New prestigious Arabic award for fiction
March 17, 2008 7:08 PM   Subscribe

IPAF (International Prize for Arabic Fiction) is a new prestigious $50,000 literary prize managed the Man Booker Prize in London and sponsored by Abu Dhabi's1 crown prince of the United Arabs Emirates. The inaugural winner was announced on March 10: Baha Taher's Sunset Oasis (shortlist). English translations appear to be unavailable although some are in the works. This is the first international prize for Arabic literature, and it has stirred up some passions.
1. "It's no accident that the prize is based in Abu Dhabi ... [it] is going flat out to become the cultural center of the Middle East. The city is to host a new Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry, not to mention an outpost of the Louvre." (from last link)
posted by stbalbach (5 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Abu Dhabi or not...must be interesting as a writer to sit down to pursue ones craft and ponder "what is my risk of getting killed for pushing this literary boundry".
posted by kjs3 at 7:48 PM on March 17, 2008

Excellent news, as is this (from the first link):
Arab reluctance to translate Western works is reciprocated: Western publishers hesitate to issue novels from the Mideast. So an added bonus to this new prize is that Tetra Pak heiress Sigrid Rausing, who owns U.K. publishers Granta and Portobello, has pledged to fund an English translation of the winner.
It will be really great if this prize both increases international awareness of Arabic literature and provides a boost to the literature itself (as the Russian Booker has). Thanks for the post!

The Jerusalem Post forgot to close an ital tag—hah hah!
posted by languagehat at 5:53 AM on March 18, 2008

Thank you, stbalbach; this is good news about a good idea, although I glumly assume that even if there's a great flowering of Arabic literature, I won't be able to read much of it, since the state of literary translation, at least in the U.S., is so lamentably, abominably poor. There are only so many quirky go-getting Swedish cardboard heiresses to go around.

And what's up with that Jerusalem Post article? It comes across as both perfunctory and condescending - so polite and downright civilized of those beturbanned rubes to not waste time complaining about the U.S. or Israel - as if an intern is lazily transcribing a press release and throwing in his cultural misconceptions for added color, then I get to the end and discover that the guy's an advisor to the prize. I think the prize would do well to dispense with the burned-out sub-Greene British diplomats and let the writers speak to the world themselves.
posted by dyoneo at 10:24 AM on March 18, 2008

what's up with that Jerusalem Post article?

It's an OpEd, I read his POV within the context of the process of the Middle East becoming secular - part of the larger Islamic Reformation that has been on-going for a while now (with much bloodshed) as Arabic countries find their identity in the modern world. I don't think his views are of an old British colonialist, keeping the 'beturbanned rubes' in their place, but could be wrong.
posted by stbalbach at 11:32 AM on March 18, 2008

That's a justifiable (and almost certainly a fairer) take, although I still don't like how pleased he was that the group managed to get through their discussions without a single mention of the U.S. or Israel. Wouldn't the point be to foster an atmosphere, a set of civil societies, in which anyone can discuss anything, in as wide a variety of ways as possible?

It'd be like setting up a prize for African-American writers; being invited, as a white person, to sit in on the deliberations; and then being impressed that they managed to get through a whole afternoon without blaming white Americans for any social, historical, or cultural ills, or even acknowledging their existence. Would this be an accurate reflection of what they were thinking, of their most intimate experiences and pressing concerns, or a merely political (and polite) concession to the presence of the white person in the room? He believes either that this is some kind of intellectually necessary intermediate deck-clearing stage, to be replaced at some later date by full civil discourse (in which, presumably, the U.S. and Israel are discussed in nuanced and appreciative terms), or that they really shouldn't be discussing the U.S. and Israel at all. The first is condescending, and the second completely antithetical to literature.

But thanks again for the post; this is the kind of thing I come here for.
posted by dyoneo at 12:46 PM on March 18, 2008

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