Wednesday, October 30, 2013

5th IPAF Nadwa for emerging Arab writers opens in Abu Dhabi resort

 IPAF Nadwa mentor: Mohammed Achaari

Eight emerging writers - four men and four women - from eight Arab countries yesterday began the writers' workshop  known as the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) Nadwa, held annually in Abu Dhabi.

This year's Nadwa is led by two mentors:  Moroccan writer Mohammed Achaari - joint winner of IPAF (often referred to as the Arabic Booker) in 2011 for his novel The Arch and the Butterfly - and Lebanese author May Menassa, shortlisted in IPAF's first year, 2008, for Walking in the Dust.

The eight emerging writers participating in the Nadwa are Ayman Otoom (Jordan b1972); Hicham Benchchaoui (Morocco b1976); Samir Kacimi (Algeria 1974); Noha Mahmoud (Egypt b1980); Lulwah al-Mansuri (UAE 1979); Bushra al-Maqtari (Yemen b1979);  Abdullah Mohammed Alobaid (Saudi Arabia b1984), and Nasrin Trabulsi (Syria). (Full biographical details are below)

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the prestigious IPAF Nadwa, which brings together emerging writers from across North Africa and the Middle East and gives them the opportunity to hone their skills under the tutelage of IPAF winning and shortlisted authors.

This is the sixth year of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The longlist for IPAF 2014 will be announced on Monday 6 January, the shortlist on Monday 10 February 2013, and the winner on Tuesday 29 April

May Menassa

This year's eight-day IPAF Nadwa, from 29 October to 5 November, is taking place in the secluded desert resort of Qasr Al Sarab. It is sponsored by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region.

The eight participants were identified by former judges of IPAF as ‘ones to watch’.  Aged from 29 to 43, they come from  a variety of writing backgrounds and professions.

The Nadwa offers emerging authors a retreat where they are able to work on a new piece of fiction, or to develop an existing, unpublished work. In addition to their mentoring sessions with Mohammed Achaari and May Menassa, the participants will take part in daily discussions with their peers, critique each other’s work, and discuss literature in more general terms.

 the first volume of works produced at the IPAF Nadwa

The fruits of the Nadwa will include eight new works of fiction. These will  in time be edited and translated into a bilingual volume of extracts. To date, two volumes IPAF Nadwa volumes have been published, by Saqi Books and Arab Scientific Publishers. Two previous Nadwa participants – Egyptian Mansoura Ez Eldin and Saudi Mohammed Hasan Alwan – went on to be shortlisted for IPAF. Alwan's novel The Beaver, which was shortlisted in IPAF 2012, began life in the 2009 IPAF Nadwa.

Mohammed Achaari said:  "I am greatly looking forward to encountering new texts as they are in the process of being created." He noted that "it is commonly thought that writing is a work which happens between the writer and their text, in isolation and solitude. Perhaps this is true at a deep level, but transforming this almost sensory intimacy into open dialogue and group interchange gives the writing another dimension, as it becomes a shared effort." Achaari says "it will be exciting to get to know these new works in the mirror of other texts, both during the workshop and as they develop afterwards".

Fleur Montanaro

IPAF Administrator Fleur Montanaro, who is coordinating the Nadwa, adds: "We are delighted to be celebrating the fifth year of the IPAF Nadwa, which provides a forum for talented young writers from across the Arab world to interact and engage with each other's work. In the company of Mohammed Achaari and May Menassa as mentors, this year’s Nadwa promises to be as inspiring and stimulating as ever".

IPAF is the leading international prize for Arabic literature. Sponsored by Abu Dhabi Tourism and 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.
Further information on the Prize can be found at: 


Ayman Otoom is a Jordanian poet and novelist, born in Jerash, Jordan in 1972. He went to secondary school in the UAE and graduated in Civil Engineering from the Jordanian University of Science and Technology in 1997. He then went on to obtain a B.A. in Arabic Language from the University of Yarmuk, Jordan, in 1999 and an M.A. and doctorate in Arabic Language from the University of Jordan in 2007. He has published several volumes of poetry, including his most recent Take Me to the Al-Aqsa Mosque (2013), and is the author of three novels: My Friend, Prison and They Hear Her Whispering (both published in 2012) and The Taste of Death (2013). He is currently a teacher in Amman.

Hicham Benchchaoui is a Moroccan writer. Born in al-Jadida, Morocco, in 1976, he trained as a journalist and has written for several Arab newspapers and periodicals. From 2008 to 2010 he worked as a cultural reporter for Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada and Moroccan newspaper Al-Jarida al-Oula. He also co-edited the seventh edition of Sisra magazine, published by the cultural association Aljouf, Saudi Arabia. He is the author of two novels and four short story collections. His novel Nap on an Autumn Sunday came third in the Al Tayeb Salih Award for Creative Writing in 2012. 

