Looking Back at 2013: The Year in Arabic Literature (in Translation)

ArabLit looks back at some of the big awards, events, translations, and at those who left us in 2013:



Announced on Jan. 9, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction shortlist was surprising in what it left off: novels from acclaimed authors Elias Khoury, Hoda Barakat, Muhsin al-Ramli, Waciny Laredj, and 2012 IPAF laureate Rabee Jaber. For half of the (young) authors on the shortlist — Jana Elhassan, Mohammed Hassan Alwan, Saud Alsanousi — this was only their second book. Look back at an interview with shortlisted novelist Ibrahim Eissa, by contributor Asmaa Abdallah.

The six shortlisted titles.

Later in the month, it was announced that Roger Allen had won the 2012 Banipal Translation Prize for his translation of Bensalem Himmich’s A Muslim Suicide.

Release of Nihad Sirees’s The Silence and the Roar, trans. Max Weiss.

Also in January, Elias Khoury wrote a letter to the “real” Gate of the Sun.


Long-time AUC Press Director Mark Linz died early on the morning of February 9 after a struggle with cancer. As translator Chip Rossetti said, Linz was “an inveterate champion of Egyptian and Arab authors.”

The photo Margaret Obank shared on Banipal.
Mark Linz.

Ibrahim Farghali won the senior Sawiris novel prize for his Sons of Gebelawi.

Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami’s life sentence — meted out for his poetry — was cut to 15 years. Al-Ajami’s lawyer said that they would appeal the sentence.

Also in February, an announcement that mega-selling author Ahlam Mosteghanemi’s new novel, Black Suits You — which was released in the last month of 2012 — had already sold 100,000 copies.


Dominique Eddé’s Kite made the Best Translated Book Award longlist. 

Khaled Khalifa’s In Praise of Hatred was on the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist


Kuwaiti novelist Saud al-Sanousi won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his The Bamboo Stalk. Read Caterina Pinto’s review of the novel.

IPAF-winning Stalk of Bamboo.

Meanwhile, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Literature was withheld.

Also in April, graphic novelist Magdy El Shafee was arrested and released.

Farouk Mustafa, a great literary translator and teacher, died at 70. From Margaret Litvin: ““He used to say every Arab intellectual was one part Hamlet, one part Jesus Christ, and one part Don Quixote. I’ll miss the Quixote the most! Goodbye, dear Farouk.”


Moroccan Author Fouad Laroui won the Prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle and Syrian novelist Nihad Sirees won Germany’s Coberg Rückert Prize.

Alaa Abdel-Aziz was named Egypt’s new culture minister. He began firing staff without seeming reason, and, by the end of the month, novelist Bahaa Taher — among others — had resigned from the state Council of Culture. Protests had begun.

Release of Raba’i al-Madhoun’s The Lady of Tel Aviv, trans. Elliott Colla. 


Translator-poet Fady Joudah and poet Ghassan Zaqtan won the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize for Like a Straw Bird it Follows Me.

“Like a Straw Bird it Follows Me.”

Egyptian author Karam Saber was sentenced to five years for a short-story collection that allegedly “insults religion.”

Release of Rabee Jaber’s The Mehlis Report, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid.

Also in June, Cornell University put Waguih Ghali’s unpublished papers online.


Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh won the Mohamed Zafzaf prize.

In July, we were watching Zaat, a Ramadan TV series based on Sonallah Ibrahim’s acclaimed novel.

Egypt’s culture minister wars came to an end, first with an announcement that fired former head of the Opera House Inas Abdel Dayem would be the new minister and then with the reinstatement of Mohamed Saber Arab.

Release of Sinan Antoon’s The Corpse Washer, trans. Sinan Antoon.

Also in July, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a $25,000 grant to Mohammad A. Albakry and Rebekah Maggor to assist their translation Tahrir Plays and Performance Texts from the Egyptian Revolution.  


An anti-censorship play in Lebanon was…censored.

The first volume of the historic translation of Ahmed Faris al-Shidyaq’s Leg Over Leg (trans. Humphrey Davies), was issued by the Library of Arabic Literature.

Proving that if you put “Arabic” and “sex” in a headline, they will come, “Reclaiming Arabic As a Language of Sex” — by Sarah Irving, on Shereen el-Feki’s book — was the most-read post of the year. El-Feki’s book also made the Guardian first book award longlist.


Ahmed Fouad Negm won the 2013 Prince Claus Award for “unwavering integrity.”

Iraqi author Abbas Khider won a major German literature prize, the €15,000 Nelly-Sachs-Preis.

Abbas Khider.

The most popular piece in September was “Science Fiction in Arabic: ‘It Was Not Born All of a Sudden’, an interview with Ada Barbaro, author of the new book La fantascienza nella letteratura araba.

Release of Keep Your Eye on the Walled. Olivia Snaije and Mitch Albert.


The most fun fall story was “Making It Visible: Jonathan Wright on (Not) Translating Alaa al-Aswany’s ‘Automobile Club,’on why Jonathan Wright was not translating al-Aswany’s Automobile Club. With spreadsheets!

In October, there was also a showdown in Paris between protesters and al-Aswany

More controversy in October, when Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi published a piece on Al Monitor, “Gulf Cities Emerge as New Centers of Arab World,” asserting that Gulf cities were taking over, and it was no longer the case that Cairo wrote, Beirut published, and Baghdad read.

In a non-cultural-center sort of decision, Qatar’s court of cassation upheld the 15-year sentence for poet Mohamed al-Ajami. The only remaining hope for al-Ajami’s release was a pardon.

Mohamed al-Ajami
Mohamed al-Ajami

Ferial Ghazoul and John Verlenden won the 2013 University of Arkansas Arabic Translation Award for their collection Chronicles of Majnun Layla and Selected Poems of Qassim Haddad.

Also in October, Egyptian novelist Tareq Imam won a $2,000 “Museum of Words” prize for his 100-word story, “An Eye.”


The Etisalat Prize for “Young Adult Book of the Year” went to Noura Al Noman’s Ajwan.


Jabbour Douaihy’s Chased Away won the first “Prix de la Jeune Litterature Arabe.” 

One of the most popular posts of the year was “Translating for Bigots,” based on a talk given by translator Adam Talib at the American University in Cairo.

Release of Ezzat El Kamhawi’s House of the Wolf, trans. Nancy Roberts, and 15 Iraqi Poets, ed. Dunya Mikhail.

Also in November, Saudi’s top-selling science-fiction novel was yanked from stores.


Great popular poet Ahmed Fouad Negm died at the beginning of December at the age of 84. The towering poet of the people was celebrated a week later at the Prince Claus Awards ceremony. Mona Anis, who accepted the award on behalf, read a statement from Negm’s daughter Nawara. “Being the restless person he was, my father hated sitting down,” Negm’s statement said. She said that he arrived in this world on his feet, and “He also departed from it standing firmly on his own two feet.”

Ahmed Fouad Negm.

The 2013 Naguib Mahfouz Medal went to Khaled Khalifa’s No Knives in the Kitchens of This City. 

Sudanese poet, novelist, musician, and artist Mohamed Bahnas dies in Cairo. He was just 42.