Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 9 July 2020

The UAE celebrates the wonders of the written word

From prestigious awards to book fairs, the nation is a true home to literature

His Highness Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, presents the Sheikh Zayed Book Award to Dr. Philip Kennedy. Victor Besa/The National
His Highness Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, presents the Sheikh Zayed Book Award to Dr. Philip Kennedy. Victor Besa/The National

A dazzling month of literary events and awards has demonstrated, beyond all doubt, that love for the written word is undimmed in the UAE. On April 18, Philip Kennedy, a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at

NYU Abu Dhabi, won a Sheikh Zayed Book Award, for his examination of the Arabic narrative. In an interview with The National, Kennedy expressed his joy, not simply at the recognition of his work, but also at the direct association the award brings to Sheikh Zayed. Kennedy’s acclaimed academic work focuses on the “recognition scene” in Arabic literature – the moment when a character moves from ignorance to knowledge. What better analogy is there for the wonders of reading itself?

Kennedy’s victory coincided with the Abu Dhabi Book Fair, the Middle East’s most diverse literary event and a reflection of the UAE’s role as a driving force behind the regional publishing industry. Inaugurated 29 years ago by Sheikh Zayed, the event does not merely support publishers and authors but actively encourages a love of reading, while highlighting the UAE’s rich heritage and culture. This is a different type of book fair, one designed to foster an Arabic cultural renaissance. So too does the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, scooped this year by its first female winner, Hoda Barakat for her novel, The Night Mail, which delves deep into the human experience. This year the shortlist was majority female, in recognition of the role women are playing in the growth of the Arab literary scene.

Meanwhile, Sharjah will hold the accolade of Unesco World Book Capital until April 2020 – a reward for its ambitious plan to foster a culture of reading among its citizens. The UAE might be famed for its ultra-modern infrastructure, but

few nations are doing more to promote the printed word than the Emirates. In an unremittingly digital age, this is a truly impressive feat.

Updated: April 27, 2019 06:27 PM

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