On March 31, during an online ceremony, AUC Press announced the award of the 2021 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature to the Algerian writer Ahmed Taibaoui for his novel The Disappearance of Mr. Nobody (Ikhtifa’ al-Sayyid La Ahad).
The virtual award ceremony, hosted by Suzan Kenawy, AUC Press Marketing Manager, via Zoom, was attended by shortlisted authors, publishers, members of the award committee, AUC Press director Michael Duckworth, and other distinguished cultural figures in Egypt.
Presented by Francis Ricciardone, President of the American University in Cairo, the award was decided by the members of the award committee: Shereen Abouelnaga (chair), literary critic and professor of English and comparative literature at Cairo University; Humphrey Davies, award-winning translator of Arabic literature into English; Thaer Deeb, translator, writer, and critic; Samah Selim, translator and associate professor of Arabic language and literature at Rutgers University in the US; and Hebba Sherif, writer, literary critic, and cultural consultant.
In their citation for the award, the judges said of The Disappearance of Mr. Nobody that “the twenty-first century leaves us with no other choice but to celebrate the marginalized. It is the hell that looks over the city wherein there is entrenched patriarchy instead of the search for an absent parenthood, madness instead of reason, entrapment instead of a desire for liberation. . . . Despite these glaring juxtapositions, which inhabit the city’s space and form its margins and means of marginalization, all the characters remain, shockingly, “Mr. Nobody.”
The judges went on to remark that “Ahmed Taibaoui’s novel reverberates with echoes of Algeria’s violent past, from the struggle against colonialism to the civil war and all that has followed. . . . Out of the [novel’s] somber and intense style, vivid characters emerge. This is a novel of unpleasant truths. . . . All of this within a framework that imbues the novel with the feel of exciting and suspenseful detective fiction, and using a deft narrative style that does not conceal its writer’s intelligence and creativity.”
They concluded, “Taibaoui plays with the poetics of noir fiction to offer a bleak and haunting critique of the postcolonial Arab State and its myths. . . . Despite the novel’s darkness, its satirical language—at once both concise and poetic—and its well-crafted plot, which draws on police-fiction elements, compel the reader to read it to the end, only to discover that almost all the characters are “Mr. Nobody.”
The Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature was established by the American University in Cairo Press in 1996 and is awarded to the best contemporary novel published in Arabic in the previous two years. The winning novel is selected by the five jury members who make up the Mahfouz Award Committee.
The award, recognized as a major contribution in support of contemporary Arabic literature in translation, consists of a cash prize of $5,000, as well as translation into English and publication under AUC Press’s fiction imprint, Hoopoe.
Ahmed Taibaoui was born in Algeria, in 1980. He holds a BA in Business Administration from the University of Algiers, and obtained his masters and doctoral degrees in Business Administration from the University of Blida, Algeria. He began his career as a teacher and he is currently an assistant professor of economics and business administration at the University of Bouira, Algeria.
In 2011 Taibaoui was awarded the President of the Republic of Algeria’s first prize for Young Creatives for his novel al-Maqam al-‘Ali and the Tayeb Salih International Award for Written Creativity (2014) for his novel Mawt na‘im.
The Disappearance of Mr. Nobody (Ikhtifa’ al- Sayyid La Ahad) is his fourth novel after his novel Mudhakkarat min watan akhar, which was published in 2015.
Taibaoui currently resides in Bouira, Algeria, with his wife and two children.
The 2021 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature Shortlist
On February 8, 2021, for the first time since the award was established, AUC Press announced a shortlist for the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature. These six shortlisted titles were chosen from 270 novels submitted from across the Arab world and diaspora.
(From left to right: Ahmed Taibaoui (Algeria): The Disappearance of Mr. Nobody; Amal Radwan (Egypt): In The Dust Cities; Algarby Omran (Yemen): The Fort of al-Zidi; Maha Hassan (Syria): The Neighborhood of Wonder; Mohammad Aly Ibrahim (Egypt): The Stone in Khallaf’s House; Omar Taher (Egypt): Kohl and Caramom)
Click here to read more about the authors and their novels.
The Naguib Mahfouz Medal winners
The 25 winners of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature since its inauguration include 10 women, 15 men; 12 Egyptians (2 posthumously), 3 Palestinians, 2 Algerian, 2 Lebanese, 1 Moroccan, 2 Syrians, 1 Iraqi, 1 Sudanese, and 1 Saudi Arabian.
2021: Ahmed Taibaoui, The Disappearance of Mr. Nobody
2018: Omaima Al-Khamis, The Book Smuggler (forthcoming)
2017: Huzama Habayeb, Velvet
2016: Adel Esmat, Tales of Yusuf Tadrus
2015: Hassan Daoud, No Road to Paradise
2014: Hammour Ziada, The Longing of the Dervish
2013: Khaled Khalifa, No Knives in the Kitchens of This City
2012: Ezzat El Kamhawi, House of the Wolf
2011: The Revolutionary Literary Creativity of the Egyptian People
2010: Miral al-Tahawy, Brooklyn Heights
2009: Khalil Sweileh, Writing Love
2008: Hamdi Abu Golayyel, A Dog with No Tail
2007: Amina Zaydan, Red Wine
2006: Sahar Khalifeh, The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant
2005: Yusuf Abu Rayya, Wedding Night
2004: Alia Mamdouh, The Loved Ones
2003: Khairy Shalaby, The Lodging House
2002: Bensalem Himmich, The Polymath
2001: Somaya Ramadan, Leaves of Narcissus
2000: Hoda Barakat, The Tiller of Waters
1999: Edwar al-Kharrat, Rama and the Dragon
1998: Ahlam Mosteghanemi, Memory in the Flesh
1997: Mourid Barghouti, I Saw Ramallah, and Yusuf Idris, City of Love and Ashes
1996: Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, The Other Place; and Latifa al-Zayyat, The Open Door