The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature
The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature

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The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

About The Prize

Display of 25 of the 29 entries into the 2015 PrizeThe Prize
The Sponsor
The Judges
The Society of Authors
What They Say

The Prize

The prize is an annual award of £3,000, made to the translator(s) of a published translation in English of a full-length imaginative and creative Arabic work of literary merit published after, or during, the year 1967 and first published in English translation in the year prior to the award. 

As the interest in literature from the Arab world increased since the establishment of the prize in 2005, in 2013 the Trust became concerned that the original cut-off point of 35 years for the original Arabic publication would prevent translations of important authors being entered for the only prize in the world for Arabic literary translation. After much discussion the Trustees decided to extend the original Arabic publication date to after, or during, the year 1967, widely recognised as a "watershed" year for Arabic literature. "The date of 1967 . . . one of those historical watersheds that not only divide one historical period from another but also call radically into question the very principles by which literary historical periods and thereby the relationships between present and past, are established in the first place." Roger Allen, in Intertextuality in Modern Arabic Literature after 1967. 2014 marked the change in entry requirements.

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The 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is awarded to Paul Starkey for his translation of the novel The Book of the Sultan's Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha, published by Interlink Books.

Jonathan Wright is commended for his translation of Land of No Rain by Amjad Nasser, published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.

The four judges were Robin Ostle (Chair), Emeritus Research Fellow at St John's College, Oxford; Samira Kawar, literary translator; Alastair Niven, lecturer and writer; and Susannah Tarbush, cultural journalist and blogger. They made their decision on 17 December 2015 at a meeting at the offices of the Society of Authors convened by Paula Johnson, the Administrator of the Translation Prizes.

Twenty-nine entries were received for the 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize (26 novels and 3 collections of poetry). This is the highest number of entries in the history of the prize. Hopefully it is a trend that will continue. Click here for more about the Judges, and here for full report on the winner, commended and the entries, the latter pictured here in a display in the BALMAL Library at the Arab British Centre. 

The 2015 prize was awarded on 17 February, 2015, at Europe House, Smith Square, London, along with the literary translation prizes from Dutch, German, French, Spanish and Swedish, all administered by the UK's Society of Authors.

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The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize aims to raise the profile of contemporary Arabic literature as well as honouring the important work of individual translators in bringing the work of established and emerging Arab writers to the attention of the wider world. It was established by Banipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature in English translation, and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature. The inaugural prize was awarded on 9 October 2006.

The prize is administered by the Society of Authors in the United Kingdom, alongside the other prizes for literary translation from languages that include Dutch, French, German, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. All are administered by the Society and awarded annually at a joint ceremony hosted by the Society and the TLS and supported by Arts Council England.

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Entries are being taken for the 2016 prize until 31 March 2016. For full rules and conditions, and to download an entry form click here. 

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The Sponsor

Omar Saif Ghobash

The Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is wholly sponsored by Omar Saif Ghobash and his family in memory of his father the late Saif Ghobash, and is known as The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.

Fom the United Arab Emirates, Saif Ghobash was passionate about the literature of the Arab world and the literatures of other countries. He loved the world of books, and had his own collection in many different languages which his family has inherited.

“A prize for people who are so dedicated to the power of literature and the power of translation seems so clearly something my father would have supported himself,” said Omar Saif Ghobash, adding: “When I spoke with the other members of our family, they supported the idea immediately – before I could finish my sentence! It is a small but fitting tribute to my father’s memory.”

This Award for Arabic literary translation is the only one in the world for published translation of contemporary Arabic literature into English. 2015 is its tenth year and the continued sponsorship of the Ghobash family is much appreciated. The Banipal Trust looks forward to working keenly with both publishers and translators in the English-speaking world to both encourage and promote the wider translation of contemporary works of literature by Arab authors.


The Society of Authors

The Society of Authors is the administrator of the prize. Founded in 1884 "to protect the rights and further the interests of authors", it has over 7,500 members. Its first president was Alfred Lord Tennyson. Among its members have been many prominent writers, including George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, H G Wells, J M Barrie, John Masefield, E M Forster, A P Herbert, and countless contemporary writers.

Other literary translation prizes administered by the Society are:

  • Scott Moncrieff Prize for French Translation
  • Hellenic Foundation for Culture Award for Greek Translation (triennial)
  • Schlegel-Tieck Prize for German Translation
  • Bernard Shaw Prize for Swedish Translation (triennial)
  • Vondel Prize for Dutch Translation (biennial)
  • Calouste Gulbenkian Prize for Portuguese Translation (triennial)
  • Premio Valle Inclan for Spanish Translation
  • John Florio Prize for Italian Translation (biennial)

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What They Say

It is more important than ever that voices from around the world can be heard in English, so a prize that honours the work of translators from Arabic and also highlights some of the fine Arabic books we can now read is to be greatly welcomed and applauded.