Samir Kacimi is an Algerian novelist. Born in Algiers in 1974, he graduated with a Law degree and currently works as a newspaper columnist. His first novel was Declaration of Lostness (2009), the first Algerian novel to deal with prison in Algeria, which won the Hashemi Saidani Award for the best Algerian debut. In the same year, he published his second novel A Great Day to Die, the first Algerian novel to reach the IPAF longlist. His third novel, Halabil, was published in 2010 and chapters from his next work In Love with a Barren Woman (2011) were featured in English translation in Banipal Magazine. His most recent novel is The Dreamer (2012).

Noha Mahmoud is an Egyptian writer, born in 1980. She currently writes for Egyptian newspaper The Republic. She has published three prose works and three novels: Telling Stories Sitting on Marble Blocks (2007), Rakousha (2009) and Hallucinations (2013), for which she won the Dubai Cultural Prize. 

Lulwah al-Mansuri is a writer and journalist from the United Arab Emirates. Born in 1979, she has a B.A. in Arabic and a diploma in Family and Media Studies. Her novel, The Last Women of Lengeh, was published by the Department of Media and Culture in Sharjah in 2013. Her short story collection, The Village Which Sleeps in My Pocket, won the Dubai Cultural Prize in 2013.

Bushra al-Maqtari was born in Taiz, Yemen in 1979. She is a writer and novelist and member of the executive board of the Union of Yemeni Writers. She has published a prose collection called The Furthest Reaches of Pain (2003) and a novel, Behind the Sun (2012). Her writing has been published in various Arab newspapers and periodicals. In 2013, she was awarded the Fran├žoise Giroud Award for Defence of Freedom and Liberties in Paris and also the Leaders for Democracy Prize, presented by the Project on Middle East Democracy, in Washington.  

Abdullah Alobaid is a Saudi Arabian writer. Born in Riyadh in 1984, he studied Management Information Systems at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran. He is the author of one novel, Nicotine (2011), and Companion, a book of prose and poetry (2013). He has also written scripts for television dramas and, for the last four years, has performed stand-up comedy. 

Nasrin Trabulsi is a Syrian writer. Based in Kuwait, she works as a television news presenter. She has a B.A. in Dramatic Literature and is the author of three collections of short stories – Waiting for a Legend (1997), Scheherazade Got Bored (2004), The Last Dance Rehearsal (2008) – and a book of prose poetry, entitled Speech of the Dumb (2009). She has published a number of critical articles in Arab newspapers and specialist periodicals on literature and the theatre, as well as a series of articles called From the Balcony of Humanity in Sawa Magazine and the Kuwaiti al-Qabas newspaper. Currently, she writes a column for Al-Quds al-Arabi called Fadaai'yat. She has hosted several literary evenings in which she dramatically enacted her short stories, in Damascus, Kuwait, Cairo and Sharjah.  


Mohammed Achaari was born in 1951 in Zerhoun, Morocco. After studying Law and Administration, he worked in political and cultural journalism and was editor of a number of newspapers and cultural supplements. He has written articles on literature and the arts, including poetry and short stories. For three consecutive years, he was head of the Union of Moroccan writers and his political work led him to take up various government posts, including that of Minister of Culture in Morocco from 1998-2007. His 11 poetry collections have been published in Baghdad, Beirut and Casablanca, and he is regarded as one of the most prominent poetic voices of the 70s generation in Morocco. His 2011 novel The Arch and the Butterfly won IPAF and was recently nominated for Italy’s Ziator Prize. His works have been translated into a number of languages. He lives in Rabat, Morocco, where he is a full-time writer. 

May Menassa was born in Beirut in 1939 and holds a postgraduate diploma in French Literature. She began her career as a broadcast journalist in 1959. She has worked as a critic for the Lebanese newspaper An Nahar since 1969. She has published eight novels, as well as two children’s books and she has worked on many translations, mainly from French into Arabic. Her fifth novel Walking in the Dust was shortlisted for IPAF in 2008. Her first novel, Pages from Notebooks of a Pomegranate Tree (1998), was translated into French in 2012. 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Saqi Books events at Nour Festival focus on Arab history, sexuality, art and fiction

