2016: The Year of the Palestinian Writer?

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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As a recent essay in Arab48 notes, 2016 has been a year when two of the biggest Arabic literary awards — the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) and al-Multaqa Prize for the Arabic Short Story — went to Palestinian writers:

But Raba’i al-Madhoun (IPAF) and Mazen Maarouf (Al-Multaqa) were not the only Palestinian authors to win accolades this year.

March: Mahmoud Darwish Award to Ghassan Zaqtan

2016: the year of the palestinian writer?

This year’s Mahmoud Darwish Awards, announced on the anniversary of the poet’s birth, went to celebrated Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan, Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury, and US novelist Alice Walker. Zaqtan, who was shortlisted for the US-based Neustadt in 2016 and was co-winner of Canada’s 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize, along with his translator Fady Joudah, was cited for both his great knowledge of poetic tradition and modernism.

But, for English-language readers, the glory and tragedy of 2016 is the release of Zaqtan’s Describing the Past in gorgeous translation by Samuel Wilder — the tragedy being that this stunning prose work has gone little-noticed.

A number of Zaqtan’s poems are online in English translation: herehere, and here.

April: International Prize for Arabic Fiction to Rabai al-Madhoun

2016: the year of the palestinian writer?

Three Palestinian writers made the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) longlist: Laila al-Atrash, with her Hymns of Temptation; Mahmoud Shukair, for Praise for the Women of the Family; and London-based novelist Rabai al-Madhoun, with Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba.

Shukair’s and al-Madhoun’s novels both moved forward onto the shortlist, and, in April, al-Madhoun deservedly took the $50,000 prize.

Al-Madhoun, whose 2010 novel The Lady of Tel Aviv was also shortlisted for the IPAF, builds on the themes and characters of that earlier novel with Destinies. The character Walid Dahman reappears, and his story of exile and rediscovery is woven into this new book’s “concerto in four movements.” Al-Madhoun’s The Lady of Tel Aviv is available in Elliott Colla’s English translation, and Destinies will certainly be coming to English soon.

August: Susan Muaddi Darraj wins Arab-American Book Award for fiction, Nathalie Handal for poetry

Winners in two of the three main Arab-American Book Award categories —  Nathalie Handal in poetry, with her collection The Republics and Susan Muaddi Darraj in fiction, with her A Curious Land — were Palestinian-Americans.

November: Two books from Palestine Writers Workshop win awards from Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature

2016: the year of the palestinian writer?

The region’s biggest prize for Arabic children’s literature is awarded each November on the opening day of the Sharjah International Book Fair. This year, two Palestinian books won top prizes: Best Illustration and Best Production.

Best Illustration went to Hassan Manasrah for Berkat Al Asela Al Zarqa’a (The Pool of Blue Questions)written by Maya Abu Alhayat, published by The Palestine Writing Workshop – Dalia Association, and Best Production also went to a Dalia Association book: Bolqosh, written and illustrated by Yara Bamieh.

English-language readers sadly might never see these books, because of the paucity of children’s literature in translation. However, a previously shortlisted Palestinian book — Ahlam Bsharat’s Code Name: Butterfly, translated by Nancy Roberts — was published in English this year.

December: First-ever Al-Multaqa Prize to Mazen Maarouf

2016: the year of the palestinian writer?

This month, Palestinian-Icelandic poet and short-story-writer Mazen Maarouf took the inaugural $20,000 Al-Multaqa Prize with his collection, Jokes for the Gunmen. As the new, Kuwait-based prize supports translation, this excellent, boundary-wobbling collection will surely be available in English within the next few years.

The collection was on a shortlist filled with a number of exciting young short-story writers; Maarouf himself declared it a win for the short story.

Meantime, you can read some of Mazen’s work online: “DNA,” translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid; Six Poems, translated by Jasim Mohamed; “The Boxes,” in Beirut Noir, translated by Michelle Hartman.

Also, if you’re interested in Palestinian literature, see: “The Best Palestinian Book Swag, with Watan Founder Jumana al-Qawasmi”

Click HERE to read more.

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