Yesterday, Syrian writer Khalil Sweileh received the 14th Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for his novel Warraq al-Hubb (The Scribe of Love) in a grand celebration at the American University in Cairo (AUC).
The award ceremony took place in AUC’s Oriental Hall and was attended by several Egyptian writers and previous recipients of the award, members of the Mahfouz family, and many distinguished personalities from Cairo’s cultural and publishing scene.
The decision to award Sweileh the award was taken unanimously by members of the committee, which includes: Samia Mehrez, Abdel Moneim Tallima, Hoda Wasfy, Fakhri Saleh, Gaber Asfour, Mohamed Berrada and Mark Linz, director of AUC Press. When presenting the award, the judges described Warraq al-Hubb as a "truly intelligent novel" and Sweilah as a "storyteller who commands the art of narrative and intertextuality without ever losing sight of the core of his text."
The highlight of the ceremony was a lecture by the distinguished Egyptian scholar and critic Rashid el-Enany, who discussed the topic of Arab intellectuals and the West.
The English translation of Warraq al-Hubb is scheduled for publication in 2010 by the American University in Cairo Press, and will be simultaneously released in Cairo, New York and London.
Upon receiving the award, Sweileh delivered a beautiful speech rich with literary references that ended with the moving words, "I conjure up the image of the little boy that I was in a village on the edge of the desert, living in a mud brick house with no books except for the Holy Quran. One sizzling summer day, I found a tattered book by the hearth. Perhaps my mother had bought it to feed the fire. The book had no cover so I read its title on the first page, Abath al-Aqdar (Khufu’s Wisdom) by a writer unknown to me at the time, Naguib Mahfouz. Today, I no longer recall the contents of the novel but perhaps it was Naguib Mahfouz who led me to my fateful doom. And perhaps the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature will once more place me in front of an open goal – I, the unprepared and utterly terrified goalkeeper."
AUC Press also announced the English publication of two novels by Naguib Mahfouz, "The Mirage" (translated by Roger Allen) and "Before the Throne" (translated by Raymond Stock).
The award consists of a silver medal and a cash prize of $1000 is annually presented on December 11, the birthday of Naguib Mahfouz.
AUC Press, which established the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 1996, has been the primary publisher of English translations of Naguib Mahfouz’s work for more than 20 years. It has also published some 500 foreign language editions of the Nobel Laureate’s works in 40 languages around the world since the author won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988.