In a move that has ignited a storm of protest, the Frankfurt Book Fair recently decided to revoke a prestigious literary award set to be presented to Adania Shibli, a Palestinian-born writer.
The decision to cancel the honor, intended for Shibli's novel "Minor Detail," has prompted Inizjamed, PEN Malta, and the HELA Foundation to raise their voices in condemnation.
Scheduled for presentation on October 20, the award in question is the LiBeraturpreis, given by the LitProm association. This German literary accolade is presented annually to writers from regions including Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Arab world. It is a prominent feature of the Frankfurt Book Fair, one of the world's largest gatherings of the publishing industry.
Adania Shibli, a prolific author, has penned novels, plays, short stories, and narrative essays. Her notable works include "Touch" and "We Are All Equally Far from Love," which both received the Qattan Young Writer's Award-Palestine. Shibli's most recent novel, "Minor Detail," was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2020 and nominated for the International Booker Prize in 2021. The German edition, "Eine Nebensache," was published by Berenberg Verlag in 2022.
The decision to revoke Adania Shibli's award, citing the current situation in Gaza and Israel, has drawn widespread criticism. Inizjamed, PEN Malta, and the HELA Foundation assert that the cancellation is not only an injustice but also a breach of the fundamental right to freedom of speech. The organizations contend that literature, once deemed worthy of recognition, should not be altered due to changing political circumstances. In their joint statement, they echo PEN Berlin's sentiment, which firmly believes that "no book becomes different, better, worse or more dangerous because the news situation changes... to withdraw the prize from her would be fundamentally wrong, from a political as well as a literary standpoint."
LitProm association, which administers the award, hailed Shibli's "Minor Detail" as a "rigorously composed work of art that tells of the power of borders and of what violent conflicts make of people." This award is intended to honor women writers from the Global South for their newly published works in the German language. However, the controversy surrounding this year's award has been exacerbated by the ongoing conflicts in Gaza, including the bombings that began in October.
Adania Shibli's writing work shines a spotlight on the experiences of Palestinians subjected to violence within an oppressive and discriminatory system.
As the controversy surrounding the revocation of Adania Shibli's award rages on, the authors of the press release want it to serve as a stark reminder of the importance of preserving the integrity of literature and the freedom of expression, especially in the face of ongoing conflicts that demand more, not less, of these powerful voices and stories. The injustice suffered by Shibli calls into question the moral compass of those who would stifle her work in a time when her voice is needed most.