Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Literature Withheld Again This Year

For the second year in a row, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award (SZBA) judges have declined to grant a literature prize, “as this year’s nominations…did not meet the Award’s standards and criteria for winning”:

szba1This year’s SZBA — now in its seventh cycle — was structured differently, with only creative works eligible for the literature prize. In previous years, the “literature” prize was open both to creative works and criticism.

This year’s “Literary and Art Criticism” prize was awarded: It went to ‘Al Takhayol Al Tarikhi’ (Historic Visualization) by Iraqi author Abdullah Ibrahim.

Not so for the embattled literature prize, which was stripped in 2010 after accusations of plagiarism and withheld last year for the same ostensible reason. This year, it was withheld again, now along with the children’s literature prize. That means there are no creative works celebrated by the 2013 SZBA.

This year’s literary longlist was much more varied than in the past, including seven novels or short-story collections and seven collections of poetry.

Winner of the Art & Lit Crit category.
Winner of the Art & Lit Crit category.

There were 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, the seven titles also included acclaimed works, including Ibrahim Nasrallah‘s Ray of Light. There was also 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).

One year of not awarding the prize (like the US Pulitzer) is annoying; two years is silly: If this prize is to continue, the judging system clearly needs an overhaul.

Other SZBA awards:

The ‘Arab Culture in Non-Arabic Languages’ award went to Marina Warner’s worthy Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights.

The winners will be celebrated on April 28, 2013, near the end of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.


  1. How about you focus on the BIG PICTURE and aknowledge the excellent effort done by this Award to the Arabic literature which you so deceitfully name your blog after, but obviously you know nothing about!

    Instead of announcing the winners list, you stick to your cheap teasers-mistaken-for-headlines to pathetically drag traffic to your blog. And you -so bluntly- mention a big name like Marina Warner as a by-the-way note at the end of your article instead of placing it on top – which says a lot about your intentions and style of writing.

    What I cannot understand is, since you are so much against this Award as if you are out on a vengeance spree as if they killed your child (apparent from your continuous attacks on it) then why do you accept the invitations to visit Abu Dhabi Book Fair and even attend SZBA’s dinner??? so you only write your “best” works on a full stomach? An unmatched lesson in hypocracy, to say the least.

    I personally believe it is better to withhold a prize rather grant it to those who may not derserve it as much as other winners announced this year. Yet i bet you would still find a negative argument to write about even if a full list of winners is announced. You cannot help it – poor blogger – some people do actual work, while other people “like your good self” sit on their behinds writing about it.

    Trust me, the only list you’d make it to is a BLACK LIST.

    Enjoy your misery.

    1. Did I attend the SZBA’s dinner? Yes, I guess I did. I will avoid it this year, if you think it will make me more credible.

      Sincere criticism is, however, one of the sincerer forms of flattery: It means what you’re doing matters; it means I don’t think an award should be praised simply for existing. I am also critical of the IPAF (I don’t think they gave a dinner, did they?) but my criticism can be a lot more specific since they make their judges available for comment and interviews. Because of this transparency, I have a much better idea of how that prize works.

      I add Marina as a by-the-way because this blog primarily focuses on Arab authors and Arabic literature, which she doesn’t write.

      1. I wish your big apetite for gala dinners is matched by some hunger to justify what you call “criticism” and “sincerity”. If you have done your homework prior to writing this piece, you’d have found that Marina won the award for writing about Arabic literature in her native language, something which you fail to do over and over again, with a bang. And here is where your glorified credibility goes down the drain.

        Practice what you preach. That’s how credibility is earned. Seek a fuller perspective rather than peeping through the window to report a shattered version of reality. Your view is that of an outsider, which is what you are to Arabic literature.

        1. I am aware of Marina’s book & have written about it here before. But again, the primary interest here is in Arab creative writing.

          Sure, I’m an outsider. 100%.

          If you have insight into the reasons the lit award wasn’t granted two years in a row, or a judge who’d like to give an interview, please, I am interested in a fuller perspective.

  2. So from what I understand, and since your interest here is “creative writing”, then “Historic Visualization” – Winner of the Art & Literature Critisism category, mentioned in bold just a few lines below the headline, is considered “creative writing” to you?
    And Marina’s book, retelling the stories of “the arabian nights”, one of the most famous and most cherished collection of fairy tales in arabic culture is NOT “creative writing????
    Obviously, you are an outsider to literature itself.

