‘Global’ Dublin Literary Award Overlooks Arabic Literature Again in 2016

The International Dublin Literary Award, previously called the IMPAC, yesterday released its world-spanning 160-title longlist which will culminate in a €100,000 award. However, as in past years, its “world” view was of a particular corner of the world:

IMPACTwo thirds of the longlisted titles — nominated by participating libraries — were written in English. This is to be expected, certainly, since the longlisted titles must be judged in English. Eligible titles must either be written in English or translated into the language.

The Irish Times suggests that “An impressive number of 53 titles in translation have been nominated, fittingly for an award which had done so much to champion the range, diversity and flair of international fiction in translation.”

However, as ArabLit and other sites have suggested in past years, the IMPAC’s vision of international fiction is still markedly narrow. While there is a wide range of international titles, after the English (107), these are largely European, from the: German (11), Spanish (6), Dutch (5), Portuguese (5), French (4), Italian (3), Serbian (3), Swedish (2), Norwegian (2),  Malay (2), Hebrew (2), Catalan (1), Japanese (1), Russian (1), Finnish (1).

Again, this is not a surprise, as the vast majority of nominating libraries for 2016 are in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Just like Lichtenstein, vast countries with rich literary histories like China and India get only one. And both those countries nominated books written originally in English: The Capital Library of China nominated a novel by Sue Monk Kidd.

There is no nominating library from an Arab country; indeed, all of Africa is represented by the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Library & Information Services.

There are a handful of Arab-authored books on the list: Lebanese author Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman; Lebanese author Dominique Eddé’s Kamal Jann, tranlsated from the French by Ros Schwartz; and Moroccan novelist Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account. These are no doubt strong choices, but the list still reflects a particular list of literatures and literary traditions.

The IMPAC is an enjoyably populist prize, with books by Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, and other bestselling authors. And it’s also good that a 160-book longlist should have a decent number of translations. But it can hardly be said to be world-spanning.

You can read the full longlist online.

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Categories: other literary prizes

7 replies

  1. But you said it right there and then.. there is no nominating library from an Arab country! Libraries need to be up to speed on the prizes and should do their bit to promote and nominate, and also writers need to be eligible to compete in international prizes, not just all-Arabic literary circles.

    • Certainly Arab libraries (and Indian, and Chinese, and Indonesian, and Nigerian) could reach out to the prize and apply to be a nominating body. But ditto if IMPAC wants to be really global, they could re-balance the libraries they involve.

  2. There’s a lot I really love about the IMPAC award, so I’m sorry to see that some parts of the world are under-represented in the nominating libraries. Looking at the IMPAC FAQ page, they say “Over 400 library systems in 177 countries worldwide are invited to nominate books each year.” So it sounds like the invitations certainly went out to more libraries in African and Arab countries than responded to the survey. It would be interesting to talk to people at those libraries and find out what could be done to encourage them or make it easier for them to participate.

    • I don’t know what they mean by invitations — surely it would take more than a letter in the mail. What library systems did they target, etc.? But what I find noticeable is that the prize is praised for being global when it reaches such a narrow range of languages. I suppose that is a commentary on the status of translation into English.

      • I do think it’s primarily a function of the status of translation into English, as you say. Since less than 5% of books published in English are translations, having 1/3 of the longlist be translations is a lot. Looking at the American translation database from Three Percent for 2014, the proportion of languages on the IMPAC list and in translation overall are pretty similar. That said, in proportion to the number of translations, Arabic would be expected to have 2.5 books on the 2014 longlist. That difference could be just due to chance though. You’d have to look over more years to see if there is a systematic pattern.

        • Oh, I have looked over past years (see Guardian article last year, or MA Orthofer, or others). It’s a systematic focus on European literature, but not surprising, per the whole of translated literature.

          • Although I did put together an “eight Arabic books for IMPAC nominators to read” list for this year. 🙂 I guess perhaps no one read it.

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