International Prize for Arabic Fiction Names Its 2021 Longlist

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Novels from Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Sudan, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait are on this year’s longlist for the US$50,000 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

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

‘The Many Tragic Faces of Arab Reality’
Funded by the Department of Culture and Tourism of Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates’ International Prize for Arabic Fiction today (March 1) has released its 16-novel longlist for this year.

In its 14th edition this year, the award’s purse will deliver US$50,000 to the winner, and as Publishing Perspectives readers know from our coverage, the program also provides funding for an English translation to each winner.

The authors on this year’s longlist are aged between 31 and 75 and represent 11 nations. It’s pointed out that while issue-driven work is included in this list, there also is a cohort of crime novels “with narratives exploring crimes committed against the backdrop and aftermath of wars and conflicts,” according to the organizers’ messaging this morning to the news media.

And quite a number of the newly longlisted authors may ring a bell for those in our international readership who follow Arabic work. This actually is a reflection of one of the strongest features of this award program. As its work continues through the years, the program’s audience gets to know writers and to learn their work and interests. Notice, for example, that in this year’s list we find three writers whose work has twice been honored by the program in the past.

  • Jalal Bargas was longlisted in 2019 for Women of the Five Senses
  • Mansoura Ez Eldin was shortlisted in 2010 for Beyond Paradise
  • Youssef Fadel was shortlisted in 2014 for A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me
  • Hamed al-Nazir was longlisted in 2016 for The Prophecy of Saqqa and in 2018 for The Black Peacock)
  • Muhsin Al-Ramli was longlisted in 2010 for Dates on my Fingers and in 2013 for The President’s Garden
  • Habib Selmi was shortlisted in 2009 for The Scents of Marie-Claire and in 2012 for The Women of al-Basatin

Six shortlisted titles are to be announced on March 29.

The winner of this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction is to be named on May 25.

International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2021 Longlist
Author Title Country of Origin Publisher
Abdulatif Ould Abdullah The Eye of Hammurabi Algeria Dar Mim
Abdullah Albsais M for Murderer: S for Sa’id Kuwait Riwayat
Abdulla Al Ayaf Hole to Heaven Saudi Arabia Dar al-Rashm
Jalal Bargas Notebooks of the Bookshop Keeper Jordan The Arabic Institute for Research and Publishing
Abbas Baydoun Boxes of Desire Lebanon Dar al-Ain
Mansoura Ez Eldin The Orchards of Basra Egypt Dar al-Shorouk
Youssef Fadel The Life of Butterflies Morocco Al-Mutawassit
Amira Ghenim Calamity of the Nobility Tunisia Dar Mesaa
Amara Lakhous The Night Bird Algeria Manshurat al-Hibr
Dunya Mikhail The Bird Tattoo Iraq Dar al-Rafidain
Sara al-Nams J Algeria Dar al-Adab
Hamed al-Nazir Two Green Eyes Sudan Dar Tanweer, Lebanon
Muhsin Al-Ramli Daughter of the Tigris Iraq Dar al-Mada
Abdelmeguid Sabata File 42 Morocco Al-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi
Habib Selmi Longing for the Woman Next Door Tunisia Dar al-Adab
Ahmed Zien Fruit for the Crows Yemen Al-Mutawassit
Jurors: ‘This Abundant Harvest of Writing’

The jury for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction is chaired by Lebanese poet and author Chawki Bazih. Also on the jury panel:

  • Mohammed Ait Hanna, a Moroccan writer, translator and professor of philosophy at the Regional Centre for Teaching Careers and Training in Casablanca
  • Safa Jubran, a lecturer of Arabic language and modern literature at the University of São Paolo in Brazil
  • Ali Al-Muqri, a Yemeni writer twice longlisted for the award in 2009 and 2011
  • Ayesha Sultan, an Emirati author, journalist, founding director of Warrak Publishing House and vice-president of the Emirates Writers Union

In a prepared statement for today’s announcement, Bazih is quoted, saying:

Chawki Bazih

“This abundant harvest of writing is the natural fruit of an unholy alliance between the COVID-19 epidemic–which closed all the doors to writers except language–and the epidemic of Arab regimes, fortified by every kind of corruption and oppression.

“This explosion of creativity is reflected in this year’s submissions and longlist, whose authors have written the true history of forgotten and marginalized people and places, and given voice to the weak and dispossessed. These 16 outstanding books from across the Arab world encompass a variety of styles and themes, from documentary-like narrative, to letters and ingenious use of the crime thriller genre, all penetrating the social and psychological fabric of Arab society.

“They’ve boldly exposed the many tragic faces of Arab reality and held regimes responsible for human rights abuse, the stealing of freedoms, persecution of women and their encouragement of violence, fundamentalism and wars.”

Also issuing a statement, the program’s board chair Yasir Suleiman, is quoted, saying, “The longlist for this cycle continues to excel in the range of themes, styles and narrative modes that have been witnessed in previous years. History, both recent and distant, is a feeder of ideas and perspectives that the novels in this cycle mine to unpack the past and illuminate the present.

“The novels’ stuttering transitions throughout history, multiple viewpoints vocalized, mysteries uncovered and attempted to resolve and the boundaries traversed all testify to the increasingly experimental nature of the Arabic novel as it stares at itself in times of fracture and intense self-examination.”

An Update on Publications

In 2020, as you may recall, Algerian author Abdelouahab Aissaoui won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for The Spartan Court.

Last year, according to the program’s organizers, saw the publication in English of several novels recognized by the prize, including:

  • The Slave Yards by Najwa Bin Shatwan (shortlisted in 2017), translated by Nancy Roberts and published by Syracuse University Press
  • The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous (shortlisted in 2018), translated by Elisabeth Jaquette and published by Knopf
  • The Girl with the Braided Hair by Rasha Adley (longlisted as Passion in 2018), translated by Sarah Enany and published by Hoopoe

This year, the program says, is expected to see the translation into English of these titles, all three of which are to be published by Interlink in the States:

  • The King of India by Jabbour Douaihy (shortlisted in 2020), translated by Paula Haydar
  • All the Women Inside Me by Jana Elhassan (shortlisted in 2013 as Me, She and the Other Women), translated by Michelle Hartman
  • Summer with the Enemy by Shahla Ujayli (shortlisted in 2019), translated by Michelle Hartman

More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Prize for Arabic Fiction is here, and more on publishing and book prizes in general is here. More on translation is here, and more on Arabic in the publishing world is here.

More from us on the coronavirus pandemic 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.