Miral al-Tahawy Wins Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature

Miral waits to receive the medal from AUC President David D. Arnold. Dr. Asfour applauds.

I certainly hope this medal—presented last night at the AUC’s downtown campus—doesn’t negatively impact Brooklyn Heights‘ chances at the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), for which it was shortlisted just three days ago.

That’s certainly the theory put forth by Sayed Mahmoud, who wrote yesterday for Ahram Online about the controversies of the 2011 Arabic Booker:

The likelihood that Miral El-Tahawy’s outstanding novel, “Brooklyn Heights” will win the Naguib Mahfouz prize from the American University in Cairo…will significantly reduce its chances of winning the Booker.

He also noted that the IPAF has probably filled its “Egyptian quota” by giving the award to Bahaa Taher (2008) and Youssef Ziedan (2009). Mahmoud is putting his IPAF bet, it seems, on a novel written by a Maghrebi author: Bensalem Himmich’s My Tormentor or Mohammed Achaari’s The Arch and the Butterfly.

But, in any case, al-Tahawy’s winning the Mahfouz award marks—as I write in a piece for Al Masry Al Youm —the tremendous distance Egyptian author Miral al-Tahawy has traveled: “from a girl in Sharqiya whose mother said ‘this translation thing is the last thing we need!’ to an award-winning novelist of international standing.”


Al-Tahawy was born to a Bedouin family in the Egyptian Delta region in 1968. In her remarks, she talked about how, when her first book, The Tent, was being translated into English by Anthony Calderbank, her brothers answered Calderbank’s questions about her novel on her behalf. “I would stand behind the door and eavesdrop on my own stories that were being reinvented,” al-Tahawy told the audience.

However, al-Tahawy’s rise has certainly been coming on for a while. Prominent Somali author Nuruddin Farah, when at the University of Minnesota several years ago, was asked who the “next big thing of global fiction” would be. Farah pointed to al-Tahawy and her Blue Aubergine.

Prize judge and literary critic Dr. Gaber Asfour gave the Naguib Mahfouz Memorial Lecture, presented on what would’ve been Mahfouz’s 99th birthday, and judge/academic Dr. Samia Mehrez gave the award announcement and spoke about Brooklyn Heights.

The three remaining judges were Mohamed Berrada, Fakhri Saleh, and Hoda Wasfy.

One more thing, and then you’ll have to read Al Masry Al Youm for the rest:

The silver Mahfouz medal, presented each year on the Nobel laureate’s birthday, comes with a cash prize of $1,000 and translation into English. The English version of Brooklyn Heights is currently scheduled for a 2011 release, although AUC Press editor Neil Hewison said that the publishing house is still in search of a fitting translator.

Missing from the event was Raymond Stock, whose translation of Mahfouz’s The Coffeehouse should have become available from AUC Press last night. Stock was denied re-entry into Cairo a few days back for unspecified reasons; supposition was that it was for criticism of Egypt’s Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni. Stock is still hoping to get to Cairo to present a lecture on Mahfouz Dec. 19, and to continue research for his biographical work on Mahfouz.

Here, you can see my photographic out-takes from the ceremony:

AUC Press Director Mark Linz encourages everyone to come on down to the AUC Press holiday book sale. Mahfouz looks down.
AUC President David D. Arnold is apparently in his final year. At the end of the ceremony, he received a complete set of leather-bound Mahfouz.
The crush of camerapeople trying to get a good shot just after the speeches and presentations were over. Now you see why I always resign myself to standing back and using my zoom.

More about al-Tahawy and the Mahfouz Medal:

ArabLit’s profile of her, as a longlister

ArabLit: ‘Arabic Booker’ Shortlist: The Coverage, The Controversy, The Predictions

AUC Press’s page about the medal and its previous winners

Also: Miral Al Tahawy is scheduled to read from and sign Brooklyn Heights at Kotob Khan, New Ma’adi, Dec 26 7 p.m.