Judges Choose Inventive, Varied Shortlist for 2021 ArabLit Story Prize

ArabLit is delighted to announce that this year’s judges selected five stories for the shortlist of the 2021 ArabLit Story Prize, by five writers from four countries: Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Morocco.

The prize this year had thirty-five complete submissions from authors and translators all over the world. In a meeting that took place over Zoom, the three judges debated and selected five short stories, written primarily by young authors, but also by Lebanese author and businessman Said Takieddine (1904-1960), as translated by Dima El-Mouallem.

Four of the authors were new to the list, while Rasha Abbas was on our inaugural 2018 shortlist with “How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile,” translated by Fatima El-Kalay.

This year’s shortlisted stories — selected blindly, as in past years — were chosen by judges Layla Alammar, Nadia Ghanem, and Leri Price.

They are:

Rasha Abbas’s “You Can Call Me Velvet” (تستطيع أن تدعوني مخمل), as translated by Katharine Halls 

Judge Nadia Ghanem said, of the story “When we look back on our past, I think every one of us is visited by memories of events, or of words exchanged, that we feel were pivotal in giving direction to our lives. ‘You Can Call Me Velvet’ is the story of such recollections. Told in flashbacks that switch back and forth in time, a young woman who calls herself Velvet rewinds the clock to retrace the moments that have shaped her. Velvet is a mosaic of conversations with the reader, where the protagonist is resolved to face her own fragility and perceived misdeeds, and invites us to do the same. A quietly haunting story.”

Karima Ahdad’s “The Baffling Case of the Man Called Ahmet Yilmaz” (الحالة المحيّرة للمدعوّ أحمت يلماز), as translated by Katherine Van De Vate 

Judge Layla AlAmmar said, of the story”‘The Baffling Case of the Man Called Ahmet Yilmaz’ is an engaging and timely tale about the negotiation of identity and a crisis of masculinity — with an ending Poe would be proud of!”

Mustafa Taj Alden Almosa’s “How Kind They Are” (كم هم لطفاء), as translated by Maisaa Tanjour & Alice Holttum

Judge Leri Price said, of the story: “‘How Kind They Are’ is a chilling tale of horror, told with exquisite wit and lightness of touch. The jarring disconnect between content and tone meticulously reflects the myriad ways in which brutality severs meaning from reality.”

Ahmed Magdy Hammam’s “The Hemingway Man” (خدعة هيمنجواي), as translated by Burnaby Hawkes 

Judge Leri Price said, of the story, “‘The Hemingway Man’ is an ode to how reading shapes us, our desires, and our perceptions. Surreal and disorienting, this thought-provoking story explores obsession and the subjective nature of our relationship with art to great effect. “

Said Takieddine’s “Camphor Forestland” (غابة الكافور), as translated by Dima El-Mouallem 

Judge Layla AlAmmar said, of the story, “In a deft translation that captures an intriguing voice and style, ‘Camphor Forestland’ conveys the haunting consequences of capitulation and how selling out douses the fire of rebellion.”

The prize’s winner will be announced on October 15 at 3 p.m. GMT+1.

All the shortlisted stories will appear in a special section of the Spring 2022 issue of ArabLit Quarterly.

The shortlisted authors and translators:

Rasha Abbas is a Syrian journalist and writer of short stories. She is currently based in Berlin, Germany. In 2008, she published her first collection, Adam Hates the Television, and was awarded a prize for young writers during the Damascus Capital of Arab Culture festival. In 2013 she co-wrote the script for a short film, Happiness and Bliss, produced by Bedayat, and in 2014 she contributed, both as a writer and as a translator, to Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, published by Saqi Books. Her second short story collection, The Gist of It, was published in 2019.

Katharine Halls is an Arabic-to-English translator from Cardiff, Wales. She was awarded a 2021 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for her translation of Haytham El-Wardany’s Things That Can’t Be Fixed and her translation, with Adam Talib, of Raja Alem’s The Dove’s Necklace received the 2017 Sheikh Hamad Award and was shortlisted for the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize. Her  translations for the stage have been performed at the Royal Court and the Edinburgh Festival, and short texts have appeared in World Literature Today, Asymptote, Words Without Borders, Adda, Africa is A Country, Newfound, Critical Muslim, The Common, Arts of the Working Classes, and various anthologies. 


Moroccan writer Karima Ahdad is a journalist and author from the city of El Hoceima who worked until May 2021 as a digital content editor for TRT Arabi in Turkey. Her first novel, Cactus Girls, was published in 2018 and won the 2019 Mohamed Zefzaf prize. Her 2014 short story collection The Last Hemorrhage of the Dream was awarded the prize for best young author from the Moroccan Writers’ Union. Ahdad has just completed a novel about Arabs living in Turkey. She speaks Arabic, French, English, and Amazigh.

Katherine Van de Vate translates modern Arabic literature into English. She previously worked as an Arabic curator at the British Library and as a US diplomat, serving tours in Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, the UK, and Syria. Her translations have been published in ArabLit Quarterly, Words without Borders, and Asymptote.


Syrian author and playwright Mustafa Taj Aldeen Almosa has published six collections of short stories and four plays that have won him prestigious literary prizes in Syria and the Arab world. Several of his short stories have been translated into many European languages as well as Turkish, Japanese, Persian and Kurdish.

Maisaa Tanjour is a freelance translator and researcher. She was born in Syria in 1979 and currently resides in Leeds. She is also an interpreter with years of experience working in diverse professional, humanitarian, local and multicultural communities and organisations. She studied at the University of Homs, and has a BA English Language and Literature and a PG Diploma in Literary Studies. She came to the UK in 2005 to study at the University of Leeds, and has an MA in Interpreting and Translation Studies, and a PhD in Translation Studies. 

Alice Holttum is a part-time freelance translator and translation proofreader. She was born in Edinburgh in 1979 and currently resides there, working also as a furniture maker. She has a Joint Honours BA in Russian and Arabic (2004) and an MA in Applied Translation Studies (Arabic-English) (2006), both from the University of Leeds.


Egyptian author Ahmed Magdy Hammam was born in 1983. He is a journalist and author, and his short-story collection The Gentleman Prefers Lost Causes won the Sawiris Cultural Award in 2016. He was also shortlisted for the Asfari Award, organized by the American University in Beirut, in 2019. He lives in Cairo and works as a journalist and editor for Al-Dostor newspaper.

Burnaby Hawkes is an Egyptian-Canadian novelist, translator, and former political analyst for the NATO Council. Hawkes has two Arabic novels published in 2011 and 2020 (Merit Publishing House, Cairo), but now writes exclusively in English. His website is at: www.burnabyhawkes.com.


Said Takieddine (1904 – 1960) was a Lebanese playwright, author, journalist, activist, and businessman.

Dima El-Mouallem is a translator and a scholar of Islamic Studies. She earned her M.A. in Islamic Studies from the American University of Beirut, with a focus on the wonderful, the strange, and the miraculous.