Celebrations at 12th International Prize for Arabic Fiction in Abu Dhabi


Lebanese author Hoda Barakat’s sixth novel The Night Mail, which was published by Dar al-Adab, was announced on Tuesday night as the 12th winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

The announcement was made by the Chair of Judges, Moroccan critic and academic Charafdine Majdouline, at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi on the eve of the opening of the Abu Dhabi Book Fair. Earlier in the ceremony, Chair of the Board of Trustees Professor Yasir Suleiman gave a welcoming speech after which each of the six shortlisted authors were honoured as short films were screened in which they read from and talked about their novels. Each of the finalists received $10,000.

In her opening speech, IPAF Administrator Fleur Montanaro highlighted some of the prize’s accomplishments since its inception, revealing that 53 of the novels recognized by the prize have been translated into a total of 28 languages.

Majdouline told the audience that the panel’s selection process revealed a diversity in fictional issues and aesthetic expression. He said that the works on both the longlist and shortlist were different in topics but close in quality. Majdouline then announced the winning novel.

Following the ceremony, Majdouline revealed in a press conference – alongside Suleiman, Barakat and Montanaro – that all the shortlisted novels represent Arab reality, dreams and concerns in one way or another. He added that in their search for the winner novel, the work’s ability to speak to an Arab reader was an important factor, so was how convincing and enjoyable the novels are.

During the press conference Barakat said that receiving the prize was especially meaningful for her because she felt far away from the Arab reader and did not get the immediate reward of knowing how it was received in that milieu. “What concerns me is the Arab reader,” she said.

Commenting on the letters of The Night Mail, Barakat said that some are meant as a farewell to the times when communication was simple, and also to pose a question about what life would be like if were to lose mail entirely.

Montanaro mentioned during the conference, the increasing diversity in the background of submissions to the prize, “This was the first year we receive a submission from Mali for example,” she said, “last year submissions came from 14 countries, whereas this year we received submissions from 19 countries.” She added that there is also more balance in terms of the gender of the authors submitting their works for consideration for the prize.

In addition to winning $50,000, Hoda Barakat is guaranteed funding for the English translation of The Night Mail, the rights of which have been signed to Oneworld Publications (forthcoming in 2020). Barakat can also expect an increase in book sales and international recognition.