At a ceremony held tonight at The American University in Cairo (AUC) Tahrir Square campus, the AUC Press awarded the 2017 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature to the Palestinian writer Huzama Habayeb for her novel Mukhmal (Velvet). Presented by Francis J. Ricciardone, AUC President, the award was decided by the members of the Award Committee: Tahia Abdel Nasser, professor of English and comparative literature, AUC; Shereen Abouelnaga, professor of English literature, Cairo University; Mona Tolba, associate professor of Arabic literature, Ain Shams University; Humphrey Davies, renowned translator of Arabic fiction, historical and classical texts, AUC and Rasheed El Enany, emeritus professor of modern Arabic literature, University of Exeter.
In their citation for the award, the judges described Mukhmal as "a new kind of Palestinian novel. It is not about the political cause, the resistance, the dream of return. It is rather about ordinary Palestinians, whose life goes on meanwhile, unnoticed and unrecorded, in the background, while the high dramas of politics occupy center-stage," and went on to say: "Velvet is distinguished by the richness of its language and its empathy with its subject. Together, these produce a finely-textured description of a life lived in hardship but overflowing with sensibility and grace. . . . The protagonist of this novel is the poetic narration, the skillful words, the flowing images, and the measured prose. You read Velvet as though you are seeing your beautiful language dance and flutter. . . . Hawwa makes from the texture of velvet a motif colored with several connotations to protect her from falling into the abyss of despair and madness. So velvet becomes a goal, a dream, a means, a vision, a history, and a place to live, dream, and hope. . . . Habayeb is an original voice who brings vividly to life Palestinian camps with extraordinary beauty and lyricism."
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 thirty 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. With some 60 new publications annually and more than 700 titles in print, the AUC Press is recognized as the region's leading English-language publisher.