Hammour Ziada has become the first Sudanese writer to win the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature.
The American University in Cairo Press announced today the award of the 2014 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature to the Sudanese writer Hammour Ziada for his novel Shawq al-darwish (The Longing of the Dervish).
‘It is a great honor for me to win the Mahfouz Medal because I am the first Sudanese to get it,’ said Ziada upon receiving the award.
In their citation, the judges of the Award Committee described The Longing of the Dervish as “an intricate love story of a Sudanese slave in the world of the Mahdist movement in nineteenth-century Sudan.” This year’s committee members comprised Tahia Abdel Nasser, Shereen Abouelnaga, Mona Tolba, Humphrey Davies, and Rasheed El-Enany.
They praised not only the author’s ‘wide-ranging palette of characters and events’ but also the range and dexterity of Ziada’s writing: ‘Shawq al-darwish is characterized by an epic richness that courses through the narrative, not only on the level of the complexity of the character of the tragic hero, but also on the level of the multiplicity of the modes of discourse: marvelously and richly alternating between narrative, poetry, songs, folklore, historical documents, Sufi and church hymns, Quranic and Biblical verses, and even writing about writing.’
Ziada’s novel tells the tale of a Sudanese slave, Bekhit Mandil, and his partner, Theodora, a Greek Alexandrian, set against the background of brutal power struggles from the time of the Mahdi revolution to the fall of Khartoum. The love story is the driving force of Ziada’s historical narrative in which he explores sobering themes such as revenge, slavery, and imprisonment, but also betrayal, religious hypocrisy, and racism. ‘In its illustration of the devastation caused by the Mahdi uprising, a fanatical, extremist, and violent religious movement, Shawq al-darwish is a powerful statement on the current scene in the region where religious extremism is causing havoc,’ added the committee in their citation.
The ceremony, which took place in AUC’s Oriental Hall on the Tahrir Square Campus, began with an address by Dr. Tahia Abdel Nasser, and was followed by Ziada’s acceptance speech, where he paid tribute to the rich heritage of his native Sudan: ‘What the novel Shawq al-darwish attempted to present is part of the stories of the country of ‘the men with burnt faces.’ Stories of their sufferings, dreams, ambitions, defeats, history, and legends.’
Ziada, who moved to Cairo in 2009, studied information technology and computer science. He worked as a civil society and human rights researcher, then as a journalist, writing for Ajras al-hurriya, al-Mustaqilla, al-Jarida, and al-Yawm al-tali. He was also responsible for the publication of the Cultural Section of al-Akhbar al-sudaniya. His other published works are Sira Umm Durmaniya (short stories, 2008), al-Kung (novel, 2010), and al-Nawm ‘ind qadamay al-jabal (short stories, 2014).
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 twenty-five 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.
Last year, I.B.Tauris Publishers took control of handling sales and distribution for all AUC Press publications worldwide (excluding North America and Egypt). ■