The Egyptian writer Adel Esmat was awarded the 2016 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for his novel Hikayât Yûsuf Tadrus (The Tales of Yusuf Tadrus). Born in the Gharbiya Governorate of Egypt in 1959, he graduated in philosophy from the Faculty of Arts of Cairo’s Ain Shams University in 1984. He holds a higher degree in library science from the University of Tanta and works as a library specialist in the Egyptian Ministry of Education.
Tell us about your winning novel Tale of Yusuf Tadros: what is the story about?
In his moving acceptance address on 12 December Esmat told the audience of distinguished guests at the Mahfouz award ceremony: “Writing became an essential exercise.”
In this interview he shares some thoughts on his numerous imaginary conversations with Naguib Mahfouz, his sources of creativity, and his convictions.
What does it mean to you to have won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature?
The significance of the medal is huge for me and my address expresses just how and why it is so important. To have my name associated with the Egyptian Nobel laureate is beyond great.
You never met Naguib Mahfouz but you say you have had many imaginary conversations with him. If he had been at your award ceremony, what would you have told him?
We would have gone to the ahwa (the coffee shop) and talked about whatever we had on our minds. I value him immensely and converse with him inside my head because he is the only one who allows for an open dialogue. During my years at the University of Tanta, I used to have mental conversations with Mahfouz about the streets, Sayed el-Badawy, almost everything. But we never met in real life.