Vote: Maarouf’s ‘Jokes for the Gunmen’ Up for First Book Award

Voting is open for the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s 2019 “First Book Award,” a reader-driven celebration of new fiction:

Last year’s winner was Iraqi novelist Shahad al-Rawi’s The Baghdad Clocktranslated by Luke Leafgren, while the 2014 prize went to Kuwaiti writer Mai al-Nakib’s debut short-story collection, The Hidden Light of Objects.

According to organizers, “every debut novelist and every overseas writer whose words are published in English for the first time is included in the voting,” along with a selection of young adult fiction.

This longlist includes Mazen Maarouf’s debut short-story collection, Jokes for the GunmenIn Jonathan Wright’s translation, the collection was on the longlist for the 2019 Man Booker International. In its original Arabic, Jokes also won the first-ever Almultaqa Prize for the Arabic Short Story. The stories here — discussed in more detail in the Winter/Spring ArabLit Quarterly — build on the worlds of Maarouf’s poems, stretching and embodying them in surreal landscapes of war, illness, and grief turned inside-out.

Also on the longlist is Kuwaiti novelist and ArabLit contributor Layla AlAmmar, for her first novel, The Pact We Made and British-Palestinian author Isabella Hammad’s The Parisian.

The winner of the First Book Award is selected by voters from around the world;  everyone who casts a vote is entered into a prize draw to win all the titles on the longlist. You can cast your vote on the festival’s website.

More of Maarouf’s work:

“DNA,” translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid

Six Poems, translated by Jasim Mohamed

“The Boxes,” in Beirut Noir, translated by Michelle Hartman.

“Portion of Jam,” translated by Jonathan Wright


  1. so happy for M Maarouf. I am currentrly translating the arabic text of his book into the Greek lang. and it is really amazing . MM ‘s way of handling grave issues such as loss, agony and distress is unique!! congrats to Mazen and thank you Arablit!

    1. Wonderful! I am collecting all the cover art of this book, so please do let me know when there is a cover reveal. Yes I absolutely love this collection, and I think it’s both his background as a poet who is intensely attuned to language & the fact that the Lebanese civil war has been *so* written about almost compels an author to re-invent a new way of examining the landscape. Although I should really ask Mazen what he thinks about it …

      Anyhow, can’t wait for your translation!

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