Egyptian author wins Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Literature

Judges praise novelist’s 'unique' technique in mixing classical and biographical details in his study of life in an Egyptian village in the 1940s. 

ABU DHABI // An Egyptian author stood out among 344 writers who submitted their works for the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Literature.

Abdel Rasheed Mahmoudi won for his novel After Coffee, published last year and chosen for its narration and character development in the setting of an Egyptian village in the 1940s.

The judges found Mr Mahmoudi's literary technique set him apart from other contestants, said Juma Abdullah Al Qubaisi, head of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, at the announcement of the winners in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

“His work is really unique compared to the other books [submitted],” said Mr Al Qubaisi. “The novel is a mixture of taking this style of the classical and the traditional and, in addition to this, recording and documenting his life from childhood.”

Winners of the awards in eight categories are to receive Dh750,000 each. A winner for a ninth category, the Dh1 million Cultural Personality of the Year Award, has not yet been announced.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) administers the awards for Arabic books, which were first presented in 2007. The categories are Contribution to the Development of Nations, Children’s Literature, Young Author, Translation, Literature, Literary and Art Criticism, Arabic Culture in Other Languages, and Publishing and Technology.

More than 1,300 people submitted works to be considered for the awards this year, a 12 per cent increase from last year, organisers said. The scientific committee decided not to award a prize for Literary and Art Criticism this year because the pieces submitted did not meet their standards.

Ali bin Tamim, the award’s secretary general, said the contest allows young authors in particular to work with prominent writers from the Middle East and the world.

“I see that, after two years, I notice that there is new work coming from the young writers who have won the book award,” said Mr bin Tamim.

The award organisers held a cultural event in September in Moscow to promote awareness of the prize and UAE culture, and recognise Russian publishers, academics, intellectuals and translators.

Mario Liverani won the Arabic Culture in Other Languages Award for his book in Italian from last year, Imagining Babylon. It examines the city and discards “mainstream conceptualisations of ancient eastern history”, the organisers said.

Mr Liverani said he didn’t expect to receive the call yesterday that he had won.

“I was surprised because the book was published in Italian, which is a language not very easy to access for people outside of Italy,” he said.

Mr Liverani said he had devoted his entire life to ancient and Islamic history, and hoped to see in this book “how the western countries imagined the cities and towns of the Orient” to have a “more complete idea” of them.

“It was a very long and hard work,” he said. “I spent, I think, four years on this book.”

Jawdat Fakhreddine’s collection of children’s poetry won the award for Children’s Literature. He said he was happy to receive it, adding that there was still a lack of Arabic poetry books available for children.

“I’m glad the book was acknowledged,” he said.

Nominees may be submitted by the applicant, cultural institutions, literary groups and universities, or jointly by three prominent literary and cultural figures.

Works must have contributed to Arabic cultural development and cannot have previously won international or other prominent prizes. They must have been published in the last two years.

The award’s scientific committee selects three to five judges each year, who remain anonymous. The committee then reviews and approves the judging panel’s selections, which are then endorsed by the award’s board of trustees, presided over by Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, president of TCA.

The winners will receive their awards in person at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which runs from April 30 to May 5 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

*Additional reporting by Racha Makarem