Saudi Author Mohammed Hasan Alwan Wins 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction

In News by Porter Anderson

At Tuesday’s ceremony in Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Hasan Alwan, the Riyadh-born author of five novels, is honored with the Arab world’s top award.

At Tuesday’s (April 25) International Prize for Arabic Literature awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabian author Mohammed Hasan Alwan, left, speaks with Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak and prize administrator Fleur Montanaro. Image: IPAF, Kheridine Mabrouk

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Fiction Based on a Revered Sufi Master
Saudi Arabian novelist Mohammed Hasan Alwan has been announced today (April 25) as the winner of this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF).

Mohammed Hasan Alwan

As reported by Publishing Perspectives, Alwan is one of six writers shortlisted for the award, and his novel A Small Death—published by Dar Al Saqi—has been announced at the prize ceremony in Abu Dhabi as the winner.

A Small Death is a fictional account of the life of the Sufi master and poet Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi. Its story runs from Ibn ‘Arabi’s birth in Muslim Spain in the 12th century until his death in Damascus.

The story follows Ibn ‘Arabi’s mystic experience and heroic travels from Andalusia to Azerbaijan, via Morocco, Egypt, the Hijaz, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. Many Sufi specialists regard Ibn ‘Arabi as a genuine saint and the greatest of all masters in Islamic mysticism, or Sufi.

“I was thinking what must his memory hold?” Alwan tells Publishing Perspectives in an interview from Abu Dhabi following the prize ceremony.

Ibn ‘Arabi “was known as the Sufi symbol of the traveler,” having moved about at intervals of several years , and not because of political pressure or economic demands but simply because of his passion for travel. “Two or three years in one place, and then he’d move to another.”

Our complete interview with Mohammed Hasan Alwan is here.

Alwan wins a cash prize of US$50,o00, in addition to funding for a translation to English of his winning book.

In making the announcement, the Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh, who served as chair of the prize jury, described the book as exploring “the life and thought of Ibn ‘Arabi.

“With striking artistry and in captivating language,” Khalifeh said, “it sheds light on Ibn ‘Arabi’s view of spiritual and temporal love in their most refined forms. The life of Ibn ‘Arabi, the man, evolves and takes shape against the background of a tumultuous historical period filled with wars and conflicts.”

Alwan, 37, is a native of Riyadh who now lives part of the year in Toronto. He has four novels in publication in addition to A Small Death. They are, in titles translated to English:

  • The Ceiling of Sufficiency (2002)
  • Sophia (2004)
  • The Collar of Purity (2007)
  • The Beaver (2011)

No stranger to the Arabic Fiction prize, Alwan was shortlisted for The Beaver in 2013. Its French translation by Stéphanie Dujols won the Prix de la Littérature Arabe in 2015 from the Arab World Institute. The book has also been translated into Norwegian, but not yet into English.

Alwan has also worked with the Arabic Fiction program as a mentor in 2016, having been invited to join the program’s first writers’ workshop in 2009.

Alwan’s 2014 book Migration: Theories and Key Factors is a nonfiction work.

His fellow shortlisted authors for this year’s prize are:

This video was produced by the prize to provide commentary from each of the shortlisted authors on his or her work. Alwan appears last on the tape.

The Arabic Fiction Prize at 10

Recognized as the leading literary prize in the Arab world, the program honors prose fiction and is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London. It’s funded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority in the United Arab Emirates.

The prize also has the support of the Etihad Aviation Group, which makes it possible for the prize’s judges and shortlisted authors to travel to the prize ceremony in Abu Dhabi.

Organizers of the prize have provided a series of facts about the prize in its first decade:

  • In 10 years of IPAF, 33 of the Arabic novels recognized by the prize have since been translated into other languages.
  • English is the most popular language for translations, boosted by funding from the prize for the winning novels. Twenty-seven honored novels now are available in English. French is next with 15 translated novels, followed by Italian with 12.
  • IPAF novels have been translated in 24 different languages ranging from Bosnian to Icelandic, Bulgarian to Indonesian.
  • The novel that has secured the most translations is the prize’s 2009 winner Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan, which has been translated into 16 languages.
  • In its original Arabic, Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan has also been reprinted the most times, and is now in its 35th edition. It is followed closely by 2013 winner The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi, which is in its 32nd edition.
  • With 13 longlisted books over the decade, publishing house Dar al-Adab from Beirut is the Prize’s most decorated publisher. Six of its novels have gone on to make the shortlist.
  • The most adorned author accolade goes to Lebanese novelist Rabee Jaber, who was longlisted in 2009 with Confessions, shortlisted in 2010 with America, the winner in 2012 with The Druze of Belgrade, and longlisted in 2013 for The Birds of the Holiday Inn.
  • The youngest winner is Saud Alsanousi, who was 32 when he was awarded the prize in 2013. The eldest winner is Bahaa Taher, aged 73, when he picked up the inaugural prize in 2008 for Sunset Oasis.
  • Since the prize’s nadwa–an annual workshop for emerging writers–launched in 2009, there have been 68 participants from across the Arab world.
  • The most eligible submissions received for the prize in one year is 186, which was for this year’s prize.

The six shortlisted novels for the 10th annual International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2017

An interview with Mohammed Hasan Alwan is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.