Egyptian author, Ihab Abdel-Hamid has won the Yusuf Idris short stories competition for his collection, "Hawaiian Shirt", published in 2010 by Dar Merit. This annual award, presented by the Supreme Council for Culture, is given to an Arab novelist (under 40 years old) for short story collections and comes with a prize of LE25, 000 (about $4,700).
The winner was awarded the prize in an event held yesterday, 6 December, attended by Emad Abu-Ghazi, the secretary-general of the council and a host of writers and members of the committee, headed by Khairy Shalay (a famous Egyptian novelist).
Abdel-Hamid was born in 1977 and has previously published a novel "Loser Lovers", and was a winner of the Naguib Sawiris award in 2007. In addition, he translated "Sex in History" by Reay Tannahill, published in two parts by Dar Merit. His first collection of short stories was "Selling Sadness" in 1998.
Shalaby described the winning collection, "Hawaiian Shirt" as special in its dependency on details in a particular situation or individual portrayed. This build-up stirs the reader's emotions and uncovers hidden aspects of the characters. "`It reveals a writer who is well aware of what he's writing and where to stop, expressing himself in minimal words, careful to diversify the details without losing the line of the story, capturing each instant of storytelling with great talent and using different narrative methods that can create a pure image," Shalaby said.
The “Hawaiian Shirt" collection has nine stories, including "Thirst", "Die", "The Writer","Cairo"."The Poor Girl and the Chimpanzee", “Children's Story", "Conference of the Aafriicaan Saaamit" among others, mostly occurring in unrealistic conditions which pose questions about the meaning of life, using sarcasm with political connotations and a Kafkan tendency to focus on the daily life of the protagonist.
Abdel-Hamid spoke of his happiness to Ahram Online saying "I'm very pleased to win a prize in the name of Yusuf Idris, who was one of the most notable story-tellers in the Arab world. In addition to the money, the value comes from the esteemed selection committee, which includes representatives from different generations of literary writing including Yusuf El-Ka'ed, Hala El-Badry and critics Hussein Hamouda and Yousry Abdalla."
He pointed out that his collection was written over five years, from 2005 to 2010, affirming "Despite my passion for novels and winning the Sawiris Award, my love of short stories has never ended and while everyone hailed the age of novels, I have never stopped writing short stories. I write with the pleasure of reading in mind,” he declared.
The selection committee included Khairy Shalaby, Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid, Abul-Maati Abul-Naga, Samy Soliman, Yusuf El-Sharony, Yusuf El-Ka'ed, Said El-Kafrawy, Hala El-Badry, Yousry Abdalla, and Amany Fouad. They said that they chose the collection because of the writer's capacity to demonstrate the uselessness of life and essential nothingness from a critical point of view through different imagery with his use of modern narrative, expressing the reality through art and creating pictures of characters somewhere between insanity and hell.
The collection competed with four others on the short-list from a total of 36 collections. The short-listed works were "The Blind Spot" by Asmaa Shehab El-Deen, "A Distant Waiting Balcony," by Lebanese Basma El-Khateeb, "Before the sea knows its name" by Mohamed El-Fakharany and "Radio Ghosts" by Mohamed Kheir.
The award is named after the leader of short stories in Egypt, Yusuf Idris (1927-1990), whose first collection "Cheap Nights" was considered a revolution in story-telling. His other work, including “The Caller" and "House of Flesh", gained great respect in the field of Egyptian literature,
Previous winners of the Yusuf Idris award were Mohamed Ibrahim Taha, Soliman El-Moamary from Oman and last year’s winner, the Syrian, Samer El-Shamaly.
This award is different from the story committee's award worth LE100, 000 ($18,000), given bi-annually for the entire set of collections of an author.