Announcing: Shortlist for 2018 ArabLit Story Prize

Three judges have decided on a four-story shortlist for the inaugural ArabLit Story Prize:

The 2018 submissions — which were read blind, without knowledge of the identity of either author or translator — came from authors and translators in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, Iraq, Germany, Palestine, Saudi, France, the US, and England. The majority of both authors and translators were from Egypt.

The prize’s three judges judged submitted stories both on the quality of the original Arabic and on the quality of the English translation.

The four author-translator pairs that made the 2018 shortlist are: Palestinian writer Maya Abu-Alhayyat with translator Riham Adly; Egyptian writer Mohammad Abdelnabi with translator Robin Moger; Syrian author Rasha Abbas with translator Fatima El-Kalay; and Saudi writer Raja Alem with translator Rana Ghuloom.

This year’s judges were novelist Ma’n Abu Taleb, translator Thoraya El Rayyes, and novelist Ruqaya Izzidien.

The four shortlisted stories:

Maya Abu-Alhayyat’s “Kharandia,” translated by Riham Adly

Muhammad Abdelnabi’s “Our Story,” translated by Robin Moger

Rasha Abbas’s “How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile,” translated by Fatima El-Kalay

Raja Alem’s “The Boa”, translated by Rana Ghuloom

Abu Taleb said of “Kharandia” that the story’s opening offers “a compelling and unsentimental portrait of a mother in distress,” and El Rayyes added that the story “takes an unexpected turn, rendered in an accessible, energetic translation.”

Of “Our Story,” El Rayyes said, “Robin Moger’s translation of Mohammed Abdel Nabi’s ‘Our Story’ captures the mood and rhythms of the original in elegant, fluent prose. The translator succeeds wonderfully at reproducing the distinctive narrative voice of the story with inspired, inventive phrasing.”

Of “How to Swim,” Izzidien said: “A number of submissions had appealing narratives, but Fatima El-Kalay’s translation of Rasha Abbas’s ‘How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile’ stood out due to its technical skill, which was executed with an engaging voice and stylistic flair. El-Kalay capably renders Rasha Abbas’ source story, resulting in a read filled with socio-political observations and acerbic wit.”

And of “The Boa,” Abu Taleb wrote, “In this mysterious and opaque tale, the archaic language and esoteric references successfully drive the narrative into unexpected times and events.” El Rayyes added: “Rana Ghuloom‘s translation overcomes the difficulty of conveying this style into English in fine, eloquent prose.”

About the authors:

Maya Abu-Alhayyat was born in 1980 in Lebanon. She is a Palestinian novelist, poet and children’s book writer. She has published three collections of poetry: Home Dresses and Wars (Dar Alahlyah, 2016), This Smile, That Heart (Dar Raya, 2012), What She Said about Him (House of Poetry & Qattan Foundation, 2007); and four novels: Glitter ( Dar Almutawaset, 2018), Nobody Knows His Blood Type (Dar Al-Adab 2008), Grains of Sugar (House of Poetry, 2004) and Threshold of Heavy Spirit (Ogarit, 2011), as well as several children’s books. There has been an English-language translation of her award-winning picture book, The Blue Pool of Questions (illus. Hassan Manasrah), which was published in 2017 by Penny Candy Books.

Muhammad Abdelnabi is an Egyptian writer, born in 1977. He has published five short story collections, a novella titled Imprisoned Phantoms (2000) and two novels: The Return of the Sheikh (2011), which was longlisted for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and In The Spider’s Room (2016), which was shortlisted for the IPAF and appears in Jonathan Wright’s English translation this fall. In 2010, his short story collection, The Ghost of Anton Chekhov, won the Sawiris Literature Prize, and his latest collection, As the Flood Passes the Sleeping Village, won the prize for best short story collection at the 2015 Cairo Book Fair.

Rasha Abbas is a Syrian journalist and writer of short stories who is currently based in Germany. In 2008, she published her first collection, Adam Hates the Television, and was awarded a prize for young writers during the Damascus Capital of Arab Culture festival. In 2013 she co-wrote the script for a short film, Happiness and Bliss, produced by Bedayat, and in 2014 she contributed, both as a writer and as a translator, to Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, published by Saqi Books. A translation of her acclaimed The Gist of It is forthcoming in English.

Raja Alem was born in Mecca and now lives in Paris. Her works include ten novels, two plays, biography, short stories, essays, literary journalism, writing for children and collaborations with artists and photographers. She often appears on the international cultural and literary scene, especially to discuss and give workshops on spirituality, children’s creativity, and links between east and west. She has received many awards in the Arab world and in Europe, including one from UNESCO for creative achievement in 2005, and another from the Lebanese Literary Club in Paris in 2008. Her novel The Dove’s Necklace was co-winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and was translated by Adam Talib and Katherine Halls, and her latest novel, Sarabwas just published in Leri Price’s translation.

About the translators:

Riham Adly is a mother, ex-dentist, creative writing instructor, and full time fiction writer/ blogger from Egypt. She is also first reader/ marketing coordinator in Vestal Review Magazine. Her short stories and flash fiction appeared in literary journals such Connotation Press, Spelk, Carpe Arte, Soft Cartel, Writing In A Woman’s Voice, The Cabinet of Heed, Vestal Review, Page&Spine, Café lit, The Ekphrastic Review, Tuck Magazine, Paragraph Planet and Visual Verse. Her story The Darker Side of the Moon won the MAKAN Award in 2013 and was published in a print anthology with the same name. She has a novel and a short-story collection forth-coming in 2019. She just launched her website and blog where she explores historical landmarks in Egypt and writes about the story behind each one. You can find her on twitter: @roseinink.

Robin Moger is a freelance translator of Arabic with a particular interest in twentieth-century and contemporary prose and poetry. He is the force behind, an independent website dedicated to showcasing Arabic literature in translation, and was the winner of the 2017 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation. His most recent translation is Yasser Abdellatif’s The Law of Inheritancenewly out from Seagull Books.

Fatima El-Kalay is a short fiction and poetry writer who was born in Birmingham, UK, to Egyptian parents, but grew up north of the border in idyllic Scotland. She has a Master’s degree in creative writing, and has had short fiction published in Passionfruit (US) and Rowayat (Egypt), andas part of the Egyptian Portfolio, recently published by Anomalous Press (US). Her flash piece “Snakepit” was longlisted in early 2018 for the London Independent Story Prize (LISP).  The story collection, The Stains on Her Lips (working title), is her collaborative work with two other Egyptian authors, Mariam Shouman, and the late Aida Nasr, and is due for publication in 2019.

Rana Ghuloom, from Bahrain, has recently graduated with an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the Pennsylvania State University. She is currently a freelance translator interested in the intersections of Sufi poetics and gender issues in contemporary Arab/ic literature.

For more information about the prize, email