Carole Welch, Publisher, Sceptre

Recognising the work and the talent of translators by placing them side-by-side with recipients of the long-established and prestigious awards such as the Schlegel-Tieck Prize is a vital step towards bringing Arabic literature into the mainstream.
Barbara Schwepke, Publisher, Arabia Books

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What they said about the inaugural prize, presented 9 October 2006 at the British Centre for Literary Translation, University of East Anglia, Norwich.

Winning the Banipal Prize represents for me, primarily, recognition of the novel itself. Gate of the Sun is a work of extraordinary strength that non-Arabic readers need to have available.
Inaugural prizewinner Humphrey Davies

The judges were unanimous in awarding the inaugural Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation to Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun (Harvill Secker), translated by Humphrey Davies. The novel is a monumental achievement, whose translation by Humphrey Davies brilliantly captures the nuances and style of the original.
Maya Jaggi, Judge, Banipal Translation Prize 2006

What impressed me most was the natural poetry in the prose. This – the innate poetry bursting out from even prose writers – is, I think, is one of the great strengths of Arabic language and literature. Needless to say, to convey such delicate poetry to an English readership is also a great achievement by the translators. Elias Khoury's Gate of the Sun, which the judges unanimously declared the winner of the prize, is a haunting book on the Palestinian passion.
Moris Farhi, Judge, Banipal Translation Prize 2006

Gate of the Sun is such an outstanding work that almost anything else was going to have a problem – assuming, of course, that the translation itself is good. And in this case, it’s excellent.
Roger Allen, Judge, Banipal Translation Prize 2006

Since the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to the late Naguib Mahfouz in 1988, the English-language reading world has been made aware that there is a rich store of contemporary writing in Arabic. Good translators have been few and those few need encouragement. Now, thanks to the Banipal Trust and the enlightened generosity of Mohammad Ahmad Al-Sowaidi, Arabic literature in translation is getting the recognition and reward enjoyed by some of the other global literary languages.
Peter Clark, The Banipal Trust for Arab Literature

The literary translator is a lynch-pin in the process of cultural dialogue. Translation between Arabic and English needs to be kept under the spotlight. I support this prize because we believe it is so important for developing dialogue with Arabic culture and literature. Arabic literature needs this prize, this attention. We believe that Banipal and their work provide a real bridge between Arabic culture and language and English language and culture. We are sure that this prize will draw more and more attention in the coming years and are proud to have been here at its beginning.
Mohammad Ahmad Al-Sowaidi, Patron of the Banipal Prize, inaugural year 2006

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And . . . what was said when the prize was established in 2005

The British Centre for Literary Translation welcomes the establishment of a new prize for literary translation from the Arabic. Rarely has the anglophone world been more keen to hear Arab voices sharing their realities, and their fantasies, in their own words. We look forward to reading, learning and enjoying the new books that will now be brought to our attention.

Amanda Hopkinson, then Director of the British Centre for Literary Translation

The Arts Council is very pleased to support the establishment of the Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation. Despite the efforts of Banipal magazine and others, the British public still has little access to literature from the Arab world, which could do so much to promote cross-cultural understanding. We hope that this prize will go some way towards raising the profile of Arabic literature in the UK, encouraging translators to translate more, publishers to publish more and readers to read more.
Kate Griffin, then the International Literature Officer of Arts Council England

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Address for entries: Paula Johnson, Awards Secretary, The Society of Authors, 84 Drayton Gardens, London SW10 9SB, United Kingdom

Entries can only be submitted by publishers.
They can have been published in English anywhere in the world but must be available for purchase in the United Kingdom via a distributor or on-line.
Entries must have been first published in English translation in the year prior to the award. From the 2012 prize, the closing date for entries for each year is 31 March.

See Rules and Conditions

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The winning translation for 2015: The Book of the Sultan's Seal

The winning title for 2015 prize
The Book of the Sultan's Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha, translated by Paul Starkey

Are you a member of our library of modern Arab literature (BALMAL)?

All the 29 entries into the 2015 Saif Ghobash Prize are in the BALMAL library, available for loan to members. Lifetime membership of the library costs just £10 – click here for more details.

To browse online the rich collection of Arab fiction in the BALMAL Library, click here

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A number of the 29 entries into the 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize have been reviewed in issues of BANIPAL magazine.
To read selected book reviews from BANIPAL magazine, posted online, click here

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Society of Authors logo


The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is administered by The Society of Authors

The other 2015 literary translation prizes administered by The Society of Authors are for translation from Dutch, German, French, Spanish and Swedish. For more information on the prizes, click here