2020: An ArabLit Year in Review

We look back at a few of the most widely read features and biggest ArabLit moments of 2020.


In keeping with a year marked by isolation and loss, the most-read piece on ArabLit in January 2020 was a remembrance for an Egyptian poet and folklorist, “Two Poems and a Story to Remember Shaimaa al-Sabbagh.”

Cairo International Book Fair, Jan 2020

We also ran On How to Translate ‘Poetry is the Diwan of the Arabs,’ which emerged from a Twitter thread that helped spark Yasmine Seale’s award-winning poem “Conventional Wisdom.”

We had a brief walk through the Cairo International Book Fair, which turned out to be ArabLit’s last of the year.

Awards this month included: Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation (Leri Price), Cairo Prize for Arabic Poetry (Qassim Haddad), and the Sawiris Awards (Ahmed Awney, Nahla Karam).

Interviews this month included: talks with Egyptian kid-lit author Walid Taher, and Algerian novelists Samir Kacimi and Said Khatibi.

The first Bulaq of 2020 was “The Elephant is the Room” with author-translator Yasmine Zohdi.



The most-read story of February 2020 was Olivia Snaije’s report on a new graphic-novel adaptation of Mohamed Choukri’s ‘For Bread Alone.’

Awards this month included: The International Prize for Arabic Fiction announced its 2020 shortlist and ALTA awarded its Emerging Arabic Translator mentorship to Madeline Edwards.

Interviews this month included: talks with Jan Dost, Azher Jirjees, Miranda Beshara, and Abdelouahab Aissaoui.

February’s most popular Bulaq was ‘The Not So Simple Past.’



In March, we launched the first 2020 issue of ArabLit Quarterly: THE ROAD, and the most-read piece was “How Mahmoud Darwish Inspired a Poetry Movement in Assam, India,” a talk with Shalim M Hussain.

We also ran a series of pieces about literary festivals being postponed and then cancelled, and a special section on Yemeni writers, which included: Yemeni Novelist Wajdi al-Ahdal on Being Birthed by a Poet and Four Writers on Finding Books in Yemen, Recommending Yemeni Writers.

Interviews this month included: a talk with Omid Tofighian.

The most popular Bulaq in March was “The Shape of Cairo.”



In April, we started a “locked-in lit” series, and our most popular single story was Belal Fadl’s ‘Into the Tunnel,’ translated by Nariman Youssef.

Nadia Ghanem also put together an important overview of Moroccan literature available in English with 180+ Books.

Awards this month included: 2020 Int’l Prize for Arabic Fiction to Abdelouahab Aissaoui’s ‘The Spartan Court’ and the 2020 Sheikh Zayed Book Awards.

Interviews this month included: a talk with Justin Stearns about translating al-Ḥasan al-Yūsī and a talk between best-selling Egyptian novelist Reem Bassiouney and scholar Yasmine Motawy.



This month, we started our #ArabicTranslationChallenge with The Crime of al-Ma’arri’s Father and ‘Every Father Kills his Son,’ curated by writer, translator, and scholar Kevin Blankinship.

The challenge continued to be our most popular feature throughout the month.

Awards this month included: ‘Naguib Mahfouz Awards’ to Reem Bassiouney, Mohamed Abdellatif, Etel Adnan’s ‘Time’ Won the Best Translated Book Award, (translated by Sarah Riggs) and also the Griffin Poetry Prize.

There were two big Bulaqs: On the Trail of Enayat al-Zayyat and Locked-in Lit.



We launched the Summer 2020 CRIME issue of ArabLit Quarterly and the #ArabicTranslationChallenge continued, with its most popular iteration ‘You’ve Aged Like a Cat!’

We ran the popular essay Another Road for Syrian Poetry, an overview of the last century of poetry in Syria, written by Raed Wahesh and translated by Hazem Shekho.

Awards this month included: Stella Gaitano’s ‘Eddo’s Souls,’ ‘Book of Ramallah’ Win PEN Translates Awards.

Interviews included: Olivia Snaije talking with Arabic-French translator Stéphanie Dujols: ‘The More I Translate the More Nervous I Get’ and Arabic-Norwegian translator Oda Winsnes on Translating Into a Small Language.

The most popular Bulaq of June 2020 was our talk with Anny Gaul, ‘Kitchen Talk.’



The most-read piece of July 2020 was ‘Inventing a Night Language’: On Translating the 1001, a recap of the online panel that featured Richard van Leeuwen, Marina Warner, and Yasmine Seale.

We also celebrated the centenary of Mohammed Dib.

Interviews included: Wen-chin Ouyang on Bringing Together Arabic أدب and Chinese 文 and Mehmet Hakkı Suçin on Translating Mahmoud Darwish into Turkish.

The most popular Bulaq of July 2020 was ‘Murder, They Wrote’, a conversation with crime-novel critic Nadia Ghanem.



August brought news of the tragic death on the Mediterranean of a Sudanese poet and updates about bookshops and libraries damaged in the August 4 blast in Beirut.

August was also Women in Translation Month.

Interviews this month included: Shahla Ujayli and Getting Raqqa Back Through Writing, Karima Ahdad on ‘Cactus Girls,’ and Poet Dunya Mikhail on Her Debut Novel, ‘The Bird Tattoo.’

Awards included the launch of the first-ever Barjeel Poetry Prize.



In September, we launched the Fall 2020 issue of ArabLit Quarterly: CATS.

Our big feature this month was On the ‘Boom’ of Syrian Literature in Berlin, put together by contributor Mari Odoy.

We also ran Nizar Qabbani’s 1967 Letter To Gamal Abdel Nasser, introduced and translated by AJ Naddaf.

September was also WorldKidLit Month, and we had 10 Translations from Arabic for Young Readers.

Awards included the announcement of the shortlist of the 2020 ArabLit Story Prize. Also, Two Books Translated from Arabic Made the 2020 NTA Prose Longlist.

Interviews included: A Talk with Susanne Abou Ghaida: What Do Teens Think of Arabic YA?



The biggest news was the announcement that the 32 Books Selected for Inaugural ‘Arab Voices’ list had launched at Frankfurt, as did the ‘Hotlist: Arab World.’

Awards included the winner of the 2020 ArabLit Story Prize: ‘Tunnels,’ and ‘Thirteen Months of Sunrise’ made the longlist for the 2020 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation.

Interviews included: Reading T.S. Eliot in Arabic: A Talk with Ghareeb Iskander and Hawraa Al-Hassan on Reading Resistance and Collaboration in Iraqi Novels.

Our most popular Bulaq was ‘Revolt Against the Sun,’ a talk with Emily Drumsta about her translation of Nazik al-Mala’ika.



Art by Ahmed Raafat.

The big news in November was the launch of the screen adaptation of Ahmed Khaled Tawfik’s Paranormal novels. Ahmed Al-Mahdi, Mohammed Said Hjiouij, and Emad El-Din Aysha all contributed reflections.

The Sharjah International Book Fair was held, one of the few large-scale in-person literary festivals of the year.

Awards included Banipal’s 2020’s 5-book Shortlist.

Interviews included Enass Khansa and Bilal Orfali on Editing a Series of Classical Arabic Texts for Young Readers, Translator Sampsa Peltonen on Why Hassan Blasim’s ‘God99’ Is Like Parkour, Bahia Shehab on ‘A History of Arab Graphic Design,’ and Adil Babikir on ‘Mansi’: A Rare Book, and a Joy to Translate.

Bulaq’s most popular episode was our first book-club episode, on ‘Season of Migration to the North.’



In December 2020, we released our final ArabLit Quarterly of the year, the Winter 2020 issue: DREAMS. The huge Palestine Writes Literature Festival was also held December 2-6.

Our biggest story of December 2020 was Introducing ‘The Mu`allaqat for Millennials,’ although the project itself won’t be available until January 2021.

It was followed by Raphael Cormack’s essay, What 1930s Egyptian Travel Writing Says About the ‘Arab Mediterranean’ and Marya Hannun’s Afro, Indigenous, and Palestinian Futurisms: Writing Across Space and Time.

Awards included: the winners of the first-ever Barjeel Poetry Prize, and winners of the 2020 Sheikh Hamed Translation Prize.

Interviews included talks with translators Aida Bamia and Kay Heikkinen, and Egyptian writer Sherin Younes.

The biggest Bulaq of December 2020 was our talk with Yasmine Seale, ‘One Thousand and One Dreams.’