The American University in Cairo Press announced today the award of the 2016 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature to the Egyptian writer Adel Esmat for his novel Hikayât Yûsuf Tadrus (The Tales of Yusuf Tadrus). Esmat, who graduated in philosophy from the Faculty of Arts of Ain Shams University, and holds a higher degree in library science from the University of Tanta, works as a library specialist in the Egyptian Ministry of Education. He is the author of a short story collection, Qusasat (Cuttings), and five novels, including Ayam al-nawafidh al-zarqa’ (The Days of Blue Windows), which was awarded the State Prize for the Novel in 2011. His fifth novel Hikayat Yusuf Tadrus (Tales of Yusuf Tadrus) was published in Cairo in 2015 by Al Kotob Khan.Presented by Sherif Sedky, provost of the American University in Cairo, the award was decided by the members of the Award Committee: Tahia Abdel Nasser, professor of English and comparative literature, AUC; Shereen Abouelnaga, professor of English literature, Cairo University; Mona Tolba, associate professor of Arabic literature, Ain Shams University; Humphrey Davies, renowned translator of Arabic fiction, historical and classical texts, AUC and Rasheed El Enany, emeritus professor of modern Arabic literature, University of Exeter. The award ceremony at AUC’s Oriental Hall on the Tahrir Square Campus was attended by many writers and other distinguished personalities of Egyptian cultural life.
In their citation for the award, the judges described Hikayât Yûsuf Tadrus as “a journey in search of light, not undertaken by a Sufi or a priest but by an artist, who does not long for loss of self in light, but strives to capture what flows of its rays and shadows, clusters and spaces, luminosity and dissipation,” and went on to say: “The artistry of the novel is in a Coptic character who lives in Tanta, a small city compared to Cairo or Alexandria, which allows for intensely detailed accumulations of emotions that are trampled by any large city. . . . The intimate glimpse into Egyptian Christian life, rare in Egyptian fiction, is fascinating. . . . This story of a man’s struggle to remain true to his calling as an artist, despite the obstacles, some self-created, that block his path, is absorbing. . . . Esmat evokes the creation and epiphany that belong to any form of art. The tales and self-portraits offer a study of esthetics, the evocation of youth, and the solitude of the artist.”
In his address after receiving the award, Esmat thanked those who selected his novel for the prize and revealed how he got influenced by the life and literary production of Naguib Mahfouz . “Whenever I think of what I went through, in the way that I have presented, I feel it is thanks to the words of Naguib Mahfouz about art as an occupation and art as life, as though they have seeped into my senses, changed to be in harmony with my circumstances, sensibility, and leaning towards solitude.” He added that he became a friend of Naguib Mahfouz though he never met him. “His biography brought him closer to me and was a factor that helped in creating his specters: he was an Egyptian civil servant like me and others, afflicted by woes when his phone breaks down in his apartment in Alexandria and he searches among his acquaintances for someone to help him repair his line. Or when a pipe bursts in his house in Cairo, and he spends his day vexed, and his rigid routine is disrupted. He is close to the heart, his life resembles our own, and his features resemble ours, but he possessed what many of us lack: organization, precision, and patience.”
Esmat noted that each year during the month of his birthday he reads one of his works. “In 2011, I had my own celebration of his centennial. I summoned scenes from his biography and wrote a story entitled “I Saw Naguib Mahfouz,” and I spent the rest of the day in the company of his novel Qushtumur (The Coffeehouse). And now it so happens that my conversation with him takes the form of a real event. There he is, rising beyond his absence, just as he does here each year, saluting me, and conferring upon me his medal which will remain with me for as long as I am here on earth, a souvenir of our conversations, and perhaps the beginning of others.”
At the award ceremony, the AUC Press also celebrated the recent publication of six new paperback editions of Naguib Mahfouz novels (In the Time of Love, Miramar, Before the Throne, Love in the Rain, The Beginning and the End, and The Final Hour), and the launch in Spring 2016 of its new paperback fiction imprint, Hoopoe, and the publication of the first ten titles under the imprint, including two past winners of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, No Knives in the Kitchens of This City by Khaled Khalifa and The Longing of the Dervish by Hammour Ziada.
The AUC Press, which established the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 1996, has been the primary publisher of Naguib Mahfouz’s English-language editions for more than thirty years, and has also been responsible for the publication of some 600 foreign-language editions of the Nobel laureate’s works in more than 40 languages around the world since the author won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. With up to 60 new publications annually and more than 800 titles in print, the AUC Press is recognized as the region’s leading English-language publisher.
Nominations and submissions for the 2017 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature are welcomed at any time until 15 February 2017. Arabic novels published for the first time in 2015 or 2016, and not yet translated into English, are eligible. For details, see “Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature” on aucpress.com.