None of six shortlisted books deemed good enough to scoop Sheikh Zayed Book award’s literature prize, worth £130,000
A £130,000 book award intended to celebrate the best literature in the Arab world has been withheld because all candidates failed to meet the prize’s “stringent” requirements.
Although Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Book awards, which hand out a total of AED7m (£1.21m), found winners for categories including children’s literature, fine art and translation, the AED750,000 literature prize was not awarded because the books submitted “did not meet the award’s stringent norms” – so the advisory council opted to withhold it.
After 148 books were nominated for the literature award, which is open to poetry, stories, novels, plays and works of criticism, six titles were longlisted, of which five were novels: Iraqi author Maysaloon Hadi’s The Tea of the Bride, books by Jordanian authors Samiha Ali Khrais and Hisham Saleh Abdallah called Yahya and A Period of Oppression respectively, Moroccan Mohammed Gharnate’s Under the Moonlight and Syrian Mousa Abbas’s Bilan. One study of Arabic reading, by Moroccan author Abderrahim Ouhabi, was also in the running.
“I don’t understand it at all. Why make a shortlist if you don’t believe in the titles?” wrote M Lynx Qualey at ArabLit, a website about Arabic literature in English. “This non-awarding of the literature prize is not likely to do much for the profile of an award that already languished in the shadow of the IPAF. Despite the SZBA’s AED750,000 in prize money, the award has not captured public attention like the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.” Qualey went on to point out that there was no overlap between the titles on the Sheikh Zayed Book award and the longlist for the higher-profile (but, worth $60,000 to the winner, less lucrative) IPAF, widely dubbed the “Arabic Booker”.
The Sheikh Zayed Book award was established in October 2006. This year, it selected Egypt’s culture minister Shaker Abdel-Hamid as winner of its fine arts prize, for his book Art and Eccentrics; Abdo Wazen from Lebanon won the children’s literature award for his novel about a blind child The Boy Who Saw the Colour of Air, praised for its “beautiful narrative language”; Tunisian Layla Al Obaidi won the young author prize for her title Humour in Islam and her fellow Tunisian Abu Y’arub Al Marzouqi took the translation award for A Prelude to Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy.
Unesco won the cultural personality of the year award “for the key role it plays in preserving the global cultural heritage liberated of prejudice or discrimination”, Brill Publishing House was named winner of the publishing and distribution prize “for its rich history, strong international focus and promotion of Arab culture”, and South Korea’s Paju Bookcity took the best technology in the field of culture prize for setting an example “worthy of highlighting as a success story to other countries in the Arab region”.
The “best contribution to the development of the country” prize was, like the literature award, withheld over a lack of suitable candidates.
from Alison Flood