Saqi Books, a "proud partner" of the Nour Festival of Arts: Contemporary art, film, literature, music and performance from the Middle East and North Africa is organising three literary events for the two-month Festival which was officially launched on 1 October.
The Festival, spearheaded by the Council of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and involving some 36 partners, is taking place in more than 20 venues in the borough. It offers six art exhibitions, 16 film screenings, 15 talks and debates, 14 performances across dance and drama music and poetry, four evenings of special events, three cookery classes, eight workshops, the Pop-Up Souk and the Nour Tour Bus .
On 15 October at 18.30 at Kensington Central Library John McHugo talks about his work A Concise History of the Arabs, published recently by Saqi Books. McHugo is an international lawyer and Arabist, with over forty years’ experience of the region. He has worked as a lawyer in many Arab countries, notably Egypt, Bahrain and Oman. 
His book deals with the political, social and intellectual history of the Arabs, from the Roman Empire to the present day. His talk will cover the mission of Prophet Muhammad, the expansion of Islam, medieval and modern conflicts, the interaction with Western ideas, the struggle to escape foreign domination, the rise of Islamism and end of the era of dictators. A Q and A session will follow. The talk is part of the London History Festival.
"Does the Arab Spring Need a Summer of Love?". This is the topic of a discussion on taboos and changing sexual mores in the Arab world,  to be held at the Mosaic Rooms at 19.00 on 6 November.
The discussants are eminently equipped to discuss the subject. They are Shereen El Feki, author of Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World, Brian Whitaker, author of Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East, Daniel L. Newman, Professor of Arabic at Durham University, translator of works of Mediaeval Arabic Erotica, and  Malu Halasa - co-author of The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design.

During the summer the Saqi imprint Telegram published the novel The Lady from Tel Aviv, by Palestinian Raba'i al-Madhoun. The author and his translator Elliott Colla will discuss the book and give bilingual readings at an event chaired by Rosie Goldsmith to be held at the Mosaic Rooms on 21 November at 19.00. The Lady from Tel Aviv was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) in 2010. The translated book received an English PEN Writers in Translation Award.
In addition to its three literary events, Saqi is also involved in the the Pop-Up Souk, and the Nour Tour Bus events. Its bookshop in Westbourne Grove is one of five Arab-related cultural institutions in the Royal Borough to which private visits will be made by passengers aboard the Nour Tour Bus on 9 November, from 10.00.
Al-Souk, to be held from 14 November to 1 December, is the first-ever Arab Arts and Design pop-up boutique. It will take place in Notting Hill, in the Graffik Gallery at 242 Portobello Road and the Tabernacle Gallery in Powis Square.
Susannah Tarbush

Saturday, October 05, 2013

all aboard for the Nour Festival of Middle East and North African culture

The Nour Tour Bus

On Saturday 9 November one of London's iconic Routemaster double-decker buses will travel the streets of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) to the accompaniment of Middle Eastern music, courtesy of an onboard DJ.

The bus will stop at four of the borough's key venues related to Arab art: the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ismaili Centre, Leighton House Museum and the Mosaic Rooms. The bus will also stop at  Al Saqi - the capital's leading Arab literature bookshop. The £25 tour ticket covers private visits to the five venues. At midday passengers will be served with a complimentary drink and a mezze platter.

The bus - dubbed the Nour Tour Bus - is just one of the events on the programme of the two-month Nour Festival of Arts: Contemporary art, film, literature, music and performance from the Middle East and North Africa. The festival organised by RBKC in association with some 36 partners runs from 1 October to 30 November. It encompasses more than 20 venues across the borough. RBKC is home to a diversity of communities from the Middle East and North Africa, and its second language is Arabic.

from the Ferozkoh exhibition

This is the fourth year of the Nour Festival. One of the highlights of this year's Festival is the partnership with the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Doha, which brings to Leighton House Museum the remarkable exhibition  Ferozkoh: Tradition and Continuity in Afghan Art. Ferozkoh pairs priceless historical objects from MIA's collection with modern-day interpretations by craftspeople from Afghanistan. The exhibition is MIA's first-ever touring show, and is part of Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture. Ferozkoh runs from 15 November to 23 February 2014.

Councillor Timothy Coleridge

The Festival was launched on Tuesday evening at a reception held in the splendid surroundings of Chelsea Old Town Hall on the King's Road, with live music performed by Parvaz Ensemble. In his speech Councillor Timothy Coleridge, RBKC Cabinet Member for Planning Policy, Transport and Arts, enumerated the events on offer during the Festival: six art exhibitions, 16 film screenings, 15 talks and debates, 14 performances across dance and drama music and poetry, four evenings of special events, three cookery classes, eight workshops, a Pop-up Souk, and the Nour Tour Bus.

Councillor Coleridge said: "The Royal Borough believes very strongly that arts and culture are an important part of our  borough's life. We want all our residents to have an opportunity to experience and enjoy the arts in their own communities. We believe that the arts can bring out the best in people and they can  help build together better neighbourhoods, encourage economic benefit and most important of all bring enjoyment to people's lives."

earrings from the Ferozkoh exhibition

The RBKC Council enables the Festival to happen by acting as an organiser and a catalyst. "But it is without doubt the partnership of all the organisations - you who are here tonight - and the artists represented that make it such a success."

Coleridge was sure those attending the opening would like to join him in extending thanks to Alan Kirwan, the Council's former Arts Officer.  Kirwan created the Nour Festival in its first three years. "We wish him well in his new role at the European Parliament's House of European History in Brussels," Coleridge said, adding jokingly "I expect he'll have to rewrite most of it."

