Mansoura at last year's nadwa, at which she was also a mentor.

Yesterday marked the opening of the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF)-sponsored Nadwa, an eight-writer, eight-day workshop held this year in Abu Dhabi.

The eight authors were chosen by IPAF judges from among those who submitted work to the prize last year. The 2011 mentors are Egyptian author Mansoura Ez Eldin and Sudanese novelist Amir Tag Elsir, both of whom have had novels shortlisted for the prize.

Young Lebanese novelist Rasha al-Atrash is one of the eight participating in this year’s Nadwa. She has benefited from a previous workshop: Her novel Soap was a product of Najwa Barakat’s pioneering project in Lebanon.  Other participants are Iraqi writer and journalist Ali Ghadeer, Mauritanian novelist Mohamed ould Mohamed Salem, and five writers from the Gulf: Omanis Jokha al-Harthi and Mahmoud al-Rahby, Bahraini novelist Waleed Abdulla Hashim, Kuwaiti Sara Abd al-Wehab al-Drees, and Emirati short-story writer and playwright Muhsin Suleiman.

The first thing that caught my eye about this list was: No Egyptians. (After all, Egyptians submit around a third of the novels in contention for the IPAF.) The second thing: A dearth of participants from nations undergoing political uprisings.

Katy MacMillan-Scott, who helps represent the IPAF, said, “Of course we would love writers from every country to be represented, but there is a restriction on the numbers we can have on the nadwa (to retain the intimacy of the workshop) and, in addition, it is reliant on authors’ availability to take part.”

She added, “We did in fact invite a Libyan, an Algerian and a Palestinian who, for one reason or another, weren’t able to come. We are also trying to invite people from countries who have not been represented at the nadwa before. In fact, we have writers from 4 new countries: Mauritania, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.”

The Nadwa does have a slot reserved each year for an Emirati. The Foundation’s Salwa Mikdadi said, in the press release, “Initiatives like the Nadwa motivate the local cultural scene in the UAE. Every edition of the Nadwa offers talented new Emirati writers a platform to enrich their writing experience.”

The result of the inaugural Nadwa (2009) was a quite enjoyable bilingual collection, Emerging Arab Voices 1. According to IPAF organizers, “the publication of a second volume of writing, from the 2010 workshop, is currently in discussion.”

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Of the participating writers, Jokha al-Harthi has work previously published in English. Several stories in translation can be found on her website

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