International Prize for Arabic Fiction Profiles: Renee Hayek

Renee Hayek's A Short Life

I agree with Lionel Shriver—why not?—that female authors should step up their game. Male authors should step up their game. Every one of us should step up our games.  You, too.

But, if we look at the numbers, we can see that there was likely a gender problem—at least in the International Prize for Arabic Fiction’s (IPAF) first three years. For the 2009 prize, for instance, only 17 (of 131) submissions were of books written by female authors. (Submissions come from publishers, not from authors. So publishers—each is allowed three nominations—were not betting on female authors to win. Or place. Or even show.)

The 2009 longlist included two of the 17 “female” books: Inaam Kachachi’s The American Granddaughter (now available in English from Bloomsbury-Qatar; it also made the shortlist) and Renee Hayek’s A Prayer for the Family.

Presumably, since then,IPAF organizers have telegraphed to publishers: We are interested in seeing more works by women.

And, again this year, Renee Hayek is on the longlist, this time for her A Short Life, حياة قصيرة .

Hayek was born in Sarba, in southern Lebanon, and studied philosophy at the Lebanese University before teaching French, penning literary journalism, and working at a literary press.

She has written a number of books, including the short-story collection Portraits of Forgetfulness. One of the stories from this collection—“The Phone Call,” was translated into English and included in the anthology Hikayat: Short Stories by Lebanese Women. “The Phone Call” is, according to Read Kutub, “the story of a dysfunctional woman whose empty life is a result of the numbing experience of war. Throughout, the protagonist is trapped in the heavy stillness of Hayek’s prose.”

IPAF organizers describe A Short Life as such:

A Short Life gives an eye witness account from a woman living in Lebanon during the long years of Civil War. Writing in the present tense, the reader is given an insight into daily life in wartime, from the difficulties and dangers of travelling across the country to the war’s effect on social life, from family to relationships with friends who have remained and those who have sought a new life abroad.


A Prayer for the Family

Al Akhbar

A Short Life

GoodReads readers

Previously profiled: Egyptian Miral al-Tahawy, longlisted for her Brooklyn Heights, Bensalam Himmich, longlisted for My Tormentor, Fawaz Haddad, longlisted for God’s Soldiers, Khairy Shalaby, longlisted for Istasia, and Raja Alem for The Doves’ Necklace. See the full longlist here.