Sheikh Zayed Book Award winners receive high praise

Writers hailed from countries including Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and the UK.

Dr Ali bin Tamim, left, secretary general of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, and Jumaa Al Qubaisi, the executive director of the National Library, name the winners in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Delores Johnson / The National
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ABU DHABI // Writers from around the globe have received high commendation after being named winners in the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

The award recipients were announced in Abu Dhabi yesterday and included writers from countries including Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Britain.

Their works covered topics ranging from contemporary Arab thinking to the life and work of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze.

Established under the patronage and support of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA), the independent cultural award, which has a Dh7 million prize pool, is in its seventh year.

"Every year we come here together to discuss creativity and literature and culture and, over the past years, TCA has made significant strides into the promotion of culture, namely through the Sheikh Zayed Book Award," said Jumaa Al Qubaisi, executive director of the National Library division at TCA and a member of the award's board of trustees.

There have been 5,698 entries in the award's seven years, he said at the announcement at the Intercontinental Hotel yesterday, where Dr Ali bin Tamim, the award's secretary general, named the winners.

"We are looking for excellence, creativity, validity, objectivity and beautiful languages, and high levels of innovation and authenticity and, of course, we are promoting tolerance and cohabitation and all of the great human values in the works that have been submitted to us," Dr bin Tamim said.

After naming the winners in seven of the categories, he said that the awards for two categories - literature and children's literature - had been withheld because the entries did not reach the standards required.

"Which doesn't mean that their creative or aesthetic aspects were lacking but they fell short of what our ambitions and standards were," he said.

This year's awards attracted 1,262 entries from 30 countries whereas last year there were 560 entries from 27 countries.

"This is the highest year," Dr bin Tamim said. "It shows that there is growing confidence in the award. It has legitimacy and credibility and it is becoming an attractive cultural event for people who are producing cultural and academic papers and this huge number is also a big responsibility for us and makes us set up even more rigorous standards."

In a new initiative, the award will purchase 1,000 copies of the winning books in each category.

British writer and critic Marina Warner triumphed in the Arab Culture in non-Arabic Languages award, with her work Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights.

The book is described as telling the story of the Arabian Nights from a new and, until recently, little understood angle.

Ms Warner said yesterday that her win was "totally unexpected".

"It means a great deal to me," she said. "I feel that what I have tried to say has been heard in this region, which I'm thrilled by."

Elizabeth Kassab, from Lebanon, was the winner in the Contribution to the Development of Nations Award, with her book Contemporary Arab Thought.

Ms Kassab said she was "very happy" to have won the award.

"I was particularly happy that this Arabic version got the recognition because it is the Arabic readers, those are the ones I would like to engage in this study, in this conversation about contemporary Arab thinking," she said.

"I started on the book 10 years ago. It has been a very long kind of production."

Ms Kassab said that she is looking forward to the award ceremony in Abu Dhabi on April 28 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre.