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4 Arab Female Writers On The International Prize for Arabic Fiction’s Longlist

Good luck to these inspiring wordsmiths…

Comprising six novels, the shortlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) 2021 will be revealed at an online event on March 29. Before the major announcement, we highlight the female authors in contention for the most prestigious and important literary prize in the Arab world. Their works, all published in Arabic between July 1, 2019 and 31 August, 2020, have been rightfully included in the longlist of 16 novels.

The selected novels on the longlist were chosen from 121 entries. This year’s judging panel is chaired by Lebanese poet and writer Chawki Bazih and includes Moroccan writer and translator Mohammed Ait Hanna and Safa Jubran, a Lebanese university lecturer and academic. Yemeni writer Ali Al-Muqri and Ayesha Sultan, an Emirati writer and journalist, are also acting as judges.

Now in its 14th edition, the aim of the IPAF is to reward excellence in contemporary Arabic creative writing and to encourage the readership of high quality Arabic literature internationally through the translation and publication of winning and shortlisted novels in other major languages. A prize of $50,000 will be awarded to the ultimate winner.

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Mansoura Ez Eldin

Egyptian novelist and short story writer Mansoura Ez Eldin has had her works translated into over 10 languages. In 2009, she was selected as one of the best 39 Arab writers under 40 by the Beirut 39 project. Ez Eldin is the author of three short story collections and five novels, including “Mariam's Maze,” “Emerald Mountain” and “Shadow Play.” “Beyond Paradise,” which won awards at the Cairo and Sharjah Book Fairs and earned Al-Multaqa Prize for the Arabic Short Story and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, was IPAF-shortlisted in 2010. She works as Deputy Editor of the Egyptian weekly cultural magazine “Akhbar al-Adab,” as well as an editor for  its books section. Ez Eldin, who has had articles published in  “The New York Times” and “A Public Space,” was a mentor of the annual IPAF Nadwa (writing workshop) in 2010 and 2011.

This year, she has been longlisted for “The Orchards of Basra,” a story set in two different time periods. In present-day Minya, Egypt, Hisham Khatab is a young manuscripts dealer who is passionate about old books. This leads him to interpret a dream in “The Great Book of Interpretation of Dreams,” ascribed to Ibn Sirin, and believe he was someone called Yazid bin Abihi, who lived in the 2nd hijri century (8th century AD) in Basra, Iraq. The dream introduces the reader to important figures from that era, including Wasil bin Ata, Al-Hasan al-Basri, and others like Mujeeba, the wife of Yazid and her lover ‘Adi bin Malek, the copier of manuscripts from Iraq. Plus, there's Khatab, his mother Leila and friend Mirvat from contemporary Egypt. Despite the many voices telling their stories and the differences in time and place, the characters all have much in common: their belief in signs, and an area of guilt in their lives or a point at which their lives radically changed. 

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Amira Ghenim

Amira Ghenim is a Tunisian writer and academic who graduated with a Higher Teaching Certificate (agrégation) in Arabic Language and Literature. She also has a PhD in Linguistics. A Linguistics and Translation teacher at Tunis University, Ghenim has published books on translation and linguistics, as well as two novels. “The Yellow Dossier,” her first book, won the Sheikh Rashid Bin Hamad Prize in 2020, while her second novel, “The Calamity of the Nobility,” features on IPAF’s longlist this year.

The book relates an important, untold story from Tunisia’s contemporary history, with its hero, the reformer El-Taher El-Haddad, the historical figure. Although historical references do not mention anything about his relationship with women, except for his desperate defence of them, the author adds an imaginary love affair with a woman called Lella Zubaida to her fictional retelling of his life. The novel gives prominence to the voices of female narrators, as custodians of memory who contradict a distorted, patriarchal version of history.   

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 Dunya Mikhail

Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail, who is based in the US, obtained her B.A. in English Literature from Baghdad University. She went on to study her master’s degree in Eastern Literatures at Wayne State University. Mikhail, who teaches Arabic Language and Literature at Michigan’s Oakland University, has published nine books in Arabic, several of which have been translated into English, Chinese, French, Hindi, Italian and Polish. Her first book in English, “The War Works Hard” was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, while “Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea” won the 2010 Arab American Book Award. Additionally, Mikhail’s “The Beekeeper of Sinjar: Rescuing the Kidnapped Women of Iraq” was longlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature 2018 and she is behind the poetry collection titled “The Iraqi Nights.”

Mikhael's longlisted effort “The Bird Tattoo” is a painful novel about the sale of Yazidi women in Iraq by ISIS. It focuses on Helen and Elias, who fall in love and marry, and their experiences with the organisation. Alongside this tragedy, the novel sheds light on aspects of Yazidi folklore, rich in astonishing customs and legends.

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Sara al-Nams

Sara al-Nams, a novelist and short story writer, graduated with a B.A. in English Language from Ferhat Abbas University for Languages and Literature in the Sétif province. The Algerian writer’s “Love With An Algerian Flavour” was published in 2012 and followed by “Water and Salt – Letters to a Palestinian Prisoner.” Al-Nams, who manages the Algerian Ajniha publishing house, has taught English and worked as an editor.

The longlisted "J" is about a poor young man from the Algerian city of Oran, who decides to travel to the desert to escape from his traumatic past. On the bus taking him south, he meets a mysterious young woman (called J) who astonishes him with her stories, including her shocking experience of abuse by her father. The novel explores the dreams and pain of Algerian youth, the memory of the 1990s Algerian civil war, the crisis of language and identity, and how individuals can belong to a country and yet be foreigners to their own bodie. The two protagonists exchange dangerous confidences and confessions, until the heart of the truth is reached. 

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