Saudi writer Omaima Al-Khamis awarded the 2018 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature
The AUC Press announced today the award of the 2018 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature to the Saudi Arabian writer Omaima Al-Khamis for her novel Masra al-Gharaniq fi Mudun al-‘Aqiq (Voyage of the Cranes in the Cities of Agate).
Presented by Ehab Abdel Rahman, Provost of the American University in Cairo, the award was decided by the members of the Award Committee: Dr. Tahia Abdel Nasser, Dr. Shereen Abouelnaga, Dr. Mona Tolba, Dr. Humphrey Davies, and Dr. Rasheed El-Enany. The award ceremony at AUC’s Oriental Hall on the Tahrir Square Campus was attended by many writers and other distinguished personalities of Egyptian cultural life.
In their citation for the award, the judges described Masra al-Gharaniq fi Mudun al-Aqiq as “a serious novel that speaks to our time through history. . . . It takes the form of a journey from Arabia northwards and westwards to Andalusia, through the great cities of the Arab world in the eleventh century during the titular rule of the weakened Abbasids in Baghdad, the Fatimids in Cairo, and the warring factions of Islamic rule in Spain.”
They went on to say, “Al-Khamis’s language exquisitely traces a route through beleaguered cities in a novel that speaks to the importance of culture, imbuing them instead with rare and precious knowledge. . . . Omaima Al-Khamis has succeeded in capturing the essence of cultural and religious diversity in the Arab world between 402 and 405 Hijri.”
In an emotional acceptance address, Omaima Al-Khamis began by paying tribute to Naguib Mahfouz, “Our great writer who taught us the magic and craft of the story.”
She thanked her parents for shaping her consciousness. “The book was . . . a staple of our home,” said Al-Khamis, reminiscing about the piles of books that surrounded her when she was growing up. “At the beginning I was enamored with language, and perhaps it was my luck to be born with letters and words around me.” She recalled “the flavor of evenings that my father and mother used to spend under the jasmine tree in our house’s garden, absorbed in reviewing a book, my father reading and my mother writing, or my father writing and my mother reviewing.”
“The novel is the more mature form in the journey of human creativity and the most complex and intricate of all artistic forms,” said Al-Khamis. “[It is] an attempt to recover the original material of the world, to break it down into its smaller parts,” she added.
Like every year, the award is presented on December 11, coinciding with the birthday of Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz in 1911.
The AUC Press established the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 1996, a major award in support of contemporary Arabic literature in translation. It is awarded for the best contemporary novel published in Arabic (but not yet in English) in the last two years and is selected every fall by the Mahfouz Award Committee. The winner receives a silver medal and a cash prize, and the award-winning book is subsequently translated and published in an English-language edition by the AUC Press in Cairo.
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