Arabic book award withheld over lack of suitable candidates

A book award to celebrate the best in Arab literature has been withdrawn due to a lack of suitable candidates. None of the shortlisted books were deemed good enough to secure Sheikh Zayed Book award’s literature prize and the £130,000 prize money.

Although Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Book awards, found winners for categories including children’s literature, fine art and translation, the literature prize was not awarded
because the books submitted “did not meet the award’s stringent norms” – so the advisory council opted to withhold it.

“I don’t understand it at all. Why make a shortlist if you don’t believe in the titles?” wrote M Lynx Qualey at ArabLit, a website about Arabic literature in English. “This non-awarding of the literature prize is not likely to do much for the profile of an award that
already languished in the shadow of the IPAF. Despite the SZBA’s AED750,000 in prize money, the award has not captured public attention like the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.” Qualey went on to point out that there was no overlap between the titles on the Sheikh Zayed Book award and the longlist for the higher-profile (but, worth $60,000 to the winner, less lucrative) IPAF, widely dubbed the “Arabic Booker”.

The Sheikh Zayed Book award was established in October 2006. This year, it selected Egypt’s culture minister Shaker Abdel-Hamid as winner of its fine arts prize, for his book Art and Eccentrics; Abdo Wazen from Lebanon won the children’s literature award for
his novel about a blind child The Boy Who Saw the Colour of Air, praised for its “beautiful narrative language”; Tunisian Layla Al Obaidi won the young author prize for her title Humour in Islam and her fellow Tunisian Abu Y’arub Al Marzouqi took the translation award for A Prelude to Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy.

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