Established in 2006 in Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award (SZBA), often referred to as the “Arab world’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize,” is named after the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan—himself a great lover of poetry and literature. The award is unique in the world of awards insofar as it honors a wide variety of literary and publishing professionals including authors, translators, publishers, and organizations across a broad range of categories, including Arabic Culture in Other Languages, Translation (either to or from Arabic), Publishing and Technology, Contribution to the Development of Nations, and Literature (Children’s, Literary and Art Criticism), among others.
This year’s award—the winners of which have already been announced—will be presented at a ceremony at the Louvre Abu Dhabi this week, as part of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
Over its 16-year history, the SZBA has honored some of the most challenging and exciting work coming out of the Arab world or engaging with its culture. More than 100 individuals and institutions have been honored for their achievements. Winners receive prize money of 750,000 UAE dirhams ($204,000), which is intended to help further foster the winner’s work and propel them to even more achievements.
The top prize, Cultural Personality of the Year, is offered for a person’s contributions to the advancement of Arabic culture and includes an award of one million dirhams ($275,000). The first person to win the award was none other than Denys Johnson-Davies, the famous Arabic-to-English literary translator who was responsible for bringing the work of several prominent Arabic-language authors to the world, including Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, still the only Arabic author to win the Nobel Prize; Lebanese-French author Amin Maalouf in 2016; and Moroccan philosopher and historian Abdallah Laroui in 2017.
Others that have won the prize include the cultural organization UNESCO in 2012 and the Arab World Institute in Paris in 2018, as well as several influential local figures, such as Khalid bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, ruler of the emirate of Sharjah, in 2010 and Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, then ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in 2014.