The American University in Cairo Press announced yesterday Palestinian author Sahar Khalifeh, winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for her work
Sura wa ayquna wa ahdun qadim (An Image, an Icon, and an Ancient Covenant).
The press conference preceding the award ceremony marked the end of a week-long commemoration of Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz that opened last Sunday with the first annual Naguib Mahfouz Memorial lecture given by the South American Nadine Gordimer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.
The AUC press has been presenting these awards for the past 13 years to authors from different regions of the Middle East. The winning work is then translated into a number of languages, and distributed all over the world in an attempt to amplify foreign awareness of these books and the issues that they tackle.
Even though only 13 authors have won this award, their work has reached hundreds of readers, said one member of the judges’ panel to highlight the importance of translation.
He added: The books which we have chosen from the previous years represent diversity on many different levels. They were written by different authors in different environments, who discuss different topics. The result is a rich and diverse collection of works with different linguistics and structure. The high quality of all the works is the only common link between them.
Khalifeh s book is about the Occupied Territories in Palestine. In it she has attempted to encompass all the different facets of the invasion, whether social, political or economic.
According to an AUC Press news release, Khalifeh posits the difficult and complex Palestinian question through the unconventional characters whose search for existential answers remain outside the bounds of politics: through the love and bitterly aborted human relations.
At the conference Khalifeh explained how she was able to write so potently about issues that she did not experience first hand.
She said: I tried to capture what was happening [in Palestine] in a fresh way. People have told me that since I have not experienced what I have written about, then my story lacks plausibility. However does an author who writes a murder novel mean that he has engaged in murder himself? People have told me of their experience and I took these experiences and turned them inward in an attempt to feel them myself. After all isn’t that what an artist has to do? I attempted to take in their experience, and turn their emotions into my words.