    I’m not going to teach you how to do your job – if you take what you do as serious as a job (apparently not), nor I’m I going to do it for you. But you can check several newspapers, whose journalists made the effort to reach out to the Award and interviewed the secretary general and the scientific committee members in their reports, rather than relying on speculations and false assessments.

    1. For the record, I made an effort to reach out to the award judges last year. This year, I simply reported the facts of the press release: The award was withheld. If there is a larger explanation of how or why the judges decided (again) to withhold the award, beyond “nothing met our standards,” I have not seen it.

      This blog generally does not discuss literary criticism or non-Arab creative writing. There are many many, many other outlets for the latter.

      Again, I am not claiming to be an insider to anything: This is a blog, unpaid writing, by definition an outsider’s space. It is not a job.

  3. Again, I’m not teaching you what to do or how to do it; I’m observing your space on the web in comparison to other news ressources. So if you say that you tried to reach out to the right people and failed, then it seems you decided to rely this time on your own “creative writing” while other journalists actually tried for real and did it.

    And from my perspective, you are disrespecting the intelligence of the readers by claiming you are quoting the press release. All newspapers and news sources on the web quoted almost the same: that the Award announced the winners. But you, instead of stating the same – you insisted on taking one tiny bit of it about the withholding of a prize and inflated it into a juicy cut of a headline, and built a full article around it, while the actual content of the press release you claim to quote from (which is the winners list) took the back seat in what you wrote.

    This, in addition to your lack of proper knowledge about what you write, ties up pretty well with the fact that this is not a paid piece of writing. How else would a poorly resourced article on a probono blog gain publicity if not by feeding on hollow teasers and sizzling hot gossip that is better placed in a tabloid or a celebrity magazine.

    Practice proper journnalism, even if its a “hobby” on a blog and not a job. If you don’t know how, educate yourself, if you still can’t do it, well maybe you should quit writing about culture and literature and switch to lighter topics – say, horoscopes.

    1. Yo Andy, stop being a fucking asshole, it’s not that hard really.

  4. May I ask you to please leave your name rather than post anonymously? Thanks.

    1. Do you ask all the readers of your blog to reveal their names? I thought this is an exchange of opinions not a social space. My name is Andy, I’m not posting anonymously.

      Writing publicly on the web strips you the right of keeping your opinions to yourself, which in turn allows other people to respond. What matters here is viewpoints. Either you accept this or shut down the comment box – if it goes in line with your version of sincere journalism.

      1. I am not requiring it, I am only asking.

        I am not sure I follow your argument, but of course you are free to post anonymously — I have never bothered setting up a comments policy, I don’t think, so I suppose anything goes.

  5. This seems strangely vitriolic, and even worse, cowardly, Andy. It’s funny that you characterise this as an exchange of viewpoints, as it comes across as one-sided unabated anger, against the editor’s person not her ideas. One wonders what fuels this tirade. Jealousy? A desire to silence criticism, as the prize-giving country is wont to do?

    1. Andy, what on earth is your problem? I have rarely seen such an unnecessarily vitriolic set of ad hominem attacks. Marcia does a great job of doing exactly what she sets out to do: reporting on the world of Arabic literature in translation. Since the other SZBA awards are not relevant to that area of interest, why would you expect her to feature them? And why would you expect her to refrain from discussing the failure to award prizes in the area that does matter to her (and to many of us)? The news here is that a well known literary award has been withheld for the second time, a matter of considerable interest to those concerned with the field, and a valid topic for Marcia to bring to the table for informed discussion and enlightened debate. Your remarks, in contrast, are simply offensive.

  6. Marcia asks a simple and valid question. Why was the prize withheld. Period. What’s all the drama about!

    One of 2 issues need to be looked into and addressed; either the standards of the competition or the reason writers eligible for this prize are not up to par with those standards.

  7. Why cannot people bear with criticism, deal with criticism and even defy criticism in a scientific logical way? I thought that was Arab people’s problem but obviously it is more international!!

  8. Amazing what reaction ArabLit received for just posting the facts! Stepping on sensitive toes I guess!!

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