International Prize for Arabic Fiction Writers Workshop Opens in Abu Dhabi Desert

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

In Abu Dhabi, six writers and their mentors take part in the ninth annual writers workshop, called a ‘nadwa,’ and hosted by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction’s ninth ‘nadwa’ gets underway in this session shot from today (December 12) in Abu Dhabi. Image: Provided by IPAF

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

‘The Text Leaves Its Solitary Life’

The ninth writers workshop in Abu Dhabi hosted by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) gets underway today (December 12) in at the Arabian Nights Village resort in the Abu Dhabi desert. IPAF and its workshops, or nadwa, are under the patronage of the Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The term nadwa, from the Arabic, is loosely translated to refer to a meeting, a gathering of minds, sometimes a governmental event. It might refer to a council. In the Encyclopedia of Islam, for example, Mecca’s Dar Al Nadwa is said to have been a kind of council house.

The event this week is a workshop for writers from North Africa and the Middle East, and is newly supported in this instance by the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF), as part of the foundation’s Riwaq Al Adab wal Kitab initiative, a “book and literature” platform dedicated to supporting the literary industry in the UAE and Arab world. The foundation’s patron is Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan.

Mohammed Hasan Alwan

One of the program’s two mentors is Mohammed Hasan Alwan of Saudia Arabia, interviewed by Publishing Perspectives after his win of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction this year for his novel A Small Death. Alwan, who also spoke this year at the professional program of the Sharjah International Book Fair, has published five novels to date and 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 Beirut39 anthology. Alwan was, himself, a participant in the IPAF’s first workshop in 2009 and was a mentor in 2016.

Sahar Al Mougy

Joining Alwan as the second mentor for the program this week is novelist and academic Sahar Al Mougy of Egypt, a member of this year’s IPAF jury and author of Daria, given the 1998 Sharhah Girl’s Clubs Prize for Women’s Creative Writing.  She teaches English literature and American studies in the English Department of Cairo University.

This week’s six participants range in age from 26 to 40 and are from Oman, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Saudia Arabia, and Palestine. In being chosen for the program, they’re designated by the program as emerging talents. Their week involves not only daily group discussion but also one-on-one talks with the mentors.

Another workshop was held in Oman last month, the first time that country has hosted one of the training events.

Participants in the 2017 Abu Dhabi Writers Workshop

Mohanned Al Dabi

  • Mohanned Al Dabi (Sudan) is a writer born in Al-Qadarif, Sudan. He has worked as an editor and manager of the cultural supplement of the Sudanese newspaper Al-Tayyar. His work “Shadow” won the 2014 Al-Tayib Saleh International Award for Creative Writing in the short story category. He has two published novels: Enchanters of the River Bank (2014) and The Violence of the Meteors (2016), and a short story collection, also titled Shadow (2016), and he has a  forthcoming novel, The Forgotten Jew, and another short story collection, What Happened Behind the Wall, both of which are to be released at the Riyadh Book Fair in March.

Ashraf Fagih

  • Ashraf Fagih (Saudi Arabia) has obtained a PhD in Computing from Queen’s University in Canada and is an assistant professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals. He published a science fiction short story collection, The Ghost Hunter, in 1997. He’s currently writing a historical novel about the military campaign of the Ottoman ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, in the Arabian Peninsula.

Huda Hamed

  • Huda Hamed (Oman) is from Rustaq and took a BA in Arabic literature from Aleppo University in Syria. She has worked as a journalist in cultural coverage for the newspaper Oman and the magazine Nazwa. She has published three short story collections and three novels: Things Are Not Where They Should Be (2009), winner of the Sharjah Award for Arab Creativity and Best Omani Publication of 2009; She Who Counts the Stairs, published by Dar al-Adab; and Cinderella of Muscat (2016). Huda Hamed has written some episodes of Day and Day, the first Omani cartoon series. She was editor-in-chief of More Than Life, the first Omani online magazine reviewing books.

Hawra Al Nadawi

  • Hawra Al Nadawi (Iraq) is a writer born in Baghdad. She grew up in Copenhagen, studied linguistics and spent eight years in London before moving to Dubai, where she makes her home today. She’s a writer of both short stories and articles. Her first novel is titled Under the Copenhagen Sky (2010) and that book was on the longlist of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2012. Her second novel is titled Qismat and it was published in 2017.

Mariam Nasser

  • Mariam Nasser (UAE) is a writer born in Al-Ain. She’s a regular contributor to the magazine Emirates Culture as well as to various Gulf and Arab publications. She has two published short story collections: Amina (2009), which has been translated into German and Urdu, and After the Tale of the Jin (2013).


  • Mutaz Quteineh

    Mutaz Quteineh (Palestine) holds Jordanian nationality and was born in Jerusalem. He has lived most of his life in Saudi Arabia and moved to the UAE five years ago. There, he works in IT services and journalism. He has recently started an MBA at Edinburgh Napier University. Since 2001, he has published four poetry collections and one prose work. For the last two years he’s been working on another prose work as well as a poetry collection due to be released at the beginning of the year.

In a prepared statement, this year’s mentor Al Mougy is quoted, saying, “In writing workshops, the text leaves its solitary life with the writer and enjoys a brief time of recreation.

“It looks at the world afresh, meets eyes unlike those of its author and listens to other voices. It may take from them or not, just as it wishes, but one thing is sure: it will not return unchanged.”

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction is run in association with the Man Booker Prize Foundation in the UK and is sponsored by Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism. Its goal is the development and promotion of translation of Arabic literature

In the 2018 prize cycle, we expect the announcement of the 2018 longlist for the prize in January, the shortlist in February, and the winner in April. Fleur Montanaro is the administrator of IPAF and coordinates the writers workshop program.

In the dunes near Liwa Oasis in the Abu Dhabi desert. Image – iStockphoto: Cristian DXB

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

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.