This year, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) — popularly known as the Arabic Booker despite organizers’ protests — hosted their tenth annual nadwa, or writers’ retreat:

The nadwa, led by Lebanese novelist Iman Humaydan and Iraqi novelist Muhsin al-Ramli, took place earlier this month in Sharjah.

Participants are those tapped by the IPAF judges or organizers as “emerging talents.” This year, half the writers were from GCC countries (Emirates, Oman, Kuwait), and half from the rest of the region (Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Morocco).

According to organizers, the week-long nadwa “involved daily group discussions as well as the opportunity for one-on-one guidance with mentors.”

In the press release, Humaydan said: “I am extremely optimistic about the impact of this important annual project, which offers new writers not only a space to write, but also the chance to form friendships in which culture and creativity are openly shared between participants coming from different Arab countries.”

Several writers who attended previous workshops went on to be shortlisted for the prize, including Mansoura Ez Eldin, Mohammed Rabie, Ahmed Saadawi, and Shahla Ujayli. Previous nadwa participant Mohammed Hasan Alwan went on to win the prize.

Hasan Akram graduated from Al-Qadisiya University, Iraq, with a BA in Biology. For the past few years, he has worked as an editor and trustee of the Iraqi publishing house Dar al-Rafidain. His most recent literary project was editing and writing the introduction to The Encyclopedia Man, by acclaimed Iraqi writer Hasan Blasim and published by Dar al-Rafidain. He was a participant in a creative writing workshop run by Ahmed Saadawi, winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Aged 25, he is the youngest author taking part in this year’s Nadwa. Akram was born in Basra, Iraq, in 1993.

Yasmin Haj is a Palestinian writer, editor and translator. She completed her Masters in Comparative Literature at Toronto University. She is a founder of the “Dalala” co-operative for translating literary, critical and academic writing from and into English and Arabic. She has written articles for the “Palestine” supplement of the Lebanese Al-Safir newspaper. She lives in Paris. Yasmin Haj was born in Nazareth in 1988.

Mamoun Sharaa is a Syrian writer, researcher and editor. He graduated from the Agricultural College of Damascus University. From 2001-12, he worked at the Ministry of Culture in Damascus. Since 2013, he has been an editor at the publishing house Dar al-Kutub run by the Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi. He has two published works: Bibliography of the Theatre in the Arabic Language (2010) and Bibliography of the Cinema in the Arabic Language (2012). His book Encyclopedia of Winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature will be published soon. Sharaa was born in Syria in 1970.

Salha Obeid is an Emirati writer. Her first book of short stories, Alzheimers, was published in 2010 and was translated into German the following year. Her next two collections were: Postman of Happiness (2012) and iPad of Life in the Manner of Zorba (2014). Her third book An Implicitly White Lock of Hair (2015) won the 2016 Al Owais Award for Creative Writing. She is a member of the council of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and the Association of Emirati Women Writers, and founder of the “Society of the Intellectual” project. She was awarded the Young Emiratis Prize (creative writing category) in 2017, for her literary work. Her first novel, Maybe It’s a Joke, was published in 2018.

Laila Abdullah (formerly known as Laila al-Baloushi) is an Omani writer. She has previously published a blog called I Breathe Calmly and had a weekly column in various Omani and Arab newspapers, including the Emirati Al-Ru’ya, the Omani Al-Ru’ya and the London-based Al-Arab. In 2014 she published two books, Hypothetical Love Letters between Henry Miller and Anais Nin and Worries of the World’s Room, which won the 2015 Muscat Prize for the best collection of articles. In 2016, she published a short story collection entitled My Narrative Beings, which won the Muscat Short Story Prize of that year. Her book A Sofa, a Book and a Cup of Coffee, about reading, was published under her new writing name in 2018. She is also the author of two children’s books and a novel, Pharaoh’s Notebook (2018). Some of her poetry has been translated into several languages, including Polish and Spanish. Abdullah was born in 1982.

Wiam Al Madadi is a Moroccan novelist and short story writer. She is currently studying for her doctorate in translation at the College of Arts and Human Sciences, Abdel Malik Al Saadi University, Tetouan. She has a number of published research papers, translations and articles, as well as literary work ranging from poetry to short stories, novels and children’s books. She has won several prizes, including the 2010 Moroccan Writers’ Union Prize for the Short Story for her 2010 collection Whiteness; the 2012 Dar al-Watan Prize for the Very Short Story for her story ‘Who Stole the Mona Lisa’s Smile?’ and the 2015 Al-Tayeb Salih International Award for Creative Writing (first prize) for her 2015 novel The Gypsy. Al Madadi was born in 1989.

Ibrahim Hendal is a Kuwaiti writer. He has been writing in Kuwaiti newspapers and Arab media since 2010, and participated in the first Cairo Literary Festival in 2015. In 2012, he published a short story collection entitled Borges and Me, and in 2017 his novel Coloured Cities came out. He is currently working on another short story collection. He has founded several reading clubs and cultural forums, including the “Qadimun” forum and the “Diwan” reading club. Hendal was born in 1985.

Eman Al Yousuf is an Emirati writer. She is a chemical engineer and certified coach in graphology. She has published three short story collections and two novels: The Window that Saw (2014) and Guard of the Sun (2015), which won the 2016 Emirates Novel Award. Her third novel The Resurrection of Others will be available soon. She has also published a book of literary interviews with female Emirati writers, Bread and Ink (2015). She has a weekly column in the Emirati newspaper ‘Al-Ru’ya’, called ‘Woman of the Pen’ and a monthly literary column called ‘Under the Ink’ in the Emirates Culture Magazine. Her short story The Teapot and I was made into a play and was the UAE submission at the fifth Gulf Festival for Art and Literature. She wrote the first short feminist Emirati film, Ghafa, directed by Aisha Alzaabi, and she is the first Emirati woman to be chosen for the University of Iowa’s international writing programme in the United States. Al Yousuf was born in 1987.