This year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction judges — who won’t be revealed until the shortlist is announced next February — can breathe a small sigh of relief. They won’t have 180 novels to read this year:
Submissions have closed for the 2016 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), and organizers have announced that submissions are down from last year’s peak of 180 novels to a somewhat more reasonable 159.
The growing number of IPAF submissions was not just evidence of the prize’s swelling prestige, but also — judges felt — of publishing shenanigans. Last year’s chair of judges, Mourid Barghouti, laid out an IPAF manifesto of sorts during the April 2015 awards ceremony. Among other things, he said, “The judging panel noted that there were nominations from publishing houses which it seemed had been established for the [exclusive] purpose of submitting to the prize. We hear that there are publishing houses which obtain money from authors by various means.”
With fewer submissions this year, hopefully there were also fewer fly-by-night publishers. According to organizers, a total of 82 publishers submitted books for the 2016 prize.
The submitted novels came from a wider range of countries: 18 this year, vs. 15 for the 2015 prize. According to organizers, thirty-eight of the submitted novels — or nearly a quarter — were written by women. A somewhat larger percentage were written by authors under forty: 49, or 31%. Both of these figures, organizers said in a prepared release, represent a “steady overall increases since the prize began.”
Outside of 2011, when there were seven women and nine men on the longlist, and 2015, when there were five female authors, women have been a distinctly minority presence, with only one or two books on the longlist each year. For one reason or another, gender has been a point of contention each year.
The IPAF’s 2016 longlist will be announced next January next year, followed by the announcement of the six-novel shortlist and the judges in February. The winner of the prize is set to be announced in April 2016 in Abu Dhabi, as has been the case each of the prize’s previous eight years, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.