Qatar to Launch $200K Arabic-novel Award in March

The Katara Cultural Village has announced that the organization is set to launch a $200,000 award for Arabic novel.

imagesThis is about the same amount awarded by the Sheikh Zayed Book Awards (750,000AED) and comparable to the al-Owais Award ($100,000), but considerably more than the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), which awards $50,000 to each year’s winner and $10,000 to others on the shortlist. It is also much larger than other pan-Arab novel prizes, such as the Mohamed Zafzaf Prize ($10,000) and the Naguib Mahfouz medal ($1,000).

But the new Katara prize attempts to make not just a monetary splash. It promises to include “translating the winning novel into English and turning it into a play or film.”

The Katara isn’t the only prize to support translation: The Naguib Mahfouz medal also includes translation into English, and the IPAF supports translation into a number of languages. But the Katara seems to be the first Arab-novel prize to promise to turn the book into a movie or “theatrical masterpiece”.

Katara General Manager Dr Khalid bin Ibrahim Al Sulaiti announced on Monday that Katara would give details on the first round of the award in March. According to The Peninsula Qatar, al-Sulaiti said that the award aims “at enriching culture and the arts by bringing together Arab writers and novelists and supporting the publication, marketing and distribution of their novels.”

The new prize’s rules were unclear — except that it would be for novels only — and The Peninsula added that “The awarding body has the right to reject any entry that does not fulfil the requirements which will be announced in March.” Somewhat oddly, according to the Qatar TribuneSulaiti said that participating writers “should honour intellectual property rights and publication laws and come up with their original novels in Arabic.”

The announcement is set to come three years after Qatar’s culture ministry hosted a big symposium on literary prizes, which found representatives of the Nobel in attendance. At the symposium, Qatar’s former Education Minister Mohammaad Abdel-rahim Kafoud gave a talk on “Literary Awards in GCC Countries and their Effects on Cultural Development and Creativity Boosting.” It’s unclear if Katara will have any partners in structuring the award or if this is a solo project.

However, it is clear that if the Katara award is to capture global attention in the manner of the IPAF, it will need more than a big purse and promise of translation (by whom?) and film (also, by whom?). A transparent-ish selection process for the novels wouldn’t hurt, and neither would a group of accessible, known judges.