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Sheikha Helawy. Credit: Sophi Shaar

Fatima Rawan hosts the Institute’s first online Alexandria Poetry Declamation Prize

The Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies celebrates 28 years of the Alexandria Poetry Declamation Prize by running the competition online for the first time. The competition promotes Arabic language, literature and culture amongst undergraduate students of Arabic at the University of Exeter and we are hoping to take it beyond the IAIS in the coming years.

The Alexandria Poetry Declamation Prize was founded in 1993 by Justin Goad, who set it up with Jack Smart who was a lecturer at the IAIS at the time. Justin himself graduated with a degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter in 1988. Justin believes that learning poetry is like a passport a language learner can carry with them and would generate a lot of respect amongst native speakers of Arabic.

Our guest judge this year was esteemed Palestinian poet, author and educator Sheikha Helawy. Helawy’s literary work has been translated to Hebrew, English, German, French and Bulgarian. It includes two collections of poetry and three collections of short stories. Her collection “The Order C345” is the winner of the best short story award in the Arab World 2019-2020. The short story “The Braid” has been chosen for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions 2020 by Sonder Press.

Sheikha joined the event from Jaffa, where she lives and concluded the event by reading poems from her 2015 collection “Outside the Seasons I Learned to Fly”. The audience were also treated to a reading from her forthcoming collection of poems.

The guest judges were joined by IAIS judges Fatima Rawan, Giorgia Ferrari and Safaa Radoan to select winners of the first three prizes. Participants were all praised by judges on their outstanding performance. The first prize was won by Alex Astley for his recital of “The Talisman” by Elia Abu Madi. The second and third prizes went to Freya Insoll and Tamzin Sharzad respectively for their recitals of poems by Nizar Qabbani and Mahmoud Darwish. Harry Long won the prize for best performance by a first-year student on his recital of Al-Hallaj’s “I Saw My Lord”.

The event is a celebration of cultures embracing what unites us as humans through poetry. We hope that taking the prize online will open new doors to widening the scope of participation beyond the IAIS to reach national and global levels.

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Date: 28 April 2021