Sheikh Zayed Book Award 2019 Winners: ‘World-Class Thinkers and Authors’

In News by Porter Anderson

This year’s recipients of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, as announced to date, come from Morocco, Kuwait, Algeria, Lebanon, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates.

Saeed Ghobash, under-secretary for the Abu Dhabi Deprtment of Culture and Tourism, speaks at the 2018 Sheikh Zayed Book Award ceremony. Image: Sheikh Zayed Book Award, Zoran Mircetic

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

‘Credibility and Transparency’

The Moroccan novelist  Bensalem Himmich has won the 2019 Sheikh Zayed Book Award in the literature category for his autobiography, The Self: Between Existence and Creation, published in 2018 by Centre Culturel du Livre.

In the book, Himmich, Morocco’s former ministers of culture, offers insight into his own life as a writer and novelist, and explores the intellectual positions he has taken at various points in his literary career.

In the Children’s Literature category, the Kuwaiti writer Hussain Al Mutawaa has been named the winner for his book, I Dream of Being a Cement Mixer, a 2018 release from the Al Hadaek Group.

Al Mutawaa’s is a consideration of the competing dynamics of destruction and rebuilding, as discovered by the character Haddam, who would like to become a cement mixer.

Bensalem Himmich’s ‘The Self: Between Existence and Creation’

Publishing Perspectives readers will recall from the announcement of the 2019 shortlists that the Zayed Book Award is among the most generously endowed and comprehensive prize programs, dedicated overall to bringing forward significant literary achievement in the Arab world.

In order to promote these achievements on the world stage and enable the distribution of Arabic writings in the world, the program includes translation grant availabilities for both the Literature and Children’s Literature winners.

At stake, overall, is a purse of 750,000 United Arab Emirates dirhams (US$204,183) in each of the eight book categories. The Cultural Personality of the Year carries an award of 1 million dirhams (US$272, 245).

Named for the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004), the prize honors the memory of the ruler of the former ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates for more than three decades. Sheikh Zayed is considered the visionary whose concepts of cultural importance in civil society have guided the development of the UAE to its status today as one of the most advanced and influential nations of the Arab world.

‘Intellectual and Literary Creativity’

Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan

In a prepared statement, the Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award’s board of trustees, is quoted, saying, “Intellectual and literary creativity continues to flourish in Abu Dhabi, a legacy of our great Founding Father.

“The impressive gathering of world-class thinkers and authors we see among the award-winners is a testament to the success of this initiative, which we have been able to enhance and grow year after year.”

And the award’s secretary general, Ali Bin Tamim, says, “The Award has remained at the forefront of the Arabic intellectual, cultural and literary landscape for 13 years now, garnering recognition for its credibility and transparency.

Ali Bin Tamin

“With each edition, participation and engagement grows, and we look forward to continuing our mission of the enrichment of Arab literature for many years to come.”

Tamim stresses, as our coverage has done, the extensive selection process that stands behind each award, guided by the Zayed Book Award Scientific Committee.

You can read our interviews with two members of this year’s committee, Paula Santillán Grimm here and Allison Al-Masri here.

The Arabic Center for Geographic Literature “Irtiyad al-Afaq” is the 2019 Publishing and Technology Zayed Award winner

In more wins announced by the program:

  • The Publishing and Technology category winner is the United Arab Emirates’ Arab Centre for Geographic Literature, Irtiyad Al-Afaq.
  • The prize in the category of Arab Culture in Other Languages is to go to the British scholar and researcher Philip F. Kennedy for his book Recognition in the Arabic Narrative Tradition: Discovery, Deliverance, and Delusion from Edinburgh University Press (2016).
  • The Young Author category has been won by Abderrezak Belagrouz for The Essence of Values and the Freedom of Social Concepts, published in 2017 by the Arabian Establishment for Thought and Innovation.
  • The Literary and Art Criticism category award goes to Charbel Dagher of Lebanon for Contemporary Arabic Poetry: The Prose from Al Maaref Forum, published in 2018.

The annual award program for the Sheikh Zayed Book Award is set for April 25 in the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s Plaza Auditorium.

