A 94-year-old Palestinian poet has been named Cultural Personality of the Year as part of the coveted Sheikh Zayed Book Award.
The Sheikh Zayed Book Award, one of the region's largest literary prizes, today announced its winning authors for 2020, despite the prize-giving ceremony not going ahead due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The winners of the nine award categories hailed from six countries: the UK, the US, the Netherlands, Iraq, Tunisia and Palestine. The winner of each category received a prize of Dh750,000.
The annual Sheikh Zayed Book Award has been referred to as "the Arab world's equivalent to the Nobel prize", and recognises work from the region, including both literary and scholarly works. Writers, translators, academics and publishers from around the world are awarded for their contributions in advancing Arabic literature and culture.
The Cultural Personality of the Year award was awarded to Palestinian poet, writer, translator and anthologist Salma Khadra Jayyusi. Jayyusi is the founder and director of academic projects East-West Nexus and the Project of Translation from Arabic (PROTA).
She has also edited several important anthologies of Arabic literature, including Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology and Modern Arabic Poetry.
Born to a Palestinian father and Lebanese mother, Jayussi studied English and Arabic Literature at the American University of Beirut before launching into a literary career.
She released her debut poetry collection, Return from the Dreamy Fountain, in 1960, and has taught Arabic literature in various institutions including the University of Khartoum in Sudan and the universities of Algiers and Constantine in Algeria. In 1975, she moved to the US, where she worked at various academic institutions, including as visiting professor of Arabic Literature at the University of Utah.
The Literature award was won by 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.
Iraqi writer and academic Hayder Qasim took out 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). His book reviews the work of notable German theologist Josef van Ess, investigating how German academics have interpreted and represented Islamic theology through the lens of Orientalism.
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 beautifully illustrated story is about a young Palestinian girl who loves to paint but has lost her home due to war.
When it came to the Arabic Culture in Other Languages category, a field which honours international Arabists, this year's prize went to Dutch author and scholar Richard Van Leeuwen. His 2018 book, The Thousand and One Nights and Twentieth Century Fiction: Intertextual Readings, looks at how the famed Arabic story collection (first published in English in the 17th century) provided 20th-century western authors – from scholars to popular authors – with inspiration for their works.
In the field of translation, the award went to Tunisian academic Mohamed Ait Mihoub for his Arabic translation of 1984's L'Homme Romantique by French philosopher Georges Gusdorf. Published in 2018 under the Arabic title Al-Insan Al-Romantiq, Mihoub brings to light Gusdorf's analysis of romanticism and its impact on western thought, ranging from culture to physics and medical science.
Finally, literary magazine Banipal picked up the award for Publishing and Technology. Founded in 1988 by British publisher Margaret Obank and Iraqi author Samuel Shimon, the magazine, published three times a year, is dedicated to the promotion of contemporary Arabic literature. Its annual literary award – Saif Ghobash–Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation – is partly named after the late Saif Ghobash, the UAE's first Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, said of the awards: “This incredibly successful 14th edition boasts a roster of talented and distinguished winners who have made significant contributions to the cause of furthering and disseminating Arabic culture. It is our hope that this recognition will open further opportunities to them, and we look forward to seeing what they do next."
It was a record-breaking year for the 14th Sheikh Zayed Book Award across its categories, with a total of 1,900 nominations from 49 countries (split across 22 Arab and 27 foreign countries). The two categories with the highest number of nominations were Young Author (498 nominations) followed by Literature (438 nominations).
The prize-giving ceremony was originally slated to run in April as part of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which has been cancelled due to the pandemic.