2020 Sheikh Zayed Book Award Winners: Barakat, Al Jayyusi, Ouhaïbi

Organizers of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award (SZBA) today announced the winners — in seven categories — of their 14th annual prize:

The most prominent of the prizes — the Literature award — went to acclaimed Tunisian poet and novelist Moncef Ouhaïbi for his collection  بالكأس ما قبل الأخيرة (The Penultimate Cup, 2019). There were eleven novels and just two poetry collections on this year’s longlist; 2020 marks the first year the SZBA’s literary award has gone to a collection of poetry.

Ouhaibi — born in Kairouan in 1949 — has won a number of prestigious Tunisian literary awards, including the Abou el Kacem Chebbi (for his poetry collection Metaphysics of a Sand Rose) and the 2012 Golden Comar (for his novel Adam’s Mistress). He had also previously been longlisted for the SZBA in 2016 for The Syrians.

He has also written short films and documentaries, notably En attendant Averroès (Waiting for Averroès), Paul Klee à Hammamet (Paul Klee in Hammamet), Devant les portes de Kairouan (Before the Gates of Kairouan) and Pays qui me ressemble (A Country That Looks Like Me).


This year’s Children’s Literature prize went to Palestinian-American author Ibtisam Barakat for her picture book الفتاة الليلكية (The Lilac Girl, 2019) published by Palestine’s Tamer Institute for Community Education. The book is part of a series focused around Palestinian artists, this one inspired by the painter Tamam al-Akhal. “Instead of telling a story with words, she tells her pain to the watercolors and her happiness to the oil pastels.”

Barakat publishes in both Arabic and English; several of her previous books have met with awards and acclaim. Her التاء المربوطة تطير (The Ta’ That Flies) won an Anna Lindh Foundation prize in 2011, while her English-language awards include an  International Reading Association’s Best Non Fiction for YA in 2008, the Middle East Council Best Literature Book Award in 2007, and an Arab American Book Award in the Children/ Young Adult Category in 2008. In addition to several books in Arabic, Barakat has two works in English: Tasting the Skya memoir, and Balcony on the Moona YA memoir.


Meanwhile, the 2020 award for “Cultural Personality of the Year” went to Palestinian poet, writer, translator and anthologist Salma Khadra Jayyusi “for her profound contribution to Arabic literature and culture.” Jayyusi is the founder and director of East-West Nexus and the Project of Translation from Arabic (PROTA), and she was also cited for her work editing a number of prominent anthologies of Arabic literature, including: . Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology; Modern Arabic Poetry; Short Arabic Plays; and Modern Arabic Drama: An Anthologyamong others.

Other winners include Banipal magazine (Publishing & Technology category); Hayder Qasim’s Islamic Theology in the Studies of German Orientalists (Young Author category); Richard van Leeuwen for The Thousand and One Nights and Twentieth-century Fiction: Intertextual Readings (Arabic Culture in Other Languages category); and Mohamed Ait Mihoub for his translation of French philosopher Georges Gusdorf’s L’homme romantique to Arabic.

According to organizers, a record-breaking total of 1900 entries were submitted this year, including 438 for the literature category, 498 for the young-author category, and 205 in children’s literature.

In lieu of a ceremony — set to be held during the now-cancelled Abu Dhabi International Book Fair — the seven winners will be presented via a livestream video on April 16, through the SZBA website.

Each winner is set to receive 750,000 UAE dirhams (approximately $204,000 USD).

Image courtesy Sheikh Zayed Book Awards.


Moncef Ouahibi’s “If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler,” tr. Sinan Antoon

Moncef Ouahibi’s “Hadrumete Sousse,” tr. Mohamed Khsiba

Ibtisam Barakat: ‘Two Languages Diverged’: I Chose One and Then the Other

An excerpt from Barakat’s Tasting the Sky