2014: A Look Back at the Year in Arabic Literature

For those of you celebrating Western Christmas, be merry-merry and read some Badr Shakir al-Sayyab over at Jadaliyya. And look back at the last year:


Longlist-Covers-Sml-copy-4In a rough year, January was a fairly positive month.

On January 7, International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) organizers announced their longlist, which included a number of big names, but only two women among longlisted authors.

On January 16, Jonathan Wright and William Hutchins were announced as co-winners of the Banipal translation prize and, on the 18th, Rowayat journal launched its first issue in Cairo.


IPAF organizers announced the prize’s shortlist in Jordan on Feb 10. As always, there was controversy in the choices, and Jordanian poet Siwar Masannat wrote about “Lady Writers, Experimentation, and the Possibility of ‘Pure’ Literary Criteria.

At the close of the 2014 Cairo International Book Fair, the book-selling service Kotobi.Com was launched, and Lebanese poet Ounsi al-Hage died in February 2014.


mutanabbiIn the first week of March, there were 25 readings globally to remember al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad’s central bookselling corridor.

The next week, at the Riyadh International Book Fairall of Mahmoud Darwish’s books were reportedly confiscated and removed, although a book-buyer said they were still available. A Saudi publisher was also reportedly booted from the fair. Meanwhile, in Italy, on March 13, the day of Darwish’s birth, eleven Italian cities stood “against the oblivion,” united by a love for Darwish’s work.

In Syria, on March 22, a final poem appeared on Syrian poet Derar Soltan‘s Facebook page. Since then, Soltan has not been heard from.


frankensteinHassan Blasim launched his acclaimed short-story collection in the US, The Corpse Exhibition, a collection that was later named one of the 10 best of the year by Publishers Weekly.

On April 29, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction winner was announced in Abu Dhabi (Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad), and the English-language launch of Amjad Nasser’s Land of No Rain was scrubbed because of a tube strike.


Hassan Blasim — and translator Jonathan Wright — won the UK’s 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for The Iraqi Christthe first time that prize went to a work translated from the Arabic.


The launch of the successfully crowdfunded A Bird is not a Stone poetry collection in Scotland and England.


Impossible, heartbreaking summer in Gaza.

Mahmoud Darwish once wrote, of Gaza, “We are unfair to her when we search for her poems.” We are certainly unfair when we scrabble anywhere for poems, searching for aesthetic pleasure in others’ suffering. But poetry also defies the silence: 6 of the Most Beautiful Writings from and for Gaza.


samih2As Gaza tried to recover, Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim died.

Egyptian censors heightened their watch, confiscating a novel and two philosophy books coming from Beirut. Authorities also began preventing the Al-Fan Midan festival from being staged and there were reports that 36 books were burnt at an Egyptian public library.

The month wasn’t devoid of positive news — Sinan Antoon’s The Corpse Washer won the Arab-American book award.


Algerian writer Kamel Daoud — who would in December be threatened by a Salafi imamwon the Five Continents Prize and was longlisted for other prestigious French prizes. The next month, Other Press secured English rights to the novel.

Translator and poet Khaled Mattawa won a “Genius Grant.”

At the end of the month, Jordanian poet and novelist Amjad Nasser, who also has UK citizenship, was denied entry for a US reading. No reason was given.



At least one bit of news from a censorship agency was positive: MARCH, a Lebanese anti-censorship organization, reported a “major victory” against censorship in Lebanon

Kuwaiti writer Mai al-Nakib won the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s 2014 First Book Award.

And Iraqi writer Mahmoud al-Bayaty died.


At the opening of the Sharjah International Book Fair, the year’s Etisalat Award Arabic Children’s Literature, YA category, went to Palestinian novelist Sonia Nimr.

There were two winners of the Arkansas Translation award: Hisham Bustani, as translated by Thoraya El-Rayyes, and recently deceased Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim, as translated by Abdulwahid Lulua.

In another bid to move the Arabic literary foment to the Emirates, Dubai opened an International Writers’ Centre. Elsewhere in the Gulf, Kuwaiti censors did its literary world no favors.

Novelist Youssef Ziedan became so frustrated with authorities that he announced he was quitting Egypt.

There were several significant deaths: Egyptian novelist Mohamed Nagui, Tunisian writer Abdelwahab Meddeb, and — heartbreakingly, at the very end of the month — Egyptian Radwa Ashour.

radwaTributes to Ashour:

Snapshots from a Life: Egyptian Novelist Radwa Ashour, 1946-2014

Poet Mourid Barghouti on His Wife, Novelist Radwa Ashour (1946-2014)


Egypt mourned Radwa Ashour.

Early in the month, the Beirut Book Fair was held, and Hanan al-Shaykh was in town to launch her latest, The Virgins of Londonstan.

The Naguib Mahfouz medal, awarded every year on the Nobel laureate’s birthday, went to young Sudanese writer Hammour Ziada.