International Prize for Arabic Fiction Names Its 2021 Shortlist

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Six titles from Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia are shortlisted for the 2021 IPAF. The prize’s recognized novels have been translated into at least 30 languages.

Shortlisted authors for the 2021 International Prize for Arabic Fiction are, clockwise from upper left, Abjulatif Ould Abdullah; Jalal Bargas; Amira Ghenim; Habib Selmi; Abdelmajid Sabata; and Dunya Mikhail

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

Each Shortlisted Author Receives US$10,000
As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, authors on this year’s 16-novel longlist for the United Arab Emirates’ International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) included six writers whose work had been either longlisted or shortlisted previously. This prize is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi department of culture and tourism and the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre.

Two of those authors have now moved to the shortlisted stage of the competition:

  • Jalal Bargas was longlisted in 2019 for Women of the Five Senses
  • Habib Selmi was shortlisted in 2009 for The Scents of Marie-Claire and in 2012 for The Women of al-Basatin

And the list of six shortlistees, then takes forward four authors being shortlisted for the first time, with the six shortlistees overall spanning ages from 31 to 70.

The program received 121 entries for this year’s competition. Since the inception of the award in 2008, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction has had 1,901 entries.

Authors shortlisted today (March 29) each will receive $10,000. The winner, who is to be announced in a digital ceremony on May 25, will receive a further $50,000.

International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2021 Shortlist

Author Title Country of Origin Publisher
Abdulatif Ould Abdullah The Eye of Hammurabi Algeria Dar Mim
Jalal Bargas Notebooks of the Bookseller Jordan The Arabic Institute for Research and Publishing
Amira Ghenim Calamity of the Nobility Tunisia Dar Mesaa
Dunya Mikhail The Bird Tattoo Iraq Dar al-Rafidain
Abdelmeguid Sabata File 42 Morocco Al-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi
Habib Selmi Longing for the Woman Next Door Tunisia Dar al-Adab

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
Suleiman: ‘Troubling Philosophical Coherence’

In a prepared statement for today’s announcement, Bazih is quoted, saying that “the Arab present is an exact copy of its past,” an interesting assertion.

Chawki Bazih

“The most obvious thing revealed by an in-depth examination of the six shortlisted novels,” he says, “is how the authors move away from the limits of the ego and are resourced by their ancestral roots, mother countries and collective memory.

“Their subjects may not be entirely new, since the Arab present is an exact copy of its past.

“However, what makes these works unique is something other than their subjects. It’s their stylistic richness and power to astonish readers, making them catch their breath; their well-constructed, suspenseful plots; their successful deployment of folklore and the collective imagination, and their deft use of language, both flowing and tight.”

Yasir Suleiman

And Yasir Suleiman, chair of the award program’s board, has his own notable phrasing to offer in talking of a “troubling philosophical coherence” in the shortlist.

“The novels in this shortlist,’ he says, “enact complex and unsettling conversations between the past and the present to questions notions of belonging, identity and the cacophonous rhythms of the homeland refracted through different registers, characters and story lines.

“Whether writing from home or from the diaspora, intra-culturally or inter-culturally, our writers coalesce on a vision of the contemporary Arab world which, in spite of its geographic scatter, seems to display troubling philosophical coherence.

“This is a strong shortlist that readers of the Arabic novel will remember and cherish for a long time.”

Rights Notes on the Prize’s Winners

The prize provides funding for the English translation of its winners.

Winning novels published in English include:

  • Hoda Barakat’s The Night Mail (translated as Voices of the Lost, Oneworld)—our interview with Barakat is here
  • Rabai al-Madhoun’s Fractured Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba (Hoopoe)
  • Shukri Mabkhout’s The Italian (Europa Editions)
  • Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad (Oneworld, UK, and Penguin Books, USA)
  • Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk
  • Mohammed Achaari’s The Arch and the Butterfly
  • Raja Alem’s The Dove’s Necklace (Duckworth, UK, and Overlook Press, US)
  • Abdo Khal’s Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles
  • Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel (Atlantic Books)
  • Bahaa Taher’s Sunset Oasis (Sceptre)

Organizers of the award report that 2020 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; and 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 expects to see the translation into English of The King of India by Jabbour Douaihy (shortlisted in 2020), translated by Paula Haydar; Summer with the Enemy by Shahla Ujayli (shortlisted in 2019), translated by Michelle Hartman; and All the Women Inside Me by Jana Elhassan (shortlisted in 2013 as Me, She and the Other Women), translated by Michelle Hartman. All three will be published by Interlink Books (USA).

The novel that has secured the most translations is 2014 winner Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi which has been translated into 23 languages including Bosnian, Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Simplified Chinese), Croatian, Dutch, English (UK and USA), French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazil), Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Taiwanese.

Overall, International Prize for Arabic Fiction novels have been translated into 30 different languages as tracked by the program: Bosnian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, English, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Kurdish, Macedonian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, Taiwanese and Turkish.


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 Publishing Perspectives on the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 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 2019 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 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. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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