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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

New stories are the real reward of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction

In 12 years, the Abu Dhabi event has become an unmissable date on the region's literary calendar

Ahmed Saadawi's 2014 winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction Frankenstein in Baghdad has been translated into 19 languages. Mona Al-Marzooqi/ The National
Ahmed Saadawi's 2014 winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction Frankenstein in Baghdad has been translated into 19 languages. Mona Al-Marzooqi/ The National

Invented 5,400 years ago in what today is Iraq, writing was the greatest of the cultural legacies left to the world by the ancient Middle East.

When it was launched in Abu Dhabi in 2007, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction had two ambitions: to encourage the writing and recognition of contemporary literature and to bring the work of modern Arabic authors to a wider audience. In both aims, it has been singularly successful.

A decade ago, few in the West would have been able to name an Arab writer. Since the launch of the prize in Abu Dhabi in 2007, some 38 of the books entered into the competition have been translated and read around the world.

The value of the prize as a cultural bridge cannot be overstated. For example, Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, which won the 2014 prize, can now be read in 19 languages.

Together, this year’s longlist of 16 novels from nine countries, whittled down from 134 entries, convey the story of Middle Eastern experience in all its diversity.

Importantly, the prize continues to give a voice to women, who account for seven of this year’s longlisted authors.

Funded by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, by raising the profile of Arabic literature the prize encourages young Arabs to aspire to tell stories about their own experience in their own language.

Since 2009, the prize has run an annual workshop for emerging writers from across the Arab world, in which published authors mentor emerging writers.

Six shortlisted authors, who will be named on February 5, will each receive a prize of $10,000 (Dh36,725).

The winner, to be announced on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair in April, will receive a further $50,000 (Dh183,625), plus the cost of translating their novel into English. The value of the prize for Arabic culture as a whole, however, is incalculable.

Updated: January 8, 2019 06:45 PM

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