Celebrations at tenth International Prize for Arabic Fiction in Abu Dhabi


Saudi Arabian author Mohammed Hasan Alwan’s fifth novel A Small Death, which was published by Dar Al Saqi, was announced on Tuesday night as the tenth winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

The announcement was made by the Chair of Judges, Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh, at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi on the eve of the opening of the Abu Dhabi Book Fair. Earlier in the ceremony, Chair of the Board of Trustees Professor Yasir Suleiman gave a welcoming speech after which each of the six shortlisted authors were honoured as short films were screened in which they read from and talked about their novels. Each of the finalists received $10,000.

© Khéridine Mabrouk / IPAF

In her opening speech, IPAF Administrator Fleur Montanaro celebrated the passing of 10 years since the inception of the prize by highlighting many of the prize’s accomplishments over the past decade. IPAF Trustee Khaled Hroub also announced the introduction of a third chapter of the Nadwa in Oman, in addition to those already running in Abu Dhabi and Jordan.

Khalifeh shared with the audience her experience as Chair of the Judges, from her disappointment in the quality of many of the novels that were submitted for consideration for the prize, to expressing the urgent need for professional and experienced editors in the publishing industry. She also expressed her joy in discovering new writers that were unknown to her, and rediscovering writers that she already knew, both types reassuring her that the novel is still a thriving medium for Arabic writers. Khalifeh then revealed the winning novel by pulling it out of a black box amid heightened suspense.

Following the ceremony, Khalifeh revealed in a press conference – alongside Suleiman, Alwan and Montanaro – that although all six shortlisted novels were masterpieces in their own right, she was enchanted by the multifaceted nature of A Small Death as it has historical, personal, spiritual, social and intellectual dimensions. In addition, she added, the novel draws our attention to a bygone era that is also reflection of our own times.

During the press conference audience members commended Alwan’s bravery in writing about Ibn ’Arabi, particularly his relationship to authority and his concept of faith.  In response to a question about whether he feared taking Ibn ’Arabi’s revered person off of his pedestal by writing so intimately about him, Alwan said that writing about his personal life only made him more human and accordingly more beloved to his fans, as he became one of them, thinking as they do and feeling as they feel.  

Alwan also elaborated on his own relationship to the historical figure, which began some 10 years ago as a fleeting interest after reading one of his works and developed into an obsession in 2015 with Ibn ’Arabi’s 50 years of traveling, a subject close to Alwan’s heart. Alwan then decided, using his imagination, to fill the gaps in Ibn ’Arabi’s biography, a project that kept growing as he went along until the book was finally complete.

In addition to winning $50,000, Mohammed Hasan Alwan is guaranteed funding for the English translation of A Small Death, and can expect an increase in book sales and international recognition.