Nobel Speculation: Arab Writers for Peace and Literature Prizes

It’s nearly October, the time for burning rice chaff, eating candy, and speculating about the various Nobel prizes.

Literature Prize

Adonis. Up until January 28, I believed Adonis had a good shot at this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Khaled Mattawa brilliantly edited and compiled a collection of Adonis’s works in translation, published in the fall of 2010, and Yale University Press acknowledged that they were sending a box over to the Swedish committee. This was the first time the committee could get a real idea of the scope of Adonis’s work, and the collection is impressive. More than impressive.

However, following the 2011 uprisings, recognizing Adonis seems simultaneously too “trendy” and too out-of-date, as of course Adonis has spent the last several decades living in Paris and has not really been part of the movement.

But many others who are more in the know believe it might well happen, and I’m usually wrong about these sorts of things.

Assia Djebar. The Algerian writer is listed as 12/1 by Ladbrokes, which puts her ahead of other popular favorites, like Haruki Murakami and Philip Roth. Her work, written in French, is dense, thoughtful, sometimes beautiful. Because she writes in French, her work has always been accessible to the Nobel committee, although she’s kept a relatively low profile of late. If you’re interested in her work, I suggest Women of Algiers in Their Apartment and the difficult but lovely Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade.

Elias Khoury. Three of his works have recently been translated for the Nobel committee’s reading pleasure: White Masks (trans. Maia Tabet), Yalo (trans. Humphrey Davies), and As Though She Were Sleeping (trans. Humphrey Davies). His body of work is at times dizzyingly good and he has an “idealist direction,” but is that enough for the Nobel committee? Ladbrokes says 50/1. He’s in good company: Other 50/1ers include Juan Goytisolo, Louise Gluck, and Javier Marias.

Peace Prize

According to speculation floated in The National and elsewhere, a number of North Africans are being considered for the prize.

Lina Ben Mhenni. She’s a blogger, an activist, anti-censorship, and a linguistics TA at Tunis University. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Israa Abdel Fattah. She’s the favorite of the head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, Kristian Berg Harpviken, because of her role in the April 6th Youth Movement. Zeinobia writes about her here.

Wael Ghonim. Who we already know, and who has a book—Revolution 2.0—scheduled for release in English translation in 2012.


  1. Thanks to your previous posts about Adonis, I picked up the new collection at the library several weeks ago, and then quickly ordered my own copy when I realized what a treasure I had in my hands. This is just amazing work, and I’d be thrilled to see Adonis awarded the prize (though I have to admit that I also hold out hope for a long shot probably not even on the committee’s list, Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi).

    1. I admit I don’t know Antonio Tabucchi (and his works probably aren’t available in Cairo?). I’ll have to pick him up next time I travel….

  2. Adonis does seem to be front runner but I think Roth ,Murakami or even Nadas may be the winner this time , but a african winner is due again soon

  3. I would be tickled if it were Murakami. Lots of worthy African winners…I hope the Nobel committee can manage to look for more than just wa Thiong’o, Djebar, Farah. Although of course they’re all worthy.

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