This week — from October 29 – Nov 5 — eight emerging writers are at the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF)’s fifth annual nadwa, or writing masterclass:

Photo of Qasr al-Sayab. From: International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
Photo of Qasr al-Sayab. From: International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

The eight participants were flagged by previous IPAF judges as “ones to watch,” and range in age from 29 to 43. There is strong geographic diversity in the group, with eight authors from eight different countries: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Four are women and four men.

Leading this year’s workshop are Moroccan novelist and former IPAF winner Mohammed Achaari (for The Arch and the Butterfly) and Lebanese novelist and IPAF-shortlistee May Menassa (for Walking in the Dust).

“It is commonly thought that writing is a work which happens between the writer and their text, in isolation and solitude,” Achaari said in a news release. “Perhaps this is true at a deep level, but transforming this almost sensory intimacy into open dialogue and group interchange gives the writing another dimension, as it becomes a shared effort.”

The workshop is taking place in the secluded desert resort of Qasr Al Sarab. According to the news release, the eight participants are:

Ayman Otoom (Jordan) 
Ayman Otoom is a Jordanian poet and novelist, born in Jerash, Jordan in 1972. He went to secondary school in the UAE and graduated in Civil Engineering from the Jordanian University of Science and Technology in 1997. He then went on to obtain a B.A. in Arabic Language from the University of Yarmuk, Jordan, in 1999 and an M.A. and doctorate in Arabic Language from the University of Jordan in 2007. He has published several volumes of poetry, including his most recent Take Me to the Al-Aqsa Mosque (2013) and is the author of three novels: My Friend, Prison and They Hear Her Whispering (both 2012) and The Taste of Death (2013). He is currently a teacher in Amman.

Hicham Benchchaoui (Morocco)

Hicham Benchchaoui is a Moroccan writer. Born in al-Jadida, Morocco, in 1976, he trained as a journalist and has written for several Arab newspapers and periodicals. From 2008 to 2010 he worked as a cultural reporter for Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada and Moroccan newspaper Al-Jarida al-Oula. He also co-edited the seventh edition of Sisra magazine, published by the cultural association Aljouf, Saudi Arabia. He is the author of two novels and four short story collections. His novel Nap on an AutumnSunday came third in the Al Tayeb Salih Award for Creative Writing in 2012.

Samir Kacimi (Algeria)
Samir Kacimi is an Algerian novelist. Born in Algiers in 1974, he graduated with a Law degree and currently works as a newspaper columnist. His first novel was Declaration of Lostness (2009), the first Algerian novel to deal with prison in Algeria, which won the Hashemi Saidani Award for the best Algerian debut. In the same year, he published his second novel A Great Day to Die, the first Algerian novel to reach the longlist of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. His third novel, Halabil, was published in 2010 and chapters from his next work In Love with a Barren Woman (2011) were featured in English translation in Banipal Magazine. His most recent novel is The Dreamer (2012).

Noha Mahmoud (Egypt)

Noha Mahmoud is an Egyptian writer, born in 1980. She currently writes for Egyptian newspaper The Republic. She has published three prose works and three novels: Telling stories sitting on Marble Blocks (2007), Rakousha (2009) and Hallucinations (2013), for which she won the Dubai Cultural Prize.

Lulwah al-Mansuri (UAE)

Lulwah al-Mansuri is a writer and journalist from the United Arab Emirates. Born in 1979, she has a B.A. in Arabic and a diploma in Family and Media Studies. Her novel, The Last Women of Lengeh, was published by the Department of Media and Culture in Sharjah in 2013. Her short story collection, The Village Which Sleeps in My Pocket, won the Dubai Cultural Prize in 2013.

Bushra al-Maqtari (Yemen) 
Bushra al-Maqtari was born in Taiz, Yemen in 1979. She is a writer and novelist and member of the executive board of the Union of Yemeni Writers. She has published a prose collection called The Furthest Reaches of Pain (2003) and a novel, Behind the Sun (2012). Her writing has been published in various Arab newspapers and periodicals. In 2013, she was awarded the Françoise Giroud Award for Defence of Freedom and Liberties in Paris and also the Leaders for Democracy Prize, presented by the Project on Middle East Democracy, in Washington.

Abdullah Mohammed Alobaid (Saudi Arabia) 

Abdullah Alobaid is a Saudi Arabian writer. Born in Riyadh in 1984, he studied Management Information Systems at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran. He is the author of one novel, Nicotine (2011), and Companion, a book of prose and poetry (2013). He has also written scripts for television dramas and, for the last four years, has performed stand-up comedy.

Nasrin Trabulsi (Syria)
Nasrin Trabulsi is a Syrian writer. Based in Kuwait, she works as a television news presenter. She has a B.A. in Dramatic Literature and is the author of three collections of short stories – Waiting for a Legend (1997), Scheherazade Got Bored (2004), The Last Dance Rehearsal (2008) – and a book of prose poetry, entitled Speech of the Dumb (2009). She has published a number of critical articles in Arab newspapers and specialist periodicals on literature and the theatre, as well as a series of articles called From the Balcony of Humanity in Sawa Magazine and the Kuwaiti al-Qabas newspaper. Currently, she writes a column for Al-Quds al-Arabi called Fadaai’yat. She has hosted several literary evenings in which she dramatically enacted her short stories, in Damascus, Kuwait, Cairo and Sharjah.

The news release also notes that the 2014 IPAF longlist will be considerably later this year than it has been in the past, giving judges much more time with the pool of titles. The longlist announcement is set for Monday Jan 6, the shortlist for Monday, Feb 10 and the winner’s announcement for  Tuesday April 29.