Thursday, October 30, 2014

IPAF nadwa for emerging Arab writers opens in Abu Dhabi resort

 the participants in the IPAF 2014 nadwa

The sixth annual International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) literary workshop or 'nadwa' for emerging Arab writers opened today in Abu Dhabi at the secluded Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort. The nadwa is led by the Egyptian writer Bahaa Taher who won the inaugural IPAF in 2008 for his novel Sunset Oasis. Taher is joined as mentor by the Palestinian-Jordanian author Ibrahim Nasrallah - shortlisted for IPAF 2009 for Time of White Horses  - and by the Moroccan novelist, critic and academic Zhor Gourram, an IPAF 2014 judge. The nadwa is sponsored by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region.

Bahaa Taher

The eight-day workshop, which runs until Thursday 4 November, brings together nine emerging writers from six Arab countries. The writers include Dina Mohamed Abd Elsalam and Ahmed Salah Sabik  from Egypt; Taher al-Zahrani and Majid Suleiman from Saudi Arabia, and Emad al-Wardani and Nassima Raoui from Morocco. From the UAE there is Sultan Al Ameemi, from Oman Suleiman al-Muamarri, and from Syria-Jordan Shahla Ujayli

The prestigious annual IPAF nadwa is organically entwined with the IPAF prize process. It brings together emerging writers from across North Africa and the Middle East and gives them the opportunity to hone their skills under the tutelage of IPAF winning and shortlisted authors. Among the participants of the 2012 nadwa was Iraqi author Ahmed Saadawi, who won IPAF 2014 for his novel Frankenstein in Baghdad.

Two previous nadwa participants – Mansoura Ez Eldin and Mohammed Hasan Alwan – have been shortlisted for the prestigious prize; the latter for his 2012 novel, The Beaver, which began life in the IPAF nadwa in 2009.

The nine emerging writers in this year's Nadwa were identified by former IPAF judges as ‘ones to watch’. Aged 40 and under, they come from a variety of writing backgrounds and professions. The nadwa aims to give them a retreat where they are able to work on a new piece of fiction, or to develop an existing, unpublished work. In addition to being mentored by the three writers from the IPAF fold they will take part in daily discussions with their peers, critiquing each other’s work as well as discussing literature in more general terms.

The nine new works of fiction resulting from the nadwa will in time be edited and published through the IPAF website at

Ibrahim Nasrallah
Ibrahim Nasrallah comments:
“The key thing about the nadwa, in my view, is to be open to different kinds of writing and to discuss these differences. If we treat each session as a blank slate to debate our ideas, as well as the individual texts in hand, then both participants and the mentors can learn a great deal from the experience. Creativity often rebels against rules we have learnt and invents its own rules in turn.”

Fleur Montanaro

IPAF Administrator Fleur Montanaro, nadwa coordinator, adds:
“The nadwa helps to develop the skills of talented young writers from a variety of countries and literary backgrounds. Its impact lasts well beyond the final day and it is a delight to see novels begun in the workshop going on to be published, read and sometimes even reaching the final stages of the prize. The nadwa is a unique opportunity for promising writers to benefit from the experience of established writers and critics of the likes of Bahaa Taher, Ibrahim Nasrallah and Zhor Gourram, to meet with them individually to discuss their work.”

IPAF is the leading international prize for Arabic literature. Sponsored by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and run in association with the Booker Prize Foundation in the UK, the Prize aims to celebrate the very best of contemporary Arabic fiction and encourage wider international readership of Arabic literature through translation.


Dina Mohamed Abd Elsalam (Egypt) was born in Alexandria in 1976 and graduated from the English Department of the Arts College of Alexandria University in 1998. She obtained an MA in 2005 and a doctorate in Literary Criticism in 2010. She currently teaches literary criticism, classical literature and film studies in the same department. Her first novel, A Text Abandoned by Its Heroes, was published in 2012. She has directed two short films which have been shown at a number of Arab and international festivals and won several prizes.

Sultan Al Ameemi (UAE) was born in 1974. He has published over 17 works, including studies of popular literature, two short story collections and a novel, P.O. Box 1003 (2014). He currently works as head of the Academy of Arabic Poetry in Abu Dhabi and is a member of the judging panel for the Million’s Poet reality television contest. He is currently working on a variety of fictional projects and publications related to popular literature and ethnology.

Suleiman al-Muamari (Oman) is a broadcaster and novelist, born in 1974. He is the author of one novel, The Man who didn’t Like Abdel Nasser (2013), as well as three short story collections: Maybe It's because He's a Defeated Man (2000), Things are Closer to the Mirror than They Appear (2005), winner of the Youssef Idris short story award in 2007, and Narrow-minded Abdel Fatah Doesn't Like Details (2009). He was head of the Omani Writers' Association from 2008-2010 and of the Short Story Writers' Association from 2007-2009. He currently works as Director of Cultural Programming for Oman radio.

Taher al-Zahrani (Saudi Arabia) is a short story writer and novelist, born in Jeddah in 1978. He has published several novels, including: Towards the South (2010), Children of the Street (2013) and The Mechanic (2014). He is also the author of a collection of short stories entitled The Vendor's Box (2010). He works in the government media centre in Jeddah and freelances as a journalist.

