“I see myself as more of a reader than a writer. Reading, and because of that, writing, is my way to make sure I exist.”
- IPAF winner Rabee Jaber
Last night I attended the Award ceremony for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, aka the Arabic Booker.
It was a great ceremony – a highlight was that instead of just introducing the shortlisted authors, they showed a short documentary about each one talking about his book. It was really charming. (Edit – you can watch the videos at Arablit.)
Also charming was the very shy winner, the previously shortlisted Lebanese writer Rabee Jaber for his book The Druze of Belgrade. Upon presentation of the Prize, when invited to give a speech Jaber said simply, “Thank you very much for your appreciation and your love.”
In the press conference after, there were a lot of questions about the Prize thrown at the judges – such as, why the longlist was shorter this year (13 rather than 16 books), and why there were no women on the shortlist. The convener of the Prize said that IPAF is currently undergoing some internal changes to how it is run, and although support for the Prize in Abu Dhabi will continue, these changes will be announced in full in a few weeks time.
On the topic of women, one of the female judges said they simply didn’t receive many entries by women. Each publisher in the Arab world is entitled to nominate up to three books for the Prize, and only 15% of titles received this year were by female authors. (Systemic sexism is inherent in the Australian literary culture also.)
The judging panel also spoke about how the novels listed for the Prize described a genuine and dark picture of Arab countries before the Arab Spring, explaining in many ways why that political movement came about.