‘Participation and Engagement’

Hussain Al Mutawaa’s ‘I Dream of Becoming a Cement Mixer’

The eight categories of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award are:

  • Literature (including poetry, short stories, novels, biographies, playscripts, and more)
  • Children’s Literature (including young adult, or YA, titles)
  • Young Author
  • Literary and Art Criticism
  • Arab Culture in Other Languages
  • Publishing and Technology
  • Translation (either to or from Arabic)
  • Contribution to the Development of Nations

In addition, the program awards a Cultural Personality of the Year for contributing to the advancement of Arabic culture.

Here’s a quick look at each of the winners announced in the category book awards for 2019.

  • Bensalem Himmich

    Bensalem Himmich, winner of the Literature award. Himmich took his PhD in philosophy from the University of Paris. Writing in both Arabic and French, some of his novels have been translated into several other languages. The Writers’ Union of Egypt chose Himmich’s novel Majnoun Al Hukm as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century. Himmich received the grand award of the French Academy of Toulouse in 2011. His novel The Man from Andalucia was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009 and My Tormentor was longlisted for the 2011 edition of that prize.

  • Hussain Al Mutawaa

    Hussain Al Mutawaa, winner of the Children’s Literature category award. Al Mutawaa is a photographer as well as writer. The Kuwaiti author has a bachelor’s degree in literature and criticism from the College of Arabic Language at the University of Kuwait, with a minor in philosophy. He began writing poetry in 2009 and won first place in the University Poet and Storyteller category in the University of Kuwait awards program. His first novel, Turab, was released in 2017, followed by his Zayed winner, I Dream of Becoming a Cement Mixer. His book is being called by jurors “beautifully written, with many twists and turns.”

  • Abderrezak Belagrouz

    Abderrezak Belagrouz, winner of the Young Author category award. An Algerian scholar with a PhD in “the science and philosophy of values and Knowledge,” Belagrouz is a lecturer in the philosophy at Staif-2 University in Algeria. He’s also a juror for the Algerian Society of Philosophical Studies. He has authored several books, including Transformations of Modern Philosophical Thinking: Questions on Concept, Meaning and Connection, published by Beirut’s Al Maaref Forum (2018) and For Knowledge: Honest Discussion with Self and Books, published by Al Watan Publications of Algeria in 2017.

  • Charbel Dagher

    Charbel Dagher, winner of the Literary and Art Criticism award. The Lebanese scholar Dagher is a professor at the University of Balamand with two doctorates in modern Arabic literature and art history and philosophy. He’s the author of more than 60 books in Arabic and French. They include Arabic and Uranism: The Relationship Between Revolution, Culturalism, and Modernity (Dsar Al Naher and University of Balamand, 2009). Another title: Modern Arabic Poetry: The Prose Poem, from Al Maaref Forum, 2018.

  • Philip Kennedy

    Philip F. Kennedy, winner in the category of Arab Culture in Other Languages. The UK’s Kennedy has a PhD in classic Arab poetry and a masters in Middle East studies. He’s working on a book, Islamic Projections, about “narrative knowledge” in the medieval era. As he writes in the opening lines of the introduction to Recognition in the Arabic Narrative Tradition: Discovery, Deliverance, and Delusion, “The recognition scene is a feature of narrative that has shown extraordinary resilience in literary history and transformative power in works of literature.”

  • The Arab Centre for Geographic Literature, Irtiyad al-Afaq, winner of the Publishing Technology award. The program is a cultural initiative established by Emirati poet and author Mohammad bin Ahmad Al Suwaidi, established under his Al Suwaidi Cultural House effort, which has published ancient and modern Arab voyages in more than 60 books. The center has its own award program, the Ibn Battuta Geographic Literature Award, for publications in travel writing and criticism.

As yet unannounced are the awards in Translation, Contribution to the Development of Nations, and the Cultural Personality of the Year. In every case, a winner is given a gold medal with the award program’s logo and a certificate of merit as well as the cash award.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Sheikh Zayed Book Award is here, more on Arabic literature is here, and more on translation is here. During last week’s London Book Fair, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award held a discussion on Arabic literature with the program’s director Mouza Al Shamsi and guest publishing specialist Nasser Jarrous. More on that is here

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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 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.