February 19, 2024

Exploring Saudi Authors’ Journey with the Arab Booker Prize

Exploring Saudi Authors' Journey with the Arab Booker Prize

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The International Prize for Arabic Fiction, known as the Arabic Booker Prize (IPAF), is one of the most significant cultural awards in the Arab world and arguably the most popular among awards of its kind, drawing considerable Arab attention.

Established in 2007, the idea for the award emerged with the proposal to create a prize similar to the international “Booker Prize.” The award is currently sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center, affiliated with the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The award also receives support from the Booker Prize Foundation in London.

The Arabic Booker Prize has seen prominent participation by Saudi Arabian authors throughout its history, with Saudi writers nominated in 11 out of the 17 editions held to date. Eleven Saudi authors, including three who made repeated appearances on the award lists, have been nominated.

Saudi authors have won the prize three times, constituting approximately 18% of the total winners from the Arab world, with one female author among them. Additionally, four women have been featured in the award lists in five editions.

First Participation, Saudi Authors Shine in 2010

The first Saudi writer’s participation and victory occurred in the 2010 edition when three Saudi authors, Abdo Khal, Omaima Al-Khamis, and Abdullah bin Bakheet, were nominated. In that edition, Saudi author Abdo Khal clinched the award for his novel “Throwing Sparks.

“Throwing Sparks” revolves around the confessions of an individual working in one of the mysterious palaces in Jeddah, providing unique services to the palace owner.

In addition to Abdo Khal, author Omaima Al-Khamis made it to the longlist of the Arabic Booker Prize for her novel “The Wreath,” published in 2008. The novel centers around “Jawaher,” who works in a hospital in Riyadh, where she befriends her European colleague, Adrian, who opens up a new world to her through his stories. She seems unable to live except through the life of “the other,” even if this “other” is a doctor she met in Toronto.

Similarly, author Abdullah bin Bakheet, with his novel “Street of Affections,” narrates the life story of three individuals from an unknown history of Saudi Arabia. The story revolves around Nasser, a teenager who undergoes a tragic incident, leading him to violently oppose anyone marrying his beloved cousin; Shangafa, the disabled slave who discovers that despite the freedom he gains, he remains mentally imprisoned, with his aggressive behavior and alcohol addiction ultimately leading to his execution; and Saad, the son of a poor family who falls in love with one of the prostitutes on the mysterious Pearl Island.

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