Miral al-Tahawy Wins 2010 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature
Egyptian writer Miral al-Tahawy received the 2010 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for her novel Brooklyn Heights during last month’s 15th Award Ceremony held at the AUC Downtown Cultural Center. (To view photographs of the event, click here).
Presented by AUC President David Arnold, the award was decided unanimously by the members of the Award Committee, including Samia Mehrez, Hoda Wasfy, Fakhri Saleh, Gaber Asfour, Mohamed Berrada, and Mark Linz, AUC Press Director.
In the award announcement address, Mehrez said of the 2010 winner: “Like Naguib Mahfouz, Miral al-Tahawy thoroughly understands that writing is linked to a specific place, because place implies time, history, society, and human relations.”
The protagonist in Brooklyn Heights is Hind, a once rebellious child with roots in a traditional Bedouin tribe, who as a betrayed and abandoned young Egyptian wife, goes to the United States with hardly any English to teach Arabic and moves into a room in the Brooklyn area with her eight-year son. Each chapter of the book dwells on one particular place in Brooklyn Heights. As she discovers its diverse neighborhoods, they conjure up parallel memories, characters, and incidents from her childhood and her home country.
Committee member and distinguished Egyptian critic Gaber Asfour, who prior to the award ceremony gave the annual Naguib Mahfouz Memorial Lecture entitled “The Development of the Arabic Novel” in his citation for the award said: “Brooklyn Heights is an exceptional account of the relationship between East and West specifically since it steers away from the conventional renditions of this relationship and strives to construct the similarities between the undertrodden at home and in the host country.”
The AUC Press sponsored award ceremony at Oriental Hall was attended by award committee members, writers, translators, and other distinguished personalities of Egyptian cultural life, including members of the Mahfouz family.
During her acceptance remarks, al-Tahawy told the audience: “Writing granted me the bliss of discovery, of dreams, and of the search for wider horizons of self-realization.”
Brooklyn Heights, published by Merit in Arabic last year, has also been included in the shortlist for the 2010 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, known as the Arabic Booker.
As part of the Naguib Mahfouz award, al-Tahawy received a silver medal, a cash prize of US$1,000, and the English translation and publication of her novel that is scheduled for 2011, simultaneously in Cairo, New York, and London.
Born in the Egyptian Delta into a Bedouin family of the al-Hanadi tribe, al-Tahawy is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and director of the Arabic program at Appalachian State University in the United States. She is also the author of The Tent(AUC Press, 1998), Blue Aubergine (AUC Press, 2006), and Gazelle Tracks (AUC Press, 2009).
The AUC Press established the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 1996, in the name of the late internationally-acclaimed Egyptian writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988 and passed away in August 2006.
The Medal for Literature, awarded for the best contemporary novel published in Arabic (but not yet in English), is selected every fall by the Mahfouz Award Committee and is presented annually on December 11, the birthday of Naguib Mahfouz. Last year marked the Nobel laureate’s 99th birthday.
Previous winners of the Mahfouz Medal include nine Egyptians, two Palestinians, one Lebanese, one Algerian, one Moroccan, one Syrian, and one Iraqi.