwa Mikdadi, Head of Arts & Culture Programme at the Emirates Foundation, adds: “The Prize continues to garner regional and international interest in Arabic literature, as evident in the multiple editions and the translations into over twelve languages. The Foundation is proud to continue its support of the Prize in its fifth year.”

For further information about the Prize, visit or follow the prize on Facebook

The first five winners of the Prize are:

2008: Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher (Egypt)
2009: Azazel by Youssef Ziedan (Egypt)
2010: Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles by Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabia)
2011: The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari (Morocco) and The Doves' Necklace by Raja Alem (Saudi Arabia)

In addition to the annual Prize, IPAF supports an annual Nadwa (writers’ workshop) for emerging writers from across the Arab world. The inaugural Nadwa took place in November 2009 and included eight writers, who had been recommended by IPAF Judges as writers of exceptional promise. The result was eight new pieces of fiction which have been published in English and Arabic by Dar Al Saqi Books in Emerging Arab Voices: Nadwa1, which was launched at Sharjah International Book Fair on 27 October 2010 and in the UK in January 2011. Two further workshops took place in Abu Dhabi, in October 2010 and October 2012. All three nadwas were run under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, UAE.

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