Egyptian Iman Mersal wins Sheikh Zayed Literature Award - Full List

Mohammed Saad , Thursday 22 Apr 2021

Winners of the 2021 Sheikh Zayed Book Awards will receive a gold medal, a certificate of merit and a prize of AED 750,000 each ($204,000)

Zayed Book Award
Winners of the Sheikh Zayed Book Awards

The Sheikh Zayed Book Award has revealed the winners of its 15th edition for 2021 in eight categories.

Egyptian author Iman Mersal won the literature award for her novel Fee Athar Enayat Al Zayyat (In the Footsteps of Enayat Al-Zayyat), while Egyptian researcher Saeed El-Masry was awarded the Development of Nations Award for his book Turath al Este'la Bayn al Folklore wal Majal al Dini (The History of Arrogance: Between Faith & Folklore).

The 15th edition of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award is the largest in its history in terms of the number of nominations, receiving a total of 2,349 entries across its nine categories this year, a 23 percent increase compared to the previous edition.

Winners of other categories will receive a gold medal, a certificate of merit and a prize of AED 750,000 each ($204,000)

The full list of the 2020 Sheikh Zayed Book Award winners is as follows:


Fee Athar Enayat Al Zayyat (In the Footsteps of Enayat Al-Zayyat) by Egyptian writer Iman Mersal (Al Kotob Khan Library 2019).

The book is based upon the life of the Egyptian writer of the 1960s who died in 1963 four years before her only novel was published. Already published in multiple editions in Arabic the book has been described as ‘a source of inspiration for women trying to know their identity, who want to understand the roots of the reality that surrounds them to that they can define their choices in it.’  A poet, translator and novelist, Mersal’s work has been translated into 22 languages.  How to Mend: Motherhood and Its Ghosts is available in English from Seagull books.

Young Author

Young author award went to Saudi author Dr. Asma Muqbil Awad Alahmadi, for her critical study of Saudi women writers, Eshkalyat Al Thaat Al Saredah Fee Al Rwayah Al Nesaayah Al Saudiah (The Problems of the Narrated Self in the Saudi Feminist Novel (1999 – 2012) (Arab Scientific Publishers Inc, 2020).  The book charts the remarkable growth of women writers in Saudi Arabia, the portrayal of women in Saudi fiction, and key themes such as identity, belonging, and women’s struggle for self-realisation.   The author describes how these novels broke the passive stereotype of women, ‘emerging from silence into action and influence’.   The judges noted how these women’s novels have become ‘a platform where women are in charge of telling their story, exploring the inner self, and exercising their right to freedom of expression and independence.’  

Children’s Literature

Children literature award was handed to Rehlat Fannan (An Artist's Journey) by Tunisian author Mizouni Bannani (Dar Al Mua'nasa Publishing, 2020). In the book, for children of 9+, birds can speak as they fly across and through the world, taking readers on a journey with wings of imagination. The judges described how the book ‘is rich in imagery and proceeds slowly but excitingly, and is infused with imagination.’

Publishing & Technology

Publishing & Technology was awarded to Dar Al Jadeed, Lebanon. This publishing house was founded in Beirut in 2000 by late Lebanese writer and translator Lokman Slim and Rasha al Ameer with a unique focus on long-forgotten topics in Arab publishing.  The judges noted the company’s poetry collections and anthologies of leading Arab poets, and praised its innovative new editions of classic works, its literary and intellectual ambition, and commitments to nurturing young and emerging writers.

Arab Culture in Other Languages Award

Arab Culture in Other Languages Award was awarded to Arabic Oration: Art and Function by US researcher Tahera Qutbuddin (Brill Publishers, 2019). The book explores how Oratory, together with the Qur’an and poetry, was foundational in the earliest Arabic literary tradition. The judges praised the writer's ‘exceptional familiarity with classical Arabic literature and her firm grasp on oral tradition studies and theories [which] have enabled her to clearly articulate the various aspects of oration: structure, style, types, and function (religious, political, intellectual, social or military.


Translation award was handed to Impostures by Al-Hariri, translated from Arabic to English by US translator Michael Cooperson (Library of Arabic Literature in 2020). Cooperson describes how Impostures was ‘arguably one of the most popular works of fiction in pre-modern Arabic’, relating the adventures of the eloquent vagabond Abu Zayd.  The judges praised ‘a bold, mature and innovative approach to translation that enabled Michael Cooperson to understand Maqamat Al-Hariri more intimately than anyone else, and to appreciate it as a treasure of Arab heritage. Cooperson has remarkably transferred the sentiments, ideas and expressions wholesale into English, even with a difficult work that is heavily reliant on a rhyme scheme.’

Literary and art criticism

Literary and art criticism was awarded to: Massar al Tahdeeth fil Funoon al Tashkeeliyya men al Ursooma ela al Lawhah (The Evolution of Art from Doodle to Painting) by Tunisian researcher Khelil Gouia, (Mohammad Ali Publishing House, 2020). This book is an exploration of Tunisian art history since the emergence of the ‘Ursooma’, which is a form of Islamic art based on painting on glass, all the way to the painting in the contemporary sense of the world, which emerged in the early 20th century.

Development of Nations Award

Development of Nations was awarded to Turath al Este'la Bayn al Folklore wal Majal al Dini (The History of Arrogance: Between Faith & Folklore) by Egyptian researcher Saeed El-Masry (Batana Publishing & Distribution in 2019.  The book explores roots of this phenomenon in folklore as well as in political Islam groups that have stoked the spirit of arrogance in political participation in a manner that contributed to the spread of extremism, hate and sectarianism

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