Gamal al-Ghitani to Arabic Booker Nomination: No, Thank You

August Egyptian author Gamal al-Ghitani (Zayni Barakat, The Zafarani Files) announced last week that he’s rejected a nomination for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, or the “Arabic Booker.”

I don’t exactly follow his arguments, also discussed in the Facebook group MLA Division on Arabic Literature and Culture, but he seems to argue that: 1) the award doesn’t have a philosophy, 2) he doesn’t want to compete against young writers (he doesn’t like that the Booker refuses weigh the author’s reputation and experience?), 3) he doesn’t like that the Arabic Booker organizers pay for the winning novel to be translated.

MLA sympathizes with the last point: “The question is for me: if we pay for the best novel written in Arabic to be translated (which is the tradition that the Booker is establishing), what do we do about the rest of the novels that are produced each year?”

I guess I’m not really concerned about that. (Nor am I concerned about whether al-Ghitani wants to compete against younger writers.) Indeed, many countries spend money on translation subsidies, and otherwise strive to spread the range of their literary art, and I don’t see how it hurts their nations’ literatures. I don’t think publishers will expect a handout for publishing Arabic books: I imagine they’ll still decide based on whether they think the book is excellent, or is the next Yacoubian Building.

I worry more  how the Booker selection process works, although I suppose all of these prizes are flawed, if not equally so.


  1. I don’t really support Al Ghitany except in point number 1. The Arabic Booker doesn’t seem to have a philosophy fe3lan.. They should clarify their selection process..

    But on another note, your post urged me to ask you to compile a list with your favorite literature Facebook groups and blogs, if possible.. 🙂

  2. Yes, you’re right, I could understand the first one, that there isn’t really a clarity to their selection criteria or aims (other than some obtuse “excellence”).

    As for the most interesting Facebook groups on Arabic literature, I’ll have to think on it. But what comes to mind (for places I regularly pick up on interesting discussions) is the MLA Division on Arabic Literature and Culture and the Arabic Poetry group. Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature is fairly active on Facebook, and some of the bookstore pages, like Alef’s in particular, are pretty active. I’ll look more thoroughly through my lists, although the ones called “Arabic literature” and “Arabic books” are usually pretty dull.

    I have a lot of dead ones…or some where they’re just posts of information but no discussion. Some authors’ pages (like Mourid Barghouti is pretty active) are also interesting.

    And blogs, too! I’ll think on that and compile of those tomorrow.

    What about you?

    1. Just one blog before I go…I get a lot of news about international literature from M.A. Orthofer at the Literary Saloon.

      1. I don’t recall any facebook group I liked.. as you said, most of them are dull or inactive.. as for blogs, yours is the most significant. The rest of blogs, that showed some enthusiasm, were soon left by its authors..

        The only active thing I’m following is .. its really interesting, though almost all reviews are written by amateurs, and barely anything turns into a discussion..

        Worth to mention, though I think you already know this, but sometimes PTP presents good topics for discussion..

        Waiting for your list 🙂

  3. I also like GoodReads, although I’m not yet sure how to get tapped into the interesting discussions. Every now and again I stumble across a hot one by accident…..

    I check out Youssef Rakha’s blog, although he seems to save most of his controversial assertions for things he says in print, and it doesn’t tend to generate a discussion online, unfortunately.

    There’s also Qunfuz (, but Robin also tends to use the blog as a place to talk about pieces he published elsewhere.

    A lot of fiction writers seem to mainly use their blogs to promote their work…which is fine…. Ala Hlehel sometimes blogs about what he’s reading and dissects it, although more as a writer than as a reader….

    I skim through the newspaper book blogs, although it’s probably once every couple months I see anything interesting?

    I think Kikah should do a blog…

    Blogs like Angry Arab News (and Poetry) Service and Qifa Nabki ( are usually about politics but occasionally about reading, literacy, poetry, books.

    Of course, sometimes Ursula over at Arabist talks books and literature, but it seems like mostly Issandr posting.

    Twitter is great for hearing a quick snippet here and there, and getting pointed toward articles, but I find myself usually getting lost in the hubbub.

    It’s not much of a list!

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