Frankfurt Book Fair Postpones Award for Palestinian Author Adania Shibli Amidst Controversy

The 75th Frankfurt Book Fair, set to begin next week, is grappling with the shadow of recent Hamas terror attacks on Israel, which have cast a pall over the literary world. Amidst this backdrop, