At Abu Dhabi: The 2023 Sheikh Zayed Book Award Ceremony

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The Egyptian composer and musician Omar Khairat is probably the best known of the winners of the 17th edition of the award program.

Dr. Ali Bin Tamim, secretary-general of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award and chair of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center, makes a welcoming address at the prize program’s winners’ ceremony, May 23. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

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

Composer Omar Khairat Joins Six Fellow Laureates
An invited audience of several hundred publishing professionals and members of Abu Dhabi’s leadership were on-hand on Tuesday (May 23) for the ceremony honoring the winners of the 17th edition of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

In a departure from previous years’ events, the program was held not in the Louvre Abu Dhabi theater but in a spacious conference hall of the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center, where the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair continues its run through Sunday (May 28).

Both the award program and the fair itself operate under the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center, which is led by Dr. Ali Bin Tamim. And under his direction, the program Tuesday was not only more comfortably and conveniently set—with room for the pre-ceremony reception and ample space for its invited audience—but it was held to a remarkably economical 20 minutes.

The winners’ list of the 17th Sheikh Zayed Book Award, as Publishing Perspectives readers know, has been capped this month with the announcement on May 15 that the Egyptian composer and musician Omar Khairat is this year’s “Cultural Personality of the Year.” Khairat’s music not only crosses borders with both Eastern and Western instrumentation, but is still being heard in live performances helmed by the composer himself, seemingly indefatigable at age 74.

He’s next onstage in a performance of his work at Cairo Opera House on May 29, and then on June 3 at the foot of Giza’s great sphinx. Later in the day, Khairat would remind fans that he began his career in music as a local band’s drummer.

A gracious, self-effacing man, Khairat seemed genuinely moved when Publishing Perspectives spoke with him prior to the ceremony. He reveled in the attention of the press and event attendees, and stood proudly with his fellow winners onstage as Bin Tamim handed him his award along with the others.

The rolling, warm, lush symphonic pieces the audience heard playing in the hall prior to the start of the ceremony were, in fact, excerpts from some of Khairat’s as yet unpublished orchestral works.

Each member of the winners’ class of 2023 was presented with her or his award by Sheikh Nahyan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, supported onstage by Bin Tamim. As our readers know, the 17th edition proved to be a record-breaker with 3,151 submissions made from 60 nations, 22 of them markets based in the Arab world.

Winners of the 17th Sheikh Zayed Book Award

The 17th edition Sheikh Zayed Book Award laureates are greeted May 23 by a standing ovation from an invited audience in Abu Dhabi.

Winners in the six active categories of this year’s program comprise the following group.

Literature: Iraqi poet Ali Jaafar Alallaq for Ila Ayn Ayyathouha Al Kaseedah (Whereto, O Poem? An Autobiography), from Alaan Publishing, Jordan, in 2022.

Arab Culture in Other Languages: French author Mathieu Tillier for L’invention du cadi: La justice des musulmans, des juifs et des chrétiens aux premiers siècles de l’Islam’(The Invention of the Cadi: Justice among Muslims, Jews, and Christians during the First Centuries of Islam), from Éditions de la Sorbonne in 2017.

Young Author: Algerian author Said Khatibi for his novel Nehayat Al Sahra’a (The End of the Desert), from Hachette’s Antoine/Nofal in 2022.

Translation: Tunisian author Chokri Al Saadi for his translated book Al-Ibara wa-al-Mi’na: Dirasat fi Nathariyat al-A’amal al-Lughawiya (Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts) by John R. Searle, issued by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs – Tunisian Institute for Translation in 2021 and translated from English to Arabic.

Art and Literary Criticism:  Jalila Al Tritar from Tunisia for Mara’i an-Nisaa: Dirasat fi Kitabat al-That an-Nisaa’iya al-Aarabiya (Women Views: Studies on Arab Women Self Writings), from La Maison Tunisienne Du Livre in 2021.

Publishing and Technology: The Egyptian publishing house Dar ElAin Publishing, a cultural institution that works to “engage with reality and develop book-writing in both content and form.”

Cultural Personality of the Year: Composer and musician Omar Khairat of Egypt, about whom Bin Tamim has said, “His music will always inspire deeper meanings and emotions, carrying within its notes the markers of our culture, which he has been able to brilliantly mix with other cultures, creating timeless masterpieces that will remain engraved in our memory and our identity.”

This book prize is among the wealthiest in the world. Overall, it carries a purse of 750,000 United Arab Emirates dirhams (US$204,209) in each of its book categories and is worth a total of 7 million dirhams (US$1.9 million), which includes a special Cultural Personality of the Year Category.

The Sheikh Zayed Book Award’s Cultural Personality of the Year, composer Omar Khairat, is greeted by well-wishers from the audience, May 23, following the Zayed program’s awards ceremony at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Sheikh Zayed Book Award is here, more on the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center is here, more on Arabic literature is here, and more on translation is here. More from us on publishing and book awards in the international industry is hereMore from Publishing Perspectives on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is here, and more on the United Arab Emirates’ market is here

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award and the International Publishers Association. Our extended coverage of ADIBF 2023 is supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

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.com, 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.