'No crisis can deprive humanity of culture': Sheikh Zayed Book Award ceremony is streamed live online amid the pandemic

The prestigious award's winners have been officially announced during an online ceremony

The Sheikh Zayed Book Award has announced its winners during an online ceremony that took place on Thursday evening.

The 14th iteration of the event was originally slated to run as part of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, however both the award ceremony and book fair were cancelled last month as a health precaution due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In his opening speech, Dr Ali bin Tamim, secretary general of the award, said the pandemic is a global and historical ordeal, the likes of which humanity has rarely seen before.

"This great adversity is a test of our humanity and of our collective human values," he said during the virtual ceremony that was streamed live on the award's YouTube page at 5pm UAE time.

Watch the ceremony here:

Bin Tamim praised the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, who is also the patron for the award, saying the ruler understood “from the beginning of the pandemic that the solution to this problem has to include us all, and that weathering this storm will require cooperation between all human beings”.

The award was established on similar principles and "founded as a prize for humanity", he added.

“As we all deeply regret the victims of the pandemic, we also see a glimmer of hope in this unprecedented human solidarity.”

He said this crisis has also renewed faith in books and culture, “not only as the ideal companion for our temporary collective isolation, but because it is our way to understand what has happened, share our experiences and absorb lessons from them.

“Culture is the permanent meeting place that no crisis or pandemic can deprive humanity of."

The winners

The winners of the nine award categories hailed from six countries: the UK, US, Netherlands, Iraq, Tunisia and Palestine. The winner of each category received a prize of Dh750,000.

The Cultural Personality of the Year award was awarded to Palestinian poet, writer, translator and anthologist Salma Khadra Jayyusi.

“Nothing in a writer’s world is more beautiful than these moments that bless their work and pushes them to write more,” Jayyusi said, thanking the award committee for honouring her work.

The literature award was given to Tunisian poet Moncef Ouhaibi for his 2019 book Belkas ma Qabl Al Akheera (The Penultimate Cup). This marks the first time the award has been given to a work of poetry.

In his acceptance speech, he said that Arabic was an inherently poetic language with its cadences, structures and various uses of metaphor. “Although the Arabic language has witnessed a paradigm shift in all races and arts, poetry remains its finest art.”

Iraqi writer and academic Hayder Qasim won the Young Adult award for his book ilm Al Kalam Al Islami fi Derasat al Mustashrikeen Al Alman (Islamic Theology in the Studies of German Orientalists).

Although the Arabic language has witnessed a paradigm shift in all races and arts, poetry remains its finest art

The award for children's literature was won by Palestinian-American author Ibtisam Barakat for her book Al Fatat Al Lialakia (The Lilac Girl).

The translation award went to Tunisian academic Mohamed Ait Mihoub for his Arabic translation of 1984's L'Homme Romantique by French philosopher Georges Gusdorf.

The Arabic Culture in Other Languages award was granted to Richard Van Leeuwen for his 2018 book, The Thousand and One Nights and Twentieth Century Fiction: Intertextual Readings.

Finally, literary magazine Banipal – founded in 1988 by British publisher Margaret Obank and Iraqi author Samuel Shimon – picked up the award for Publishing and Technology.