The Mohamed Zafzaf Prize is conferred every three years (alternating with the Tchicaya U Tam’si award for African literature and the Buland al-Haidari prize for young Arab poets, named for the late Kurdish-Iraqi writer).
This year’s winner, Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh, was said by members of the judging committee Thursday to have been awarded the prize for her career as an innovator of the Arabic novel in Palestine and her authorship of many novels which have expressed aspects of the Palestinian issue in diverse ways.
The committee was composed of fellow novelists — Moroccan Ahmed al-Madini, Algerian Wasini al-A’raj, Kuwaiti Ismail Fahd Ismail and Egyptian Abdu Jubair. The Asilah festival was represented by the committee by Secretary General Mohamed Benaissa. Former winners of the prize included Syrian novelist Hanna Mina and, perhaps most famous, Sudanese novelist Tayeb Salih, author of the classic Season of Migration to the North.
Khalifeh, from Nablus, is well-known as an author in Arabic and in translation for tackling issues of Palestinian identity, women’s place in society, and the Israeli occupation. She has published numerous novels and pieces of non-fiction since the 1970s, and also won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal, one of the Arab world’s major literary awards, in 2006.
Amongst Khalifeh’s many novels, a number are available in translation into English, including: The End of Spring (Interlink), The Inheritance (American University in Cairo Press), Of Noble Origins (AUC Press), The Image, the Icon and the Covenant (Interlink) and – perhaps best known – Wild Thorns (Saqi). Excerpts of her earlier work can also be found in Salma Jayyusi’s monumental Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature (Columbia University Press).