Egyptian writer Adel Esmat was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature 2016 for his novel Hikayât Yûsuf Tadrus (The Tales of Yusuf Tadrus). The presentation was made at a ceremony in the American University in Cairo’s Oriental Hall on the Tahrir Square Campus.
The Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature is a literary award for Arabic literature given to the best contemporary novel written in Arabic, but not available in English translation. The winning book is then translated into English, and published by American University in Cairo Press. It was first awarded in 1996 and is presented annually on December 11, the birthday of Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, by the President of the American University in Cairo.
The American University in Cairo Press is the primary English-language publisher of Naguib Mahfouz and has published or licensed some 600 foreign-language editions of the Nobel laureate’s works in 40 languages. Previous winners of the award in the past who come all of the Arab speaking world and includes 8 women and 13 men are Hassan Daoud, No Road to Paradise (2015), Hammour Ziada, The Longing of the Dervish (2014), Khaled Khalifa, No Knives in the Kitchens of This City (2013), Ezzat El Kamhawi, House of the Wolf (2012), The Revolutionary Literary Creativity of the Egyptian People (2011), Miral al-Tahawy, Brooklyn Heights (2010), Khalil Sweileh, Writing Love (2009), Hamdi Abu Golayyel, A Dog with No Tail (2008), Amina Zaydan, Red Wine (2007), Sahar Khalifeh, The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant (2006), Yusuf Abu Rayya, Wedding Night (2005), Alia Mamdouh, The Loved Ones (2004), Khairy Shalaby, The Lodging House (2003), Bensalem Himmich, The Polymath (2002), Somaya Ramadan, Leaves of Narcissus (2001), Hoda Barakat, The Tiller of Waters (2000), Edwar al-Kharrat, Rama and the Dragon (1999), Ahlam Mosteghanemi, Memory in the Flesh (1998), Mourid Barghouti, I Saw Ramallah and Yusuf Idris, City of Love and Ashes (1997), Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, The Other Place; and Latifa al-Zayyat, The Open Door (1996).
This year the award was decided by the members of the Award Committee: Dr. Tahia Abdel Nasser, Dr. Shereen Abouelnaga, Dr. Mona Tolba, Dr. Humphrey Davies, and Dr. Rasheed El-Enany. 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.”