This week, a group of six emerging writers joined two award-winning novelists — Hammour Ziada and Mohammed Hasan Alwan — for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF)’s eighth nadwa, held at Qasr Al Sarab, a desert retreat in Abu Dhabi:
Alwan and Ziada have both had novels shortlisted for the IPAF, as well as taking other awards: Ziada the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Arabic Literature and Hasan Alwan the Prix de la Littérature Arabe, among others.
They led the group of six emerging Arab authors in an annual week-long workshop.
This year’s six participants were all young writers — between 30 and 38 — who had been identified by IPAF organizers as “emerging talent.” Four of the six were women, and four of the six from GCC nations.
They are, according to the IPAF release:
Eyad Abdulrahman (Saudi Arabia) is a writer and novelist, born in Medina, Saudi Arabia, in 1987. He obtained a BA in Computer Engineering from Utah University, an MA in Software Engineering from Chicago University, and a second MA in Computer Science and Education Technology from Harvard University. He is currently finishing his doctorate from Harvard University, focusing on the same field of study. His published works of fiction include a collection of prose texts entitled Emancipation (2012) and two novels, The Misfortune of Life (2014) and The Caliph (2015).
Nidaa Abu Ali (Saudi Arabia) is a writer and diplomat, born in 1983. In 2009, she obtained an MA in Strategic Studies, specialising in counter terrorism, from Singapore, and worked as a political analyst at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism as well as at the Middle East Institute in Singapore. She is the author of four novels: The Days Passed (published in 1998 when she was 15), The Heart Has Other Faces (also 1998), Paper Flutes (2003) and Shadow and Mirror (2011). She also works as a journalist, publishing literature and film reviews and political analysis.
Rabab Haidar (Syria) is a writer and translator, born in 1977. She has a BA in English Literature and is a translator accredited by the Palace of Justice in Damascus. In 2013, she published two books in translation: The Book of the Female, the translation into English of a volume of poetry by the Bahraini poet Iman Aseeri, and (from English to Arabic) the autobiography of a contestant on the Arabic ‘Survival’ programme. Her first novel Land of the Pomegranate was published in 2012.
Leila al-Mutawa (Bahrain) is a novelist and journalist, born in 1986. She is well known for her articles and writings defending women’s rights, which have been widely translated, and she writes several blogs. She has one published novel My Heart is Not for Sale (2012) and has mentored aspiring writers on the Al-Jil workshop project. The Saudi writer Fahd ‘Arishi wrote about her life in his book of biographies of influential people, Dreams Do Not Die (2015).
Hecham Mechbal (Morocco) is a researcher and novelist, born in 1979. He obtained a PhD in Rhetoric and Discourse Analysis from Tetouan University, where he is a member of the Rhetoric and Discourse Analysis forum. His field of research is rhetoric and narrative. As well as a number of academic studies, he is the author of a biography of a political prisoner, Dreams of the Darkness (2003) and two novels: The Free Bird (2009) and Bells of Fear (2014). He is a regular contributor to academic journals and participant in seminars in Morocco and abroad. His novel The Free Bird won the Moroccan Channel 2 Prize in its third edition, and in 2010 he was awarded the Abdelmalek Essaadi University Award for Excellence.
Lamees Yousef (UAE) is a presenter and novelist. After studying Media at Sharjah University, Lamees Yousef worked in media and events management at the Dubai World Trade Centre. She researched and presented ‘Cultural Dimensions’, a programme for Sama Dubai TV in collaboration with the Dubai Cultural and Scientific Association, which won the 2015 Al-Owais Award for Creativity. In 2014, she published a novel, Rock, Paper, Scissors, and her next novel, White Clothes in the Cooking Pot will be launched at the 2016 Sharjah Book Fair.
Several previous nadwa participants have gone on to be shortlisted for the IPAF, including Hassan Alwan. Other previous nadwa participants include IPAF winner Ahmed Saadawi (Frankenstein in Baghdad), shortlisted novelist Mohammed Rabie (Otared), and shortlisted novelist Shahla Ujayli (A Sky Close to Our House).
“A nadwa such as this reaffirms to us that writing is an activity worth travelling and taking time out for in an isolated location, something that has become an unthinkable luxury in today’s world,” Hasan Alwan said in a prepared statement. “Since writing a novel is a lengthy project, it sorely needs the different perspectives offered by six writers who have withdrawn from the routine of their daily lives and joined the nadwa purely for the sake of writing. In a single week the nadwa’s special programme puts writing under two microscopes: the writer alone with his text in deliberate isolation and the other writers who read the text as it is going through initial birth pangs, identifying with the writer in his moments of confidence and doubt.”