The Sheikh Zayed Book Award (SZBA) and the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, popularly known as the “Arabic Booker”) have ostensibly looked at similar books each year. And yet their longlists have always been markedly different.
This is in part because, in previous years, the SZBA “literature” prize was open both to literature (of any genre) and to the criticism thereof. The IPAF has only been open to novels published the previous year. Meanwhile, the SZBA judges have looked at poetry, drama, novels, and literary criticism, all together in the same big bucket.
Now, in the SZBA’s seventh year, it has limited the literature prize to “no more than creative literary works,” and seems to have further separated poetry and prose into two separate piles, each seven titles long.
So this year, at last, one name is found both on the SZBA and the IPAF longlists: that of Palestinian poet and novelist Ibrahim Nasrallah. However, he was longlisted for different books: He made the IPAF longlist for his novel Lanterns of the King of Galilee and the SZBA longlist for his poetry collection A Ray of Light Between Two Nights.
There are a number of notable names on the “novel and short stories” section of the SZBA longlist, including deceased Egyptian author Mohamed al-Bisatie for his 2011 novel And Their Bed is Green and popular Algerian novelist Ahlam Mosteghanemi for her 2012 novel Black Suits You.
Others on the longlist for novels or short stories include Emirati author Ali Abu al-Reesh for his 2010 novel Running from a Lion (excerpt trans. Robin Moger), Iraqi-German author Burhan Shawi for his 2012 novel Baghdad Morgue, and three Moroccans: Abdallah bin Arafa for his novel Ibn al-Khatib in Rawdat Taha, Zohra Ramij for her novel Azzuza, and Latifa Labsir for her 2012 short-story collection An Embrace.
On the poetry side of the longlist, seven titles were also named. Besides Ibrahim Nasrallah‘s Ray of Light, there was Lebanese poet Mohammed Ali Shams el-Din‘s The Bird Sleeps in the Green Trees (2012), Iraqi poet Hashem Sahfiq‘s Embroidery with Cherries (2010), Egyptian poet Farouk Shousha‘s Travelling to the Source of the River (2012), Tunisian poet Munsif al-Wahaby‘s Diwan al-Wahaiby (2010), and Kuwaiti poet Saadia Mufarreh‘s How Lonely We Are, Suzan (2012).
Hopefully, this will be a step forward for the SZBA. Last year, after a literature longlist and shortlist were chosen, the literature prize was not awarded. The judges said little about the matter, only than that none of the books “met their stringent criteria.”
This wasn’t the first year the SZBA literature prize hit a snag: It was withdrawn in 2010 after allegations of plagiarism.
The prize consists of a gold medal bearing the SZBA logo, a certificate of merit, and 750,000 dirhams. The winners are scheduled to be announced in March.