According to the Swedish Academy Archives: Five Arab Writers Who’ve Been Considered for the Nobel

By ArabLit Staff

As early October is Nobel season, we wanted to take the opportunity to look back at the Arab authors who have been under consideration for the prize.

The Swedish Academy doesn’t open its archives to the public until 50 years after each prize’s announcement. Thus, we won’t know which authors were under consideration in 1988 — the year Naguib Mahfouz won the prize — until 2038. However, we do at least have hearsay: Translator Denys Johnson-Davies wrote in his memoir that he was approached by a representative of the Academy that year, and that they mentioned they were considering Mahfouz, Tayeb Salih, Adonis, and Yusuf Idris. By that time, both Taha Hussein (d. 1973) and Tawfiq al-Hakim (d. 1987) had passed.

The last year for which archives have been released is 1971. Thus far, it seems that only five Arab authors have appeared in the Nobel rolls: two Egyptian authors in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and three Lebanese authors who appeared in1970 and 1971, generally affiliated with PEN centers.

As with the overall history of the Nobel Prize for Literature, this list is a combination of brilliant authors and those who seem to have made it to the list by some strange accident.

The five:

Taha Hussein (nominated several years, starting 1949)

Taha Hussein (1889–1973) was one of the most influential 20th-century Egyptian writers and intellectuals; his The Days was clearly a model for the young Naguib Mahfouz, among many others. He has been called “The Dean of Arabic Literature,” and is best-known for his autobiographical The Days, his novel The Nightingale’s Prayer, and his literary criticism, including On Pre-Islamic Poetry.

Tawfiq al-Hakim (nominated 1969)

Tawfiq al-Hakim (1898–1987) is widely considered to be the founder of contemporary Egyptian drama and a leading figure in modern Arabic literature. He is the author of Ahl al-Kahf (The People of the Cave), Awdat al-Ruh (The Return of Consciousness), the autobiographical Yawmiyyat Na’ib fi l-Aryaf (Diaries of a Country Prosecutor), and many other plays, novels, and essays.

Mikhail Naimy (nominated 1970, 1971)

Naimy wrote in a variety of genres, mostly in Arabic but also in English, including The Book of Mirdad and a biography of Khalil Gibran. He was nominated by Toufic Fahd, a scholar at the Université de Strasbourg. According to the Poetry Foundation, Naimy “lived in Palestine as a child and attended the Theological Seminary in Poltava, the Ukraine, from 1906 to 1911.” They quote Issa Boullata as saying Naimy’s “meditative mood, coupled with the attraction of his whispering quiet tone, wins over the reader as one who shares the experience with the poet.”

Joseph Dorra-Haddad (nominated 1970)

Dorra-Haddad (1913–1979), nominated by L’Université Libanaise I Beirut, was reportedly known for his writings about dialogue between Christianity and Islam.

Jawad Boulos (nominated 1971)

Boulos (1900–1982) was a historian and thinker nominated by PEN Lebanon. His work included Les peuples et les civilisations du Proche-Orient (five volumes) and L’histoire du Liban et des pays environnants.