Spotlight on the Sheikh Zayed Book Prize

The unprecedented challenges of 2020 did not prevent the Sheikh Zayed Book Award (SZBA) from experiencing a pivotal year. The distinctions are awarded annually to honor the contributions of authors, translators, publishers, researchers and intellectuals who represent the dynamic cultural and literary landscape of the Arab world.

“The award this year celebrates 15 years of rewarding the best works of Arab culture,” said Mouza Al Shamsi, director of the SZBA, director of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair and executive director of the Center de langue arabe d. ‘Abu Dhabi. . “During this period, we received 19,095 entries from 71 countries in nine categories, and 106 winners were recognized from 26 countries around the world. The prize also promoted cooperation and cultural exchanges between different cultures and civilizations by organizing more than 60 cultural events around the world. The winners of each of the eight award categories receive a financial reward of $ 200,000, while the winner of the Cultural Personality of the Year category receives $ 272,000.

This year’s literature prize was awarded to Egyptian writer Iman Mersal for Athar Enayat Al Zayyat Fee (In the footsteps of Enayat Al-Zayyat), and the children’s literature prize was awarded to Tunisian author Mizouni Bannani for his book Rehlat Fannan (An artist’s journey). The Translation Prize went to Michael Cooperson for his English translation of Impostures by Al-Hariri. Tunisian researcher Khelil Gouia won in the Literature and Art Critic category for his book Masar Al Tahdeeth fe Al Fonoon Al Tashkelyah, men Al Orsomah ella Al Lawha (The path of modernization of the visual arts, from drawing to painting).

Egyptian author Saeed El-Masry won the Contribution to the Development of Nations award for Turath Al Iste’ela’a bayn Al Folklor wa Al Majal Al Deeny (Legacy of supremacy between folklore and religion). American author Tahera Qutbuddin won Arabic Culture in Other Languages ​​category for her book Arabic prayer: art and function. The Young Author Award was presented to Dr Asma bint Muqbel bin Awad Al-Ahmadi of Saudi Arabia for the critical study Eshkalyat Al Thaat Al Saredah Fee Al Rwayah Al Nesaayah Al Saudiah (The Problems of the Self Told in the Saudi Feminist Novel, 1999-2012), and Dar Al Jadeed from Lebanon won in the Publishing and Technology category.

This year’s awards have broken records in many ways. Notably, 2021 saw the highest number of nominations for the award in its 14-year history: there were more than 2,349 nominations from 57 countries, which Al Shamsi said represents an increase of 23% over the previous year. ‘last year. In addition to the number of participants, more women than ever have won awards or been shortlisted for honors. For Al Shamsi, this positive development testifies to “the growing spirit and the diversity of the content that we receive”.

There was also a significant turnout from American authors this year, with two of the winners hailing from America. “The United States has a long tradition of engaging and promoting Arab culture, and we have some fantastic American laureates,” said Al Shamsi. “We are delighted that two of this year’s winners represent the United States”

Cooperson received the honor of translation for his adaptation of a revered work of Arabic literature into English. that of Al-Hariri Impostures is a classic collection of stories that follow the picaresque adventures of a hero through the medieval Middle East. Cooperson recognized that a literal translation would not best serve the distinctive work of literature. Instead, he took an inventive approach. “Al-Hariri Impostures is written in rhymed prose, which only works in English if you’re James Thurber or Gertrude Stein, ”says Cooperson. “To reproduce the effect, I chose a different constraint. Each of the 50 episodes had to be in a different literary or historical style, or in a separate English jargon or register.

American laureate Tahera Qutbuddin, who teaches at the University of Chicago, was commended by the judges for her “exceptional familiarity with classical Arabic literature and her solid understanding of oral tradition studies and theories.” Qutbuddin’s passion for Arabic storytelling began in childhood. “My journey with Arabic literature,” she says, “took me over several decades and across three continents: Mumbai, where I grew up and encountered Arabic literature for the first time through the lessons I took on the words of wisdom of Imam Ali with my father, Syedna. Khuzaima Qutbuddin, an eminent scholar of Islam; Cairo, where I immersed myself in Arab and Islamic literary heritage at the local university of Ain Shams; and Harvard University in the United States, where I completed a doctoral program and honed my research skills.

For Qutbuddin, the impact of receiving such a prestigious award is far more than monetary. “I am delighted to have received the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for my book,” she said. “It increases the visibility of the important genre of classical Arabic prayer, which forms the foundation of the Arab literary tradition, and it increases the visibility of my work among Western readers as well as readers of the Arabic speaking world.”

In addition to awards for individual authors and scholars, since 2018 the Sheikh Zayed Book Award has awarded grants to international publishers translating books written by contemporary Arab authors. This year, scholarships paved the way for the publication of previous award-winning books in four languages: The fools of Bethlehem by Palestinian author Osama Alaysa; The autumn of innocence the Lebanese novelist and poet Abbas Beydoun; children’s book Without hat by Kuwaiti author Lateefa Buti; and the picture book I dream of being a concrete mixer, illustrated by Walid Taher and translated into English by Sophia Vasalou and into French by Hana Jaber. The book has also been translated into German by Suleman Taufiq.

From this year, the grant expands to fund the translation of all shortlisted books, in addition to the winning titles. Publishers can apply for grants of up to $ 19,000 for the translation, promotion and illustration of a book.

Robert Morgan, who published the English translation of I dream of being a concrete mixer at BookLand Press, is particularly grateful for the opportunities offered by the grants. “As a book publisher, I see a significant market opportunity for publishing by modern Arab authors in North America, and have noticed a growing interest in Arabic literature from ordinary book readers. , book distributors and book retailers, ”Morgan says. “I also see the publication of Arabic literature through translation as a way for North American readers to discover, learn and connect with a new culture, which is made possible by the Sheikh Zayed Translation Fellowship program. Book Award.

Given the challenges of the pandemic, Al Shamsi is especially encouraged by the variety and scale of this year’s submissions. “Despite the circumstances,” she says, “we have seen the price flourish, proving that the culture endures and adapts under the most difficult conditions and reflects both the continuing importance of prices and the resilience and the vitality of the publishing industry. “

While last year’s award ceremonies were virtual, the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions allowed for a hybrid live and streaming ceremony at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair on May 24, in attendance of several of the winners of the year. Dr Ali Bin Tamim, Secretary General of the Sheikh Zayed Book Prize and President of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center, congratulated the winners, saying: “Your work guides us into the future and must be supported and celebrated. This is what sustains Arab and international libraries with culture and intellect.

Al Shamsi sees this year’s diversity as a sign of things to come. The award website added five languages ​​(French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish) to connect with more writers, editors and readers internationally. “We believe in the importance of cultural exchanges between different cultures, and the award’s website provides a platform to exchange ideas and promote global dialogue,” Al Shamsi said. “The Prize strongly believes in the impact that international and regional partnerships add to the cultural reach and commitment of the Prize; We will continue to work with strategic partnerships to strengthen and expand the mandate of the award.

A version of this article appeared in the 07/06/2021 issue of Editors Weekly under the title: Promoting cooperation and cultural exchanges: Spotlight on the Sheikh Zayed Book Prize

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