Nassima Raoui (Morocco) is a poet, born in Rabat in 1988. She holds an Advanced Diploma in Marketing and International Commerce from the National School of Commerce and Management at the University of Abdel Malik al-Saadi. Her work has been published in a number of Arab newspapers and magazines. In 2012, she won both the International Tangier Poetry Prize and another competition organised by the House of Poetry in Morocco and Dar Al-Nahda publishing house in Lebanon. She won the Cultural Dialogue Prize for Literature in 2013. She was honoured by the Moroccan Writers' Union as part of the Mohammed Shukri series. She has published Riot of Words (2007) and Before Tangier Awakes (2012).

Ahmed Salah Sabik (Egypt) is an architect, graphic designer, illustrator and novelist, born in 1981. He graduated from Cairo University in 2003 and has worked as an architect and designer for a number of Egyptian design studios, as well as in Budapest and London. Nimrod (2013) is his first novel.

Majid Suleiman (Saudi Arabia) is a novelist and short story writer, born in 1977. He works at the Prince Sultan Bin Abdelaziz University, Riyadh. He has published three novels: Hot Spring (2011), Blood Drips between Turbans and Beards (2013) and Birds of Darkness (2014). He has also written a short story collection, A Star Throbbing in the Dirt (2013), and some children’s literature, including The Chest (story, 2014) and The Fathers (play, 2014). 

Shahla Ujayli (Syria-Jordan) is a Syrian writer, born in 1976. She holds a doctorate in Modern Arabic Literature and Cultural Studies from Aleppo University in Syria and currently teaches Modern Arabic Literature at the University of Aleppo and the American University in Madaba, Jordan. She is author of a short story collection entitled The Mashrabiyya (2005) and two novels: The Cat's Eye (2006), which won the Jordan State Award for Literature in 2009, and Persian Carpet (2013). She has also  published a number of critical studies, including The Syrian Novel: Experimentalism and Theoretical Categories (2009), Cultural Particularity in the Arabic Novel (2011) and Mirror of Strangeness: Articles on Cultural Criticism (2006). 

Emad al-Wardani (Morocco) is a short story writer and researcher, born in 1980. He holds an Advanced Diploma in Literature and has published his literary and critical works in Arab newspapers and magazines. He worked on the editorial board of the Austrian magazine Tomorrow's World and as a cultural editor. He has organised and participated in workshops focusing on literary criticism, creative writing and cultural media. He won the Mohammed Berrada Prize for Literary Criticism in 2011, the Moroccan Writers Union Prize for young writers for his short story collection entitled Perfume of Betrayal (2013), which was translated into Spanish and French, and the 2013 Dubai Arts and Culture Prize for his collection A Smell No-One Tolerates, to be published soon.


Bahaa Taher (Egypt) was born in Giza, Greater Cairo, in 1935, to Upper Egyptian parents from the village of Karnak, Luxor. He holds postgraduate diplomas in History and Mass Media from Cairo University. He has published 17 books (six novels, five short story collections, and six non-fiction works), as well as numerous translations from English and French. His novel, Sunset Oasis, won the inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2008. The book was subsequently published in English in the UK through Sceptre.

Zhor Gourram (Morocco) is a novelist, critic and academic. She was a judge of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014. She is Professor of Higher Education at the Ibn Tofeil University in Kenitra, Morocco, where she is also head of the research laboratory for language, creativity and new media and a director of academic projects and PHD research units. She has previously judged a number of awards including the Owais Award and the Moroccan Book Prize, awarded by the Moroccan Ministry of Culture. She has organised Arab and international conferences and events and was awarded the Royal Sash (for National Merit) at the Casablanca Book Fair in 2012.

Ibrahim Nasrallah (Jordan-Palestine) was born in 1954 to Palestinian parents, living in exile in Jordan. He spent his childhood and youth in the Alwehdat Palestinian Refugee Camp in Amman and began his career as a teacher in Saudi Arabia. After returning to Amman, he worked as a journalist and for the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation. Since 2006, he has been a full-time writer and has so far published 14 poetry collections and 16 novels, including his epic fictional project of 8 novels covering 250 years of modern Palestinian history. Three of his novels and a volume of poetry have been translated into English, including his novel Time of White Horses which was IPAF-shortlisted in 2009 and is currently nominated to receive the London-based Middle East Monitor Prize for the Best Novel about Palestine. His novel Lanterns of the King of Galilee, IPAF longlisted in 2013, will appear in English in January 2015. Three of his novels have been translated into Italian, one into Danish and one into Turkish. He is also an artist and photographer and has had four solo exhibitions of his photography. He has won eight literary prizes, among them the prestigious Sultan Owais Literary Award for Poetry in 1997; his novel Prairies of Fever was chosen by the Guardian newspaper as one of the most important 10 novels written about the Arab world. In 2012, he won the inaugural Jerusalem Award for Culture and Creativity for his literary work.

Susannah Tarbush, London