SHARJAH: Arab fictional writers who have made it to the list of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (Ipaf) have shared their views on the readership in the region, agreeing it is “promising.”
“The introduction of Ipaf has spurred readers to long for works by award winners,” said the Saudi writer, Mohammed Hasan Alwan, author of 2013 Ipaf-shortlisted novel, Al Qundus (The Beaver).
He said the award which was constituted in 2007 in Abu Dhabi under the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London and now funded by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, has lifted the spirit of writers, who are now trying to have their works published.
“I’m a friend to many writers who had their works lying in the manuscript form till such time the prize was introduced, when they finally cleaned the dust out of them to see the light of publication,” said Alwan in an evening discussion at the ongoing 32nd Sharjah International book Fair (SIBF).
Discussions are held daily in English and Arabic in several halls of the Sharjah Expo, the SIBF venue, with translations on offer. The ten-day fair ends on Nov.16.
Moderated by M. Sawwaaf, the panel discussing “The Future of Ipaf” also featured the Palestinian novelist, Anwar Hamed (Ipaf long-listed author: (Jaffa Prepares Morning Coffee) and short-listed Iraqi author, Sinan Antoon (Ya Mariam or Hail Mary).
Ipaf (http://www.arabic fiction.org) is an annual literary prize run with the support of the Booker Prize Foundation in London. Each of the six short-listed authors receives $10,000, and the winner receives an additional $50,000.
The Iraqi author Sinan said, “Considering the economic hardship we experience and the state of conflicts in the region, the Arab readership have reason to congratulate themselves.”
He said more money has to be directed to “building public libraries rather than stocking arms.”
Alwan had said the readership in the Arab world is not facing a crisis, “but the industry falls short of good marketing (of books).”
The Saudi writer said one of the clear examples of improved readership is the mass attendance of book fairs.
“Previously, there was too much censorship and the book world was a preserve of academic circles. The fairs were in universities, but now are in expo centres and open for all.”
Exiled Arab authors
Sinan said that a fifth of the Iraqi population is living abroad, “and so are a greater percentage of Lebanese and Palestinians,” something he said has created literally a form of writing by the people of the Diaspora.
“More novels should come about, as opposed to magazines and journals. That’s how we can rewrite our history.”
Ipaf website proclaims the Prize “aims to meet a perceived need to encourage more reading and writing of good contemporary literature in the Arab world and, above all, to see more Arabic fiction translated and published in other leading international languages.”