A second nadwa is taking place in Abu Dhabi this week.
I can’t agree with Edward Nawotka that fiction writing in Arabic has suffered in international circles because more attention has gone to politics and poets. Politics, sure. But poets? Except perhaps during Nobel Week, when Adonis has his regular 15.7 seconds of fame, I think Naguib Mahfouz is the Arabic-language author most (literate) Europeans and Americans can name. Indeed, I have to agree with Rasheed al-Enany, that Arabic fiction and poetry have—in many ways—switched places in the last forty years, particularly in what’s being translated and promoted to readers abroad.
For instance, in this summer’s Beirut39 anthology, only 15 of the “under 40” winners were poets, and only 10 wanted to be represented in the anthology by their poems. And the “Arabic Booker” itself is a novel prize: no poets allowed.
Be that as it may! I certainly agree that nadwas—or workshops—are a growing phenomenon in the Arabic-writing world. Najwa Barakat has held several successful ones and Bloomsbury-Qatar has begun hosting nadwas in Doha for both children’s and grown-up fiction, for youth and adults. Cairo’s Kotob Khan ran a successful nadwa out of the bookstore; Mohammad Rabie’s acclaimed first novel was the result. There are also numerous workshops run in English, such as those managed through PalFest.
The eight writers who were at the inaugural “Arabic Booker” nadwa were selected by judges, who described them as ‘some of the most gifted and promising writers of the emerging generation.’ Five were also Beirut 39 laureates: Mansoura Ezz Eldin, Mohammed Hassan Alwan, Kamel Riahi, Mansour El-Sowaim and Mohammed Salah al-Azab.
The collection was edited by translator Peter Clark and is introduced by “Arabic Booker” shortlisted author Inaam Kachachi, whose The American Granddaughter is out in English from Bloomsbury-Qatar.
The writers participating in this year’s workshop (October 19-26) are also under 40. According to Publishing Perspectives, they include: Wajdi al-Ahdal from Yemen; Mariam Al Saedi from the UAE; Akram Msallam, a Palestinian novelist based in Jordan; Rania Mamoun, a Sudanese TV and print journalist; Moroccan Anis Arrafai; Lina Hawyana al-Hasan, a Syrian novelist; and Tareq Emam, an award-winning Egyptian novelist (who was strangely overlooked for the Beirut39 list, but never mind that).
In a previous interview with Arab Comment (now on his blog), Nadwa 1 participant Mohammad Hassan Alwan had this cheering thing to say about the pan-Arab nature of the workshop process:
Since the participants are from different countries in the Arab world and experience different levels and types of censorship; they share the condemnation of it but not the extents of which they can challenge it, the experiences they had with it, nor the techniques they use to minimize its negative effect on their writings. Hence by mixing them together, they inspire each other and share their experiences in regards to dealing with censorship.