Syrian writer Khalil Sweileh received this year’s Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for his novel “Warrak Al-Hub (The Scribe of Love) in an awards ceremony at the American University in Cairo in the presence of the jury, AUC Press President Mark Linz, the AUC Provost and an audience of journalists, writers and artists.
Sweileh was presented with a silver medal bearing the image of Mahfouz, a cash prize of $1,000 and an English translation and publication of his book by the AUC Press.
Announcing the award, jury member Samia Mehrez said, “The crafty narrator of ‘Warrak Al-Hub’ seduces his readers through multiple narrative ruses into the labyrinth of writing, where they finally discover that they were not reading a novel but rather a novel about writing a novel.
Sweileh’s literary career started with a poetry collection published in 1982. His first novel, “The Scribe of Love, was published in 2002 and was followed by “Express Mail, “Do Not Blame Me, and “Zuhur, Sara, and Nariman. Sweileh is currently the editor-in-chief of the Syrian Tishrin Cultural Supplement.
Talking about the difficulties a modern author faces, Sweileh said in his award reception speech, “[.] at this moment of global savagery the writer finds himself a prisoner of hegemonic narrative and visual scenes that blind him with their technical glitter, leading him to write a fragmented and hybrid text, a mish-mash of indigenous foundational sources, borrows ones stamped with the glamour of dominant western literary conventions, and media propagation of a modern language register that lacks authentic depth.
The literary struggle that modern Arab authors experience between the appreciation of Arab traditions and the Western cultural models was also the subject of the annual memorial lecture given this year by Rasheed El-Eenany, a Naguib Mahfouz expert and Arab literature professor at the University of Exeter in Britain.
At the ceremony, the winner of the medal for last year, Hamdi Abu Galeel, was presented with the first English-language copy of his book “Al-Fa’il just published by the AUC press. Sweileh’s book will be published simultaneously in Cairo, London and New York in 2010.
The Medal for Literature was established 13 years ago to promote modern Arab literature and its distribution abroad. The award is given out annually on Mahfouz’s birthday, December 11, to a book that has not been translated in English yet. Mahfouz witnessed nine award celebrations before he passed away; this year he would have been 98.
Nine Egyptians, two Syrians, two Palestinians, an Algerian, a Moroccan and an Iraqi have won the award up until now. The former recipients of the award are: Ibrahim Abdel Meguid for “The Other Place and Latifa Al-Zayyat for “The Open Door in 1996; Mourid Barghouti for “I Saw Ramallah and Yusuf Idris for “City of Love and Ashes in 1997.
Ahlam Mosteghanemi won for “Memory in the Flesh in 1998; Edward Al-Kharrat for “Rama and the Dragon in 1999; Hoda Barakat for “The Tiller of Waters in 2000; Somaya Ramadan for “Leaves of Narcissus in 2001.
Bensalem Himmich was awarded for “The Polymath in 2002; Khairy Shalaby for “The Lodging House in 2003; Alia Mamdouh for “The Loved Ones in 2004; Yusuf Abu Rayya for “Wedding Night in 2005; Sahar Khalifeh for “The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant in 2006; Amina Zaydan for “Red Wine in 2007; Hamdi Abu Galeel for “A Dog with No Tail in 2008.