Was the Arab Novel Prize Given to Al-Koni for Bad Reasons? (And Then, We’ll Forget All That And Talk Poetry)

Let’s grit our teeth and get this over with: Did (the extremely talented and worthy) Ibrahim al-Koni win Egypt’s “Arab Novel Prize” because judging chair Gaber Asfour wanted to return a chit to Moammar Ghaddafi? After all, Libya awarded Asfour the Ghaddafi Prize for International Literature earlier this year.

Youm7, which seems to be the place to go for literary gossip, asks.

Of course, let’s remember that lit-prize controversy is not solely a phenomenon of the Arabic-writing and -reading world. (Although some language groups seem to have more fun with their lit-prize controversies.) For instance: Multi-award-winning author Zadie Smith has said, on the arts forum website of the Willesden Herald, that literary prizes (in the U.S.) are ‘only nominally’ about literature and more about corporate brand consolidation.

So, if we’re done here, then please go read a novel by Ibrahim al-Koni, maybe his نزيف الحجر – Bleeding of the Stone, in English translation from May Jayyusi and Christopher Tingley, or his Gold Dust, translated by Elliott Colla, or The Puppet, translated by William Hutchins. Not because he won a literary prize of questionable value (the same one, yes, that Sonallah Ibrahim so famously rejected). But just because he’s good.

Now: Poetry

The big poetry news—at least in the world of popular poetry—is that (drumroll!) it’s “Prince of Poets” season again, which of course will bring its own controversies (would Hissa Hilal have won if she were a man or from a more powerful family? is the poetry celebrated on this show any good?).  But, hey, even if you don’t like the poems, you can always appreciate the Prince of Poets set design. According to Eissa al-Mazrouei of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage:

In parallel with the creativity of poets, we must praise the artistic creativity of the programme, in terms of lightning, direction and décor whose design was inspired from Andalusian architecture and Arab Islamic heritage.

Al-Mazrouei also promises “surprises and changes that are worth watching.”


If you’ve been following Adonis’s commentary on his travels through America (where he went to talk about the new English translation of his work, Adonis: Selected Poems), Dar Al Hayat has published part three.


Over on Imtidad, Libyan poet and blogger Ghazi Gheblawi has a couple new translations: “The Rowdy,”  by Libyan poet and critic Ramez Enwesri, and “Our Old Radio,” by Libyan short-story writer Ahmed Yousef Aqila. While “Our Old Radio” seems to be billed as a short story, I don’t see why it’s not just as easily a prose poem.

And at the Poetry Translation Centre, they were working on the poetry of Iraqi poet Abboud al Jabiri. There’s a podcast, too.


And! If you translate poetry into English, get your submission in now for the American Academy of Poets’ Harold Morton Landon Translation Award,  for a book of translated poetry published during the previous year. It comes with a $1000 award. You should get your book in by Jan. 31, 2011.