Monday, 26 May 2014

The Iraqi Christ wins the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim, has won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Iraqi Christ is a collection of short stories that explore Iraq’s recent past, sensitively translated from the original Arabic by Jonathan Wright.

Publication of The Iraqi Christ was made possible by English PEN. Each year English PEN highlights global writing of exceptional literary merit and courage. It awards grants to fund both the promotion and translation costs of books from around the world to ensure they reach English-speaking readers

UK-based publisher Comma Press received a PEN Writers in Translation award in 2012 for The Iraqi Christ. Blasim’s previous collection of short stories, The Madman of Freedom Squarealso received a PEN award in 2009.

A poet, filmmaker and short-story writer, Blasim is the first Arab author to receive the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Iraqi Christ is also the first short-story collection to win the award.

A censored version of The Madman of Freedom Square was printed and published in Lebanon. The book was banned in Jordan, and refused display at book fairs in several Arab countries. The Iraqi Christ is yet to be published in its original Arabic. Hassan Blasim commented: ‘I now publish most of my stories and poems online and I have started thinking about publishing everything I write on the net in order to be done with the matter of censorship.’

Maureen Freely, president of English PEN said: ‘At English PEN we support work in translation on the basis of its literary merit. Where writers are marginalised, demonised, or suppressed, we do our best to rescue their words from oblivion. We do not seek prizes or fat sales, and there are days when we feel as tired as Sisyphus, but on days like today, when we see that one of our very favourite authors receiving recognition, it all seems worth it!’

Ra Page, publisher at Comma Press said: ‘Winning this award is an extraordinary vindication for everything English PEN does to support writers from the margins, and to give voice to authors who might otherwise remain unheard. Hassan's work is the perfect example of how the experiences of Iraqis, and of refugees generally, have to be smuggled in through extraordinary routes.'

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is administered by The Independent, a daily  newspaper in the UK. See here for the paper’s coverage of Hassan Blasim’s victory.