Since its inception, Nour has grown and is rapidly becoming one of Europe's most significant annual showcases of contemporary arts and culture from across the Middle East and North Africa. Councillor Coleridge said:  "We always have an eye on the future, and our ambition is to make Nour year on year better and more successful. So I'm very pleased tonight that guests include representatives of prominent organisations which have not been part of Nour before but with whom we are beginning to discuss collaborations and partnerships. 

 Dr Shahidha Bari

Dr Shahidha Bari, lecturer in Romanticism at the Department of English at Queen Mary's University of London has research interests including the Romantic Poets, and Islam and Arab Culture. She said in her speech how excited she was to be at the Nour Festival  which is so obviously going to be "lively, challenging and engaging."

She had been invited to address the opening by John Hampson, the Strategy Officer behind the Arts and Culture programme at RBKC. She thought it worth noting "how hard he himself has worked on developing this very important festival, now in its fourth year, growing bigger and bolder."

Dr Bari said the festival is important for several reasons, not least because it brings something enriching and rewarding to the area: for two months it alters the complexion and nature of this particularly highly cultured part of London.

"But it's important too because it is representative of the way culture is in itself inestimably valuable. It is, of course, increasingly important that we continue to support and sanction ventures like this, providing platforms and audiences for practitioners, especially through moments of economic downturn and political tumult - even more so, in those circumstances. And the Nour Festival is an intellectual and political venture as well as a celebratory cultural one."

The Festival is freighted with the political and intellectual weight of what has happened and is happening in the Arab and North African world, Dr Bari observed. "But it's important to note that it is not simply the case that culture and the arts represent or respond to the complex social world we live in", they also "produce the world as well as reflect it. The arts not only represent but produce our world in powerful ways."

London Algerian Ballet

Dr Bari thought it important to remember that "this lovely festival, which promises to be full of inquiry and intelligence, is also a small but significant part of a serious engagement with ourselves in the present. It is an opportunity to articulate our global, collective selves, where the people of Kensington & Chelsea borough are not separable from the worlds that will be presented to them throughout the duration of his festival."

This year's Nour programme showcases the varied work of diaspora communities. The London Algerian Ballet promises to marry vintage, traditional and contemporary dance. "I don't know if we have any representatives, but in the programme you've also promised to feed us - 'A traditional Algerian meal will be served during the evening.' -  I'm there! It's at the Tabernacle on 8th Nov. It sounds amazing!

"I'm there because the ways that diaspora communities sustain, develop and transform their cultures in different places, is sacred and important and valuable work. And the programme is full of these great projects." Dr Bari also noted that the Council has made particular efforts to make the Festival genuinely participatory, as evidenced by the impressive number of open workshops, art, dance and calligraphy classes. "I think these are marvellous efforts at making our cultural engagement engaged."

The third speaker was Rose Issa of the Rose Issa Gallery, which has been a Nour partner from the start. This year the Gallery is sponsoring two events in the Nour programme. The first is the London debut of the Paris-based Tunisian artist Mourad Salem with his exhibition 'Sultans Are No Sultans' at the Leighton House Museum from 3 to 31 October.

 Beware of the Orchids by Mourad Salem, from the exhibition Sultans Are No Sultans

The second event sponsored by the Rose Issa gallery is Sajaya:Oud concert by the Egyptian composer and player Georges Kazazian at Leighton House Museum on 29 October. The recital will be Kazazian's first performance in London. 

 Rose Issa

Issa thanked the senior curator of Leighton House Museum Daniel Robbins, as well as John Hampson of RBKC. They had been extremely supportive generally, and in particular over the participation of Mourad Salem and Georges Kazazian in their events at Leighton House Museum. She said many of the artists who were promoted at Leighton House 10 or 20 years ago are now big names, thanks to this first  small-scale breakthrough in Europe.

Issa recalled how when the idea of  a Middle Eastern festival for the borough was first being mooted a few years back, Alan Kirwan - who was at that time working at  Leighton House - approached her to find a name for it. Issa is half Lebanese, half Iranian, and has been promoting for the last 30 years mainly contemporary artists and filmmakers from the Arab world, Iran and Turkey.  Nour means light, and enlightenment, and is a word that "links Arab culture with Iranian culture with Turkish culture with Kurdish culture, with many Afghans and central Asians: that was the word that linked us together." Nour opens the door for many to understand the region's cultures.

Isssa said she has always thought that "artists are our best speakers, whether it be visual arts, film or music. Giving  a platform to talented artists means opening new doors for the general public in Britain to our culture." The public is bombarded with media distortions  and this image needs to be balanced. "With  sNour and this enlightenment we can fight distorted perspectives. Nour is part of that struggle to open doors to understanding."
 by Susannah Tarbush