Iman Mersal

Iman Mersal wins James Tait Black Prize 2024

Iman Mersal’s biography Traces of Enayat, translated by Robin Moger, won the James Tait Black Prize 2024 on Friday, May 17, 2024.

The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes, awarded for literature written in the English language, are Britain’s oldest literary awards. The prizes, based at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, were founded by Janet Coats Black in memory of her late husband, James Tait Black, a partner in the publishing house of A & C Black Ltd in 1919. The awards are given for Fiction and Biographies written in English and published in the previous calendar year each worth £10,000 to the winner.

Some previous winners have been Eimear McBride, D. H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Nadine Gordimer, John le Carré, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, and Darryl Pinckney. Helon Habila and Saidiya Hartman made the shortlist in 2020 while Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and Shola von Reinhold were there in 2021. The prizes are the only major British book awards judged by literature scholars and students.

The biography prize has been awarded jointly for Traces of Enayat by Iman Mersal, translated by Robin Moger, and published by And Other Stories, jointly with Ian Penman. Traces of Enayat illuminates the life story of author Enayat al-Zayyat, whose only novel, Love and Silence was published posthumously following her suicide in her early 20s. First published in Arabic in 2019, Traces of Enayat is a memoir of Mersal’s journey through a changing Cairo as she traces her subject’s moving life story. Egypt-born Iman Mersal, who lives in Canada, is a poet, writer, academic and translator, who has published several works covering topics such as motherhood and parent-child relationships. Robin Moger is an award-winning translator of Arabic literature to English, who has translated several novels and prose works.

Biography Judge Dr Simon Cooke, of the University of Edinburgh, called Traces of Enayat “an absorbing work of recovery and appreciation: formally inventive and reflective in its fusion of biographical approaches into a form all its own, beautifully attentive to the elusive, and deeply moving in its evocation of Enayat al-Zayyat’s life. It vividly opens up the cultural world of Cairo – and Enayat’s relation to it – in a translation of great tonal and narrative integrity, even as the book traverses different forms and registers.”

Iman Mersal said, “It is a great honour to see Traces of Enayat added to the distinguished list of biographies that have received The James Tait Black Prize. I’m especially pleased at this recognition of a work written originally in Arabic, and am deeply grateful to the James Tait Black committee for valuing the art of translation. I share this award with Robin Moger, whose devotion to Arabic literature has made so many wonderful and important books accessible to readers everywhere. My gratitude also goes to our English publisher, And Other Stories, as well as to my Arabic publisher, Al Kotob Khan, for their unwavering support.”

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