Celebrations at the Winner Ceremony of the 15th International Prize for Arabic Fiction
Libyan author Mohammed Alnaas’s first novel Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table, published by Rashm for Publishing and Distribution, was announced on Sunday night as the 15th winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
The announcement was made by the Chair of Judges, Tunisian critic and novelist Shukri Mabkhout, at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi – the first of its kind in three years. Earlier in the ceremony, IPAF Trustee and Moroccan writer Yaseen Adnan gave a welcome 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.
In her opening speech, IPAF Administrator Fleur Montanaro welcomed Jordanian author Jalal Barjas, whose novel Notebooks of the Bookseller won the prize in 2021, and who was in attendance last night. Montanaro congratulated the writer on the forthcoming English translation of his novel by publisher Interlink Books.
Mabkhout told the audience that the novels on this year’s shortlist followed one of two directions: the first being a historical reimagining in which national memories are built in search of a collective identity. The second is based on individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech, and in art, gender roles and personal identities. Mabkhout added that all shortlisted authors are winners, emphasising that their novels will remain in the hearts of readers and in the Arab literary cannon.
On choosing the winning work, Mabkhout said that following in-depth discussions, the panel reached a consensus to award the novel that was written in a “narrative that is outwardly smooth, rhythmic and calm, but inwardly tense and reverberating. It was written in a modern Arabic language that is easily digestible but reveals an effort to find techniques that suit the imaginary world built by the writer of the text.”
Following the ceremony, Lebanese writer, academic and member of the judging panel Iman Humaydan said in a press conference – alongside Adnan, Mabkhout and Montanaro – that “gender identity is a novel theme for Arabic fiction” specifying that the work’s subject matter and the simple way in which it was approached, free of any ideology, are what set it apart. Mabkhout added that the novel does not offer any solutions, but rather makes us question basic notions through poetic scenes and situations.
Alnaas, who is the youngest writer and first Libyan to win the prize, was not present at the ceremony as he was on his way to Abu Dhabi. His publisher Saleh Al-Hammad represented him throughout the evening.
In addition to winning $50,000, Alnaas is guaranteed funding for the English translation of Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table. He can also expect an increase in book sales and international recognition.