Winner of Sheikh Zayed Book Award talks about the power of literature on reality
Abu Dhabi, Marina Warner, critic and author of “Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights” has won the AED 750,000 prize for her contemporary retelling of the legendary mythical tales of the Arabian Nights Published by Vintage Books (2012), the top award in the “Arab Culture in Non-Arabic Languages” category. Marina is one of the distinguished cultural historians in the world on the subject of myth, fairytale and folk narrative and art. Her book tells the story of the Arabian Nights in Western Civilization from a thoroughly new and, until recently, little understood angle. Warner retells a number of the tales in her own words with a verve that brings them to life in contemporary idiom. Upon these retellings she constructs a nuanced view of the ways in which the benign magic and enchantment of the stories affected the reception and ideas of magic and enchantment in the West, even during the period of the Enlightenment – a period more naturally associated with reason and science. She is thoroughly versed in the complex history of the Nights corpus and constructs upon this foundation a new vision of the way the West has been in thrall to images and ideas from Arab, and more generally Eastern culture in the 18th through to the 20th century.
“Above all, the book is about the power of the word and literature’s effects on reality; stories are not simple mirrors of what happens but engines of possibilities. Shahrazad’s Tales are known as ‘ransom tales’ because she tells them to save herself and all other women and to bring about a transformation in the murderous Sultan. Stories are themselves illuminating. Several of the most influential and distinguished writers and thinkers in Europe – Voltaire and Goethe turned to this form of storytelling – oriental fabulism – to express their most profound vision of how things might be. In an era of mass communications, the power of the word has never been stronger.”
“It is wonderful to be given this mark of recognition from this part of the world. Wonderful and unexpected. I loved writing about the Nights – they have given me the most enjoyable years of research I have ever had and it is very encouraging if I have managed to convey some of that pleasure and interest I found in them”
Warner is a Fellow of the British Academy and currently works as a Professor of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex. Marina Warner is a writer of fiction and cultural history. She is specialized in mythology and fairy-tales, with an emphasis on the part women play in them. Her award-winning books include” Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary” (1976), “Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism” (l982), “From the Beast to the Blonde” (1994).
Actively the richest literary competition in the world, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award was established in memory of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan who served as the ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the UAE for more than 30 years. Since its launch in 2007, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award has succeeded in fostering greater scholarship and creativity by recognising and rewarding significant cultural achievements to Arabic culture, actively changing the Arab literary landscape. The Sheikh Zayed Book Award is an independent cultural award established under the patronage and support of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and is now celebrating its 7th year. This year has seen 1262 nominations across all 9 categories, doubling over last session’s record.
Since 2007 the Award witnessed more than 42 winners representing literary and cultural figures or institutions from around the World. China, UK, Germany, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, South Korea are some of the winners' country representatives. Categories of the award include Contribution to the Development of Nations, Children’s Literature [including adolescents books], Young Author, Translation, Literature, Literary and Art Criticism, Arab Culture in non-Arabic Language, Publishing and Technology, Cultural Personality of the Year.