Iman Mersal Wins 2021 SZBA with ‘In the Footsteps of Enayat Al-Zayyat’

The Sheikh Zayed Book Award today announced its 2021 winners in eight different categories, from literature to translation to “development of nations”:

This year’s “literature” award went to Iman Mersal for her 2019 work of creative nonfiction Fee Athar Enayat Al Zayyat (In the Footsteps of Enayat Al-Zayyat). This look into the life of the Egyptian writer Enayat al-Zayyat, who killed herself in 1963, illuminates the challenges of writing while female, of attitudes toward mental health, and life in mid-20th-century Egypt. It is part detective story, part biography, and part memoir, and unfolds tender and surprising connections. It recently came out in Richard Jacquemond’s French translation as Sur les traces d’enayat Zayyat.

Mersal is an internationally award-winning poet, whose collection These Are Not Oranges, My Love appeared in Khaled Mattawa’s translation in 2008. Her more recent poetry appears in the collection Home, and Robyn Creswell is at work on a new collection; some of these poems are available online. Her previous prose work, How to Mend: Motherhood and its Ghosts, was translated by Robin Moger and is available from Sternberg Press.

Other awards include the “children’s literature” prize, which this year went to the 2020 Rehlat Fannan (An Artist’s Journey) by Tunisian author Mizouni Bannani. According to organizers, “In the book, for children of 9+, birds can speak as they fly across and through the world, taking readers on a journey with wings of imagination. The judges described how the book ‘is rich in imagery and proceeds slowly but excitingly, and is infused with imagination.’”

The “translation” award went to Michael Cooperson for his vivid translations in Impostures by al-Hariri (2020). The judges note said that, “Cooperson has remarkably transferred the sentiments, ideas and expressions wholesale into English, even with a difficult work that is heavily reliant on a rhyme scheme.”

The award for “Arabic culture in other languages” went to Tahera Qutbuddin for her Arabic Oration: Art and Function, which judges praised for its “exceptional familiarity with classical Arabic literature and her firm grasp on oral tradition studies and theories [which] have enabled her to clearly articulate the various aspects of oration: structure, style, types, and function (religious, political, intellectual, social or military).”

Other awards were the “young author” award, which went to Dr. Asma Muqbil Awad Alahmadi for her critical study of Saudi women writers, Eshkalyat Al Thaat Al Saredah Fee Al Rwayah Al Nesaayah Al Saudiah (The Problems of the Narrated Self in the Saudi Feminist Novel (1999 – 2012); the “publishing & technology” award, which went to Dar Al Jadeed, Lebanon; the “literary and art criticism” prize, which went to Massar al Tahdeeth fil Funoon al Tashkeeliyya men al Ursooma ela al Lawhah (The Evolution of Art from Doodle to Painting) by Tunisian researcher Khalil Quweia; and the “development of nations” prize, awarded to Turath al Este’la Bayn al Folklore wal Majal al Dini (The History of Arrogance: Between Faith & Folklore) by Egyptian researcher Saeed el Masri.

The winners will each receive prize money of 750,000 UAE dirhams ($204,181 US), and the winning titles in the children’s books and literature categories will also be eligible for translation funding through the award’s translation grant. 

The awards will be formally presented via a livestream ceremony streamed live from Youtube during the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (23-29 May 2021).

More on Bulaq’s Love and Silence: Rediscovering Enayat al-Zayyat.”