IPAF holds second winner tour of United States


The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) has organised its second bilingual author tour of America with 2018 shortlisted Iraqi author Shahad Al Rawi and her translator Luke Leafgren.

Designed to encourage the readership of high quality Arabic literature in the US, the 8 day tour which concluded at the end of October, was hosted by comparative and Arabic literature departments in leading American universities across the East Coast.

The nine free public events — which featured a talk, reading and Q&A session, and were complemented by Arabic music in a couple of instances — were held from 10 – 21 October at:

  • Amherst College, University of Massachusetts, Massachusetts (two events)
  • Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Middlebury College, Vermont
  • Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts
  • New York University, New York
  • Columbia University, New York
  • Georgetown University, Washington D.C

The tour fits with the Prize’s overarching ambition to raise the profile of Arab authors and Arabic fiction internationally. There are plans for future US tours in the Midwest and West Coast, including Illinois, Michigan, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

Michel Moushabeck, trustee for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and founder of Interlink Publishing who led the tour, says:

‘Having witnessed the incredible success of the readings of Iraqi novelist Shahad Al-Rawi and translator Luke Leafgren on the Second US IPAF Tour, I am now convinced more than ever before that this IPAF initiative is by far the best way of promoting Arabic literature in translation in the US.’

Shahad Al Rawi, Shortlisted author for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2018, comments:

‘It was a wonderful tour in every sense. It was incredible to meet students and teachers from the most important universities in the United States and visit ancient buildings which are associated in memory with the greatest scholars, academics and writers. The spirit of America is embodied in its academic sphere and scholarly achievements more than in the image given to it by its foreign policy. As long as I live, I will never forget those meetings which brought me together with that special group of seekers of knowledge and teachers. I listened to their unusually perceptive interpretations of my first literary work and was delighted by the depth of their analysis. In these kinds of meetings, civilized dialogue between different cultures deepens and much misunderstanding is removed. I hope this experience will be repeated with other writers from the Middle East and the United States in exchange tours.’

Luke Leafgreen, translator of The Baghdad Clock, comments:

‘On the second IPAF tour, Shahad Al Rawi and I visited nine universities and had the chance to speak with hundreds of students, professors, and members of the public about The Baghdad Clock. The enthusiasm was remarkable. Audiences expressed excitement for the book and deep interest in Shahad's writing process, the experiences that inspired the novel, her views on memory and imagination, and her plans for future books. Members of the Iraqi expatriate community were present at many of our events, and their testimony of how this novel spoke to them, inspired them, and gave them hope added energy to our sessions and confirmed the power of Shahad's work and literature in general. As a translator, this tour was a rare opportunity to meet Shahad for the first time, allowing us to exchange artistic views and discuss translation choices I made. Along the way, I shared with students the value and pleasure I find in translating in the hopes of inspiring them to continue studying Arabic and consider possible translation projects of their own.’

Shahad Al Rawi is an Iraqi writer, born in Baghdad in 1986. She completed secondary school in Baghdad before moving with her family to Syria, where she obtained an MA in Administration. She is currently studying for a PhD in Anthropology and Administration and lives in Dubai. The Baghdad Clock, her first novel, was published in 2016 and has been translated into English by Luke Leafgren for Oneworld Publications, who published the book in hardback, May 2018, and paperback February 2019. It has also been translated into Turkish by Asteria Kitap and Indonesian by the Prenada Media Group.

Luke Leafgren received his PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University in 2012, after completing BA degrees in English and Theology at Columbia University and the University of Oxford. He has translated several Arabic novels into English and teaches Arabic at the University of Harvard, where he also serves as assistant dean of Harvard College. In 2018 he won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his translation of The President's Gardens by Muhsin al-Ramli, who was longlisted for IPAF in 2010 and 2013 and continues to support the prize’s nadwa as a mentor.