Rula Jurdi Abisaab Wins Khayrallah Prize for Her Novel ‘Camera Obscura’

The Khayrallah Center yesterday announce that the 2020 Khayrallah Prize had been awarded to two artists: novelist Rula Jurdi Abisaab and filmmaker Zayn Alexander:

The awards went to Rula Jurdi Abisaab for her novel Fi ‘ulbat al-Daw’ (Camera Obscura), which is currently being translated by maia tabet, and Zayn Alexander for his film al-Ghurba, which prize organizers translated as Abroad. Each winner is set to receive a $5000 monetary award, and in April the Khayrallah Center will host a virtual award ceremony to recognize the two winners.

The Khayrallah Prize, now in its sixth year, is given by the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies at North Carolina State University. The prize “identifies, awards and publicly honors those whose original artistic productions and projects focus on any aspect of life in Lebanon, or among Lebanese immigrants, whether in the past or present.”

In a prepared statement, Khayrallah Center Director Akram Khater said that the prize’s selection committee was particularly impressed by the multi-layered, multi-generational novel Camera Obscura. “It is truly a tour de force of storytelling made all the more engrossing by a fluid text that flows effortlessly across borders to speak of transnational lives that are simultaneously grounded in intensely intimate local moments captured by camera and narrator,” Khater said.

Prize organizers said:

Even more compelling is the juxtaposition between two types of knowing and enlightenment embodied by the novel’s two women protagnists. Sarah, a Druze religious woman of prized learning and wisdom, teaches a humanistic universalism deeply rooted in the village of ‘Ayn Shamas. On the other hand, Nour a younger and restless woman travels to NY to study at a university there, and pursue a secular humanism that is enmeshed in a globalized politics but that appears at time rootless. Despite their markedly different paths, the novel intertwines the two lives and ways of being with moving literary skill.

Banipal published an excerpt of Camera Obscura (2017) in maia tabet’s translation; the excerpt online is a continuation of the chapter begun in Banipal 69.

Also: Jurdi’s first collection of poetry, Ghilāf al-Qalb (The Heart’s Peel) (October 2014) is also currently being translated into English and French. You can read three poems from the collection on ArabLit: “Your Rhythm in the Reciter’s Chest,” “The Heart’s Peel,” and “Isfahan.” Her self-translated poem “Coaxial Cables” appeared on Asymptote.

The 2018 winner of the Khayrallah Prize was Lebanese filmmaker Georges Nasser, and Lebanese author Emily Nasrallah was posthumously awarded the prize’s Honorable Mention for her autobiographical book, al-Makan (The Place). Other previous winners were novelist Charif Majdalani (2017), novelist Joseph Geha (2016), and playwright David Joseph (2015).

Read the excerpt at Banipal.