Interview with Hoda Barakat, winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2019


How did you feel when you found out that you won?

I was overjoyed! 

I was very happy because I believe that any recognition from the Arab world is equivalent to ten awards abroad, since I write in Arabic for the Arab reader. The IPAF gives a lot of visibility and corrects misconceptions about perhaps being an elitist writer and shows readers that I can also write simply.

I was also happy because although I do not know any of the judges I held them in high esteem. Knowing that they were making the decision gave me a sense of trust because although the novel is not difficult, there are some keys to understanding it. The Night Mail can be read simply but it is also not just that. Each reader can bring to it some of their own culture as well. So I was happy that it was understood.

So although the novel is currently being translated into many languages, and the rights have been sold even before winning, that is nothing compared to my happiness at receiving an award as big as the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

What advice would you give a young Arab writer?

No one ever gave me any advice. Perhaps all the writers whose works I read gave me advice. Reading is the advice they need; so they should read, a lot.

Did you celebrate or are you waiting to celebrate when you return?

I celebrated with you, you are my family. I don’t live in Lebanon but we talked on the phone all night. Now I am returning to teach in the United States, but perhaps I will celebrate with my children when I return to Paris.