The 13th edition of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award has announced the winners for 2018/2019, with five international authors and an Arab research centre honoured for their exceptional literary and intellectual publications. The Award is presented annually to outstanding writers, intellectuals and publishers, as well as emerging talents whose writing and translation in the humanities field enriches Arab intellectual, cultural, literary and social life.
Moroccan writer and novelist Bensalem Himmich’s autobiography The Self - Between Existence and Creation (Le Centre Culturel Du Livre, 2018) won the “Literature” category award, while author Hussain Almutawaa from Kuwait won the “Children’s Literature” category award for his novel I Dream of Being a Concrete Mixer (Al Hadaek Group, 2018). Algerian scholar Dr. Abderrezak Belagrouz won the “Young Author” category for his book The Essence of Values and the Freedom of Social Concepts, (The Arabian Establishment for Thought and Innovation, 2017). In the “Literary & Art Criticism” category, scholar Dr. Charbel Dagher from Lebanon won the award for his book Contemporary Arabic Poetry - the prose (Al Maaref Forum, 2018).
In the Arab Culture in Other Languages category, British academic and researcher Philip F. Kennedy won the award for his book Recognition in the Arabic Narrative Tradition (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), while the UAE’s Arab Centre for Geographic Literature - Irtiyad al-Afaq won the award category “Publishing & Technology”.
“Intellectual and literary creativity continues to flourish in Abu Dhabi, a legacy of our great Founding Father,” said HE Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of Sheikh Zayed Book Award Board of Trustees. “The impressive gathering of world-class thinkers and authors we see amongst the Award-winners is a testament to the success of this initiative, which we have been able to enhance and grow year after year.”
After congratulating this edition’s winners, HE Al Nahyan expressed pride in the achievements of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, which has helped spur creative production and enrich the Arab literary canon.
HE Dr. Ali bin Tamim, Secretary General of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award said: “The Award has remained at the forefront of the Arabic intellectual, cultural and literary landscape for 13 years now, garnering recognition for its credibility and transparency. With each edition, participation and engagement grows, and we look forward to continuing our mission of the enrichment of Arab literature for many years to come.”
Tamim also added that the winners were selected after thorough screening over the past months; with the support of the Scientific Committee responsible of the assessment and nomination evaluation. This is to further support the initiative of the great Founding Father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
A ceremony to honour this year’s winners will be held on 25 April 2019, at The Plaza Auditorium of Louvre Abu Dhabi. The Sheikh Zayed Book Award ‘Cultural Personality of the Year’ will be named and announced soon, with the winner receiving an inscribed gold medal, a certificate of merit, and a 1 million-dirhams monetary award. Winners in the other categories will receive a gold medal, a certificate of merit, and a monetary award of 750 thousand-dirhams.
Moroccan author and former Minister of Culture, Himmich’s The Self - Between Existence and Creation won the Sheikh Zayed Book Award under the “Literature” category. Published by Le Centre Culturel Du Livre in 2018, this book is an autobiography in which Himmich offers glimpses into his life as a novelist and writer. He also discusses the intellectual stances he has embodied throughout his various stages of writing.
Himmich’s book asserts the close connection between “existence”, a term impacted by philosophy, and “creation”, which is the path taken by oneself in struggles against various cultural and existential matters. The Self - Between Existence and Creation brings together creative dimensions fed by an author's technical expertise and the debating nature acquired by a critical academic. The book carries a depth of knowledge and culture that commands several readings and interaction with its content.
The Sheikh Zayed Book Award for the category “Children’s Literature” was awarded to Kuwaiti author Almutawaa for his novel I Dream of Being a Concrete Mixer, published by Al Hadaek Group in 2018. Its narrative cleverly delves into questions of destruction and rebuilding, through the story of Haddam, who hopes to become a concrete mixer. Between wishes and reality, stories, paradoxes and transformations, this book is beautifully written, with many twists and turns.
Under the “Young Author” category, Algerian scholar Dr. Belagrouz won the award for his book The Essence of Values and the Freedom of Social Concepts, published by The Arabian Establishment for Thought and Innovation in 2017. The book offers a philosophical study on the deriving of related concepts and values, specifically the concept of the mind and its evolution based on methodical philosophical comparisons. It attempts to emancipate the mind from narrow and rigid scientific mathematical calculations and explore the wide open spaces of spiritual, moral and emotional values.
Showcasing the author’s skill in philosophical matters, manifested through major breakthroughs in European philosophical concepts of the evolution of the mind, the study is written clearly and meticulously in a neat scientific style.
The “Literary & Art Criticism” category award went to Lebanese scholar Dr. Charbel Dagher for his book Contemporary Arabic Poetry - the prose, published by Al Maaref Forum in 2018, in which the author studies the prose poem in terms of its evolution and general characteristics though the work of Mohammad Al Maghout and Unsi Al Haj. The book presents the difficulty of studying prose poetry, as the art form does not have an analytical perspective that is suitable to its nature and structure.
Under the “Arabic Culture in Other Languages” category, the Award went to British academic and researcher, and classical Arabic literature specialist, Philip F. Kennedy. His book Recognition in the Arabic Narrative Tradition, published by Edinburgh University Press in 2016, studies the moment of revelation and its impact on Arabic narrative texts. In this book, Kennedy discusses a Quran verse and Prophet Mohammad’s stories. It also discusses Al Tanoukhi’s “Al Faraj baad Al Shiddah” stories and Maqamat Al Hariri, and traces the concept of revelation in various texts in a clear and vibrant comparative study.
The winner of the “Publishing & Technology” category award was the UAE’s The Arab Centre for Geographic Literature - Irtiyad al-Afaq, an independent, non-profit Arabic research centre established in 2000 under Al Suwaidi Cultural House in Abu Dhabi.
The Centre focuses on geography and travel literature, publishing well-known classic and modern works. The project also offers modern travel texts authored by Arab writers, in addition to translations of accounts of journeys by foreign travellers to the Arab world. The Centre recently began looking into the publication of geographic journeys and studies dedicated to the United Arab Emirates, to bridge a clear gap of knowledge in this important literary field. The institution has also established the Ibn Battuta Geographic Literature Award, which is awarded to the best written, endorsed or translated books in its field.
About the Winners
- Bensalem Himmich: Himmich is an intellectual and author, and the former Minister of Culture for Morocco. He attained his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Paris. Writing in both Arabic and French, some of his novels have been translated into several other languages. The Writers’ Union of Egypt chose Himmich’s novel Majnoun Al Hukm as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century, and another novel, Mu’athibati, was shortlisted for the Arab Booker International Award. Himmich has spoken at several Arab, European and American forums, and received the grand award of the French Academy of Toulouse in 2011.
- Hussain Almutawaa: A Kuwaiti writer and photographer born in 1989, Almutawaa attained a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and Criticism from the College of Arabic Language at the University of Kuwait, minoring in Philosophy. He started his literary career as a poet in 2009, and has participated in many poetry events and festivals. In 2015, he began writing short stories and won first place in the “University Poet and Story Teller” category at the University of Kuwait. Almutawaa then moved on to novels, publishing his first, Turab, at the end of 2017, and his children’s novel, I Dream of Becoming A Cement Mixer, in 2018.
- Dr. Abderrezak Belagrouz: An Algerian scholar holding a PhD in the Science and Philosophy of Values and Knowledge, Belagrouz is a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Staif-2 University in Algeria. He is also an expert judge and member of the scientific committee of the Algerian Society of Philosophical Studies. He has authored several books, including Transformations of Modern Philosophical Thinking: Questions on Concept, Meaning and Connection, published by Al Maaref Forum, Beirut in 2018 and For Knowledge: Honest Discussion with Self and Books, published by Al Watan Publications, Algeria in 2017.
- Professor Dr. Charbel Dagher: Dagher is a Lebanese scholar and a Professor at the University of Balamand holding two PhDs, in Modern Arabic Literature and Art History and Philosophy. He has written over 60 books in both Arabic and French, including Arabic and Urbanism: the Relationship between Revolution, Culturalism and Modernity, published by Dar Al Nahar and University of Balamand in 2009, and Modern Arabic Poetry: The Prose Poem, published by Al Maaref Forum in 2018.
- Philip F. Kennedy: Kennedy is a British academic and researcher specialising in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies. He holds a PhD in Classic Arabic Poetry and a Masters in Middle East Studies. He is currently working on a book called Islamic Projections, a study of narrative knowledge focusing on the Medieval Period.
- The Arab Centre for Geographic Literature - Irtiyad Al-Afaq: The Centre is a UAE cultural initiative established by Emirati poet and author Mohammad bin Ahmad Al Suwaidi. It was established under one of Al Suwaidi’s other projects, the Al Suwaidi Cultural House, which has published a large number of accounts of ancient and modern Arab voyages in more than 60 books. The Centre annually bestows the Ibn Battuta Geographic Literature Award for best publications of travel writing and criticism. Among the Centre’s achievements is the compiling of a comprehensive database of written voyages.