International Prize for Arabic Fiction Announces 2021 Longlist Dominated by North African Writers

More than half the titles on the 16-book longlist for the 2021 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) were by African authors, with two from Morocco, two from Tunisia, three from Algeria, and one each from Egypt, and Sudan:

Organizers also noted, in the Monday announcement, that “crime novels also have a strong presence on the list this year, with narratives exploring crimes committed against the backdrop and aftermath of wars and conflicts.” These include Amara Lakhous’s The Night Bird, Abdullah al-Busais’s M for Murderer: S for Sa’id, and Abdelmeguid Sabata’s File 42.

The novels were set in cities from “Aden and Amman to Casablanca, Oran and beyond.” This year’s judges considered 121 entries.

Although there are many familiar names on the 2021 longlist, whose previous novels have been shortlisted — Youssef Fadel, Muhsin al-Ramli, Habib Selmi, and Mansoura Ezz Eldin — there are also newcomers. Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail makes the 2021 IPAF longlist with her debut novel, The Bird Tattoo, and all three Algerian novelists are appearing on an IPAF list for the first time: Sara al-Nams, Abdulatif Ould Abdullah, and Amara Lakhous, who also writes in Italian and has two books translated to English.

Like Lakhous, many of the authors long listed for the prize for the first time are nonetheless well-known: Sharjah Book Fair’s “best book”-winning Kuwaiti novelist Abdullah al-Busais; Sheikh Zayed Book Award-winning Abbas Beydoun; Golden Comar-winning Amira Ghenim.

The names of the five judges were also announced Monday: The 2021 panel will be chaired by Lebanese poet and author Chawki Bazih, who will be joined by Moroccan writer and translator Mohammed Ait Hanna, Brazilian scholar Safa Jubran, Yemeni writer Ali Al-Muqri, and Emirati journalist and publisher Ayesha Sultan.

The full 2021 longlist, as provided by IPAF organizers:

AuthorTitleCountry of originPublisher
Abdulatif Ould AbdullahThe Eye of HammurabiAlgeriaDar Mim
Abdullah al-BusaisM for Murderer: S for Sa’idKuwaitRiwayat
Abdulla Al AyafHole to HeavenSaudi ArabiaDar al-Rashm
Jalal BargasNotebooks of the Bookshop KeeperJordanThe Arabic Institute for Research and Publishing
Abbas BeydounBoxes of DesireLebanonDar al-Ain
Mansoura Ez EldinThe Orchards of BasraEgyptDar al-Shorouk
Youssef FadelThe Life of ButterfliesMoroccoAl-Mutawassit
Amira GhenimCalamity of the NobilityTunisiaDar Mesaa
Amara LakhousThe Night BirdAlgeriaManshurat al-Hibr
Dunya MikhailThe Bird TattooIraqDar al-Rafidain
Sara al-NamsJAlgeriaDar al-Adab
Hamed al-NazirTwo Green EyesSudanDar Tanweer – Lebanon
Muhsin Al-RamliDaughter of the TigrisIraqDar al-Mada
Abdelmeguid SabataFile 42MoroccoAl-Markez al-Thaqafi al-Arabi
Habib SelmiLonging for the Woman Next DoorTunisiaDar al-Adab
Ahmed ZeinFruit for the CrowsYemenAl-Mutawassit

Yasir Suleiman, chair of the IPAF Board of Trustees, said in a prepared statement: “The novels’ stuttering transitions throughout history, multiple viewpoints vocalised, mysteries uncovered and attempted to resolve and the boundaries traversed all testify to the increasingly experimental nature of the Arabic novel as it stares at itself in times of fracture and intense self-examination.”

And Bazih, the chair of judges: “These 16 outstanding books from across the Arab world encompass a variety of styles and themes, from documentary-like narrative, to letters and ingenious use of the crime thriller genre, all penetrating the social and psychological fabric of Arab society.”

The six shortlisted titles are set to be announced on March 29, with the winner announced on May 25, 2021.

More about each of the novels can be found on the IPAF website.