Sheikh Zayed Book Award broadens its reach across the world of literature
The Sheikh Zayed Book Award is going global. That was the message sent to the international publishing industry when the award’s organisers took part in the Frankfurt Book Fair.
They arrived at the mammoth event with a programme that included panel sessions and book launches, as well as a networking dinner featuring several publishers. The Frankfurt mission came on top of the award team’s other international appearances this year, which included sessions at the London International Book Fair and its French counterpart, Livre Paris, in March.
Organisers aimed to use their appearance at each event to highlight the evolution of the award. Launched in 2007 and organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, the annual award honours the achievements of Arab writers, international and regional intellectuals, translators and publishers whose work is viewed as having “enriched Arab, cultural, literary and social life”. With a Dh7 million prize purse, it is also one of the richest literary awards in the world.
The longlist for next year’s awards will be announced next month, with the shortlist to be revealed in March next year. The winners will be announced a month later, with an awards ceremony normally held during the Abu Dhabi Book Fair.
Speaking to The National from Frankfurt, the award’s secretary general Dr Ali bin Tamim, who is also chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Authority, says the award’s growing prestige means the time has come to give it a greater international platform.
He says part of the reason the award’s organisers travelled to Frankfurt was to highlight one of the award’s categories, Arabic Culture in Other Languages, which recognises works written by Arabists in various languages, including English, Russian, German, French or Spanish.
This year’s winner was Philip Kennedy, Professor of Middle
Eastern and Islamic Studies and Comparative Literature at NYU Abu Dhabi. He was recognised for his book Recognition in the Arabic Narrative Tradition. Published in 2016, the book explores the concept of the “recognition scene” – the point in a narrative when hidden facts and identities come to light – in five Arabic texts, including the Quran.
Ali says Kennedy’s book, as well as the work of past winners such as a work by German Professor Dag Nikolaus Hasse and Japan’s Sugita Hideaki, shows the breadth of literature the award recognises.
“This category is of huge importance, not only for the Sheikh Zayed Book Award itself but to the greater Arab world,” says Ali. “That is because it is really a great contribution to the culture.
“Many people don’t know that there has been some great and important research done into Arabic culture and some of that could be even more important than the research written in Arabic, so we want to shed light on that. So there is a plan to let this award be well known internationally and this is all to achieve its global objectives.”
The award’s next foreign mission will be in Russia, with Ali saying a high-level culture summit to be held in Moscow is in the works. That event is set to feature leading cultural figures and Arabists from across Russia.