Sheikh Zayed Book Award announces shortlist for 15th edition of the prize in a record-breaking year for submissions

Abu Dhabi,

  • Award announces record-breaking year for submissions with over 2,349 entries from 57 countries
  • Women writers dominate Literature, Children’s and Young Author categories
  • Iman Mersal, Ezzat El-Kamhawi, Alawiya Sobh feature on shortlists
  • Nominations for new translations of acclaimed works by Charles Taylor and John Freely
  • Titles from leading academic publishers feature on shortlist

  • The Sheikh Zayed Book Award has announced the shortlists for its 15th edition in 6 of its 9 categories.  The 13 shortlisted authors come from 9 countries, and, for the first time, women authors dominate the list for the literature, children’s and young author categories, with 7 out of the 9 nominations. 

    This is the 15th Edition of the Award, one of the world’s leading prizes dedicated to Arab literature and culture, described as the ‘Arab World’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize’ by children’s author and 2020 laureate Ibtisam Barakat. Previous winners include British author Dame Marina Warner, Lebanese author Amin Maalouf, Palestinian poet and writer Dr Salma Jayyusi, Banipal magazine, and the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. Marina Warner hailed the Sheikh Zayed Book Award as one that nourishes the academic community: “less of a trophy than a lavish bursary that allows the recipient to continue their adventures in understanding”.

    2020 saw a record-breaking number of submissions in the Award’s 14-year history.  There were over 2,349 entries from 57 countries across its nine categories this year - a 23% increase compared to the previous edition with 12 countries participating for the first time. The organisers noted that despite it being a challenging year due to the global pandemic, they were delighted by the increase in submissions, reflecting not only the importance of literary awards but the resilience and vitality of the publishing industry.

    Shortlisted for Literature are Lebanese poet Alawiya Sobh, who has twice been nominated for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and whose work has been translated into 5 languages, for her novel Aan Ta’ashaq Al Hayat (To Love Life); Egyptian novelist Ezzat El-Kamhawi, also shortlisted in 2018, is shortlisted for Ghorfat Al Mosafreen (The Passengers Hall) and the Egyptian writer Iman Mersal recognised world-wide for her experimental style, and whose book How to Mend: Motherhood and Its Ghosts is available in English from Seagull books. Her shortlisted novel Fee Athar Enayat Al Zayyat (In the Footsteps of Enayat Al-Zayyat), is based upon the life of the Egyptian writer of the 1960s.

    The Children’s Literature shortlist features Al Ghool wa Nabtat Al Olayq (The Beast and the Blackberry) by Emirati author Naseeba Alozaibi, which tells of a transformative friendship between Salma, an orphan girl, and an evil monster. The two other stories, Hadyqat Al Zomorrod (The Emerald Garden) by Moroccan author Raja Malah, and Rehlat Fannan (An Artist's Journey) by Tunisian author Mizouni Bannani, both draw on themes of family and identity and young people’s need to keep close to their roots even when living overseas or a long way from home. 

    The Young Author shortlist includes two novels and one study. Laylat Yalda (Yalda Night) by Egyptian novelist Ghada Al-Absi, is a mystical novel about the famous Persian poet and mystic Hafez al-Shirazi, and Ma Tarkto Khalfy (What I left Behind) by Palestinian novelist Shatha Mustafa which tells the story of a young woman trying to make her way in contemporary Palestine.  Eshkalyat Al Thaat Al Saredah Fee Al Rwayah Al Nesaayah Al Saudiah (The Problems of the Narrated Self in the Saudi Feminist Novel (1999 - 2012) by Dr Asma Muqbil Awad Alahmadi discusses the portrayal of women in Saudi fiction, and the remarkable growth of women writers in Saudi Arabia.

    The Translation shortlist includes new translations into Arabic of acclaimed works by John Freely and philosopher Charles Taylor.  Noor men Al Sharq (Kayf Saadat Oloom Al Hadarah Al Islamiah Ala Tashkeel Al Alam Al Gharbi), Ahmed Fouad Bash’s translation of Freely’s Light from the East: How the Science of Medieval Islam Helped to Shape the Western World, originally published in English by I B Tauris, is shortlisted, alongside Naoufel Haj Ltaief’s Asr Elmany, a new translation of A Secular Age, based upon Charles Taylor’s acclaimed Gifford Lectures. Impostures by Al-Hariri, translated from Arabic to English by Michael Cooperson and published by Library of Arabic Literature completes the shortlist. 

    Three of the four titles in the Arab Culture in Other Languages shortlist are in English. These are Arabic Poetics: Aesthetic Experience in Classical Arabic Literature by Lara Harb (CUP), Arabic Oration: Art and Function by Tahera Qutbuddin (Brill Publishers); and The Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment by Alexander Bevilacqua (Harvard University Press). The fourth title is in French, L'Empire Islamique: VIIe - XIe siècle (The Islamic Empire: 7th - 11th Century) by French historian Gabriel Martinez-Gros, published by Passés Composés.

    The ‘Publishing and Technology’ shortlist features the Bibliotheca Alexandrina from Egypt, Dar Al Jadeed from Lebanon, and Switzerland’s Unionsverlag.

    The winners will receive prize money of 750,000 UAE dirhams ($204,181 US) to be awarded in a special virtual ceremony in May 2021.  The Cultural Personality of the year will receive a price of AED 1 million.
    The winning titles in the children’s books and literature categories will also be entitled for translation funding through the Award’s Translation Grant. Nine books have been translated since the launch of the grant into multiple languages, including English, German, French, Italian and Ukrainian. In 2021, the Award has seen a growing interest in translation requests from Arabic into global languages reiterating the importance of translation as an essential tool to build bridges between different nations, and represent cultures, literature and heritage in different languages. 
    2020 was a particularly strong year for submissions in the ‘Young Author’ category 646 submissions, up by 30%, ‘Literature’ (584, an increase of 33% and ‘Children’s Literature’ category (244 entries, an increase of approximately 19%).

    Dr Ali bin Tamim, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre and Secretary General of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, said of this year’s shortlist:

    “The Sheikh Zayed Book Award aims to showcase the most powerful, stimulating and challenging works representing the Arab world, and to meet the awards’ overarching mission, to encourage greater scholarship and creativity by recognizing and rewarding significant cultural achievements in Arabic culture. Despite the challenges of 2020, we have seen that culture endures and adapts under the most difficult of conditions and it is with great fulfillment that we have seen the Award flourish year on year to showcase the best of Arab creativity, intellect and scholarship to the world.”  

    The shortlists for (Literary & Art Criticism and Contribution to the Development of Nations) will be announced in the coming weeks.