Sheikh Zayed Book Award Honours 2020 Winners with Virtual Ceremony

Abu Dhabi,

Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, one of the Arab world’s most prestigious and lucrative literary prizes, held a virtual livestream ceremony yesterday evening to honour the winners of its 14th edition.

In light of precautionary measures being taken to combat the current global pandemic, the winners were honoured via a live broadcast on the Award's YouTube channel and its social media platforms.

The annual Sheikh Zayed Book Award recognises key literary and scholarly works emerging from the Arab world, with outstanding writers, intellectuals, and publishers from around the globe honoured for their stellar contributions to the advancement of Arabic literature and culture. The Award commemorates the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founding Father of the UAE, and his pioneering role in promoting the arts and developing the nation.

Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, said, "It is our great honour to support and nurture an inspiring intellectual and cultural environment, for people of all ages and backgrounds, here in our country. In doing this, the UAE has established its position as a destination for culture and literature regionally and globally, following the approach of our founding father who appreciated the written word as one of the main pillars of his vision for the future. Today we celebrate this outstanding group of creative individuals - writers, poets and researchers - who truly deserve this prominent prize that holds the name of one the leading contributors to the enrichment of Arab intellectualism and culture.”

"Despite the challenging times we are currently weathering, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award continues its practice of honouring the innovators and pioneers of the Arab world’s intellectual, cultural, literary, and social spheres,” said HE Dr. Ali bin Tamim, Secretary General of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award. “We are gratified to see the commitment of our nation and the wider global community to culture and literature, demonstrated by the high number of viewers who engaged with our virtual ceremony. 

“The Award is a vital continuation of the vision established by the founding father of our nation, who emphasised the vital role of books and literature in strengthening the foundation of our country, and building its future. We are proud to highlight the outstanding work of the 2020 winners, representing various facets of Arab culture across the categories of the Award. It is our hope that this recognition opens further opportunities to them, and we look forward to seeing what these brilliant talents contribute to our intellectual and cultural scene next. I am sure they will serve as inspirations for future generations of intellectuals, creators, publishers, and young talents here in the UAE, in the wider region, and across the world,” added HE bin Tamim. 

The seven winners – Tunisian poet Moncef Ouhaibi (Literature), Iraqi writer and academic Hayder Qasim (Young Author), Palestinian-American author Ibtisam Barakat (Children’s Literature), Dutch author, translator, and scholar Richard van Leeuwen (Arabic Culture in Other Languages), Tunisian translator and academic Mohamed Ait Mihoub (Translation), representatives of the UK’s Banipal Magazine (Publishing & Technology), as well as Palestinian poet, writer and translator Dr. Salma Khadra Jayyusi (Cultural Personality of the Year) – all attended today’s virtual awards ceremony.

Moncef Ouhaibi, the winner of the Literature award, said: “This prestigious award represents a turning point not only in my career, but also in my personal appreciation of Tunisian poetry and Maghreb poetry, especially as it restores respect for the poetic arts, for many reasons, most importantly that the Arabic language owes a debt to poetry since ancient times.”

Ibtisam Barakat, the Children’s Literature award winner, said: “I want to share this joy with every child of the world, especially those who are deprived of it, with the hope that they are able to replenish their lives and tell their stories to the world.”

Hayder Qasim, the Young Author award winner, said: “I hope this award will open up wide future horizons in the development and advancement of my progress in studies in Islamic thought and orientalism, and to motivate Arab researchers to participate and compete within this award.”

Mohamed Ait Mihoub, winner of the Translation award, said: “This award, which brings together all the specialists, is one of the most prominent and non-biased Arab and international awards, most objective and fair in its application of modern decision-making.”

Richard van Leeuwen, the Arabic Culture in Other Languages award winner, said: “I’m very much honoured by the award especially because it is a token of appreciation of the book by my Arabic colleagues. I hope that the award will enable to book to reach Arab readers to become part of the process of the cultural exchange.”

Margaret Obank, Publisher of Banipal Magazine in London, winner of the Publishing & Technology Award, said: “Receiving this award is hugely important for us, as we are passionate about our projects in translating Arabic literature to English and through the English to wider audiences around the world. This award will greatly help the project.”

Dr. Salma Khadra Jayyusi, recipient of the Cultural Personality of the Year award, said: “Nothing in a writer’s world is more wonderful than these moments that bless their work and push the owner to encourage more writing. My joy is infinite that there are pioneering cultural institutions such as the Sheikh Zayed Book Foundation.”

In what was a record-breaking year for submissions, the 2020 Awards were bestowed upon recipients from six different countries (UK, US, The Netherlands, Iraq, Tunisia and Palestine), highlighting the global imprint and influence of Arabic literature and culture. 

The winner of each of the six categories was granted a monetary prize of AED 750,000 (USD 204,000) to both recognise and further enable their creative and cultural achievements, while the winner of the Cultural Personality of the Year was awarded AED 1,000,000 (USD 271,739).

The 2020 Sheikh Zayed Book Award winners:

Literature was awarded to Tunisian poet Moncef Ouhaibi for his book Belkas ma Qabl Al Akheera (The Penultimate Cup) published by Meskeliani Publishing and Distribution (Tunisia) in 2019. Marking the first time that the award has been given to a work of poetry, Ouhaibi explores the position Tunisia occupies within the Mediterranean, between the Arab and Western symbolist tradition. A ‘poetry of experience’, the collection unfolds the realities of love and of death, including poems dedicated to his parents and to the Syrian tragedy.

Young Author was awarded to Iraqi writer and academic Hayder Qasim for his book ilm Al Kalam Al Islami fi Derasat al Mustashrikeen Al Alman (Islamic Theology in the Studies of German Orientalists) published by Al Rawafed Culture Publishers (Beirut) and Ibn al-Nadim Publishing and Distribution (Algeria) in 2019. His book reviews the work of notable German theologist Joseph van Ess, investigating how German academics have interpreted and represented Islamic theology through the lens of Orientalism. 

Children’s Literature was awarded to Palestinian-American author Ibtisam Barakat for her book Al-Fatah Al-Laylakeyyah (The Lilac Girl), published by Tamer Institute for Community Education (Palestine) in 2019. The beautifully illustrated story is about a young Palestinian girl who loves to paint but who has lost her home due to war. Through recreating her house in a rainbow of watercolours she finds freedom in the world of her imagination and creates beauty from pain. 

Cultural Personality of the Year was awarded to Palestinian poet, writer, translator and anthologist Dr. Salma Khadra Jayyusi for her profound contribution to Arabic literature and culture. Jayyusi’s scholarly career spans the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, England, Iraq, Algeria, Lebanon, Sudan and the USA, where she has lived and worked. She is the founder and director of East-West Nexus and the Project of Translation from Arabic (PROTA). Jayyusi has also edited indispensible anthologies of Arabic literature, including Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology, Modern Arabic Poetry and The Legacy of Muslim Spain, among others.

Publishing & Technology was awarded to Banipal Magazine in London, UK.  The independent magazine showcases contemporary Arab authors in English translation, from wherever they are writing and publishing. The magazine was founded in 1988 by Margaret Obank and Iraqi author Samuel Shimon and publishes three issues per year, alongside an active online platform. 

Arabic Culture in Other Languages was awarded to the Dutch author, translator, and scholar Richard van Leeuwen for his book The Thousand and One Nights and Twentieth-Century Fiction: Intertextual Readings published by Brill Publishers (Leiden) in 2018. The book reveals how the Arabic collection of stories provided an endless resource for some of the most important authors of the 20th century, including both highbrow and popular writers.

Translation was awarded to the Tunisian translator and academic, Mohamed Ait Mihoub for Al-Insan Al-Romantiq (L’homme romantique) by French philosopher Georges Gusdorf, translated from French to Arabic and published by Dracher Sinatra/Tunis Institute for Translation in 2018. The book explores the key tenets of Romanticism and their impact on Western thought, culture and civilisation, including physics and medical science in particular. Mihoub’s translation provides a new audience with access to a seminal book in Western philosophy and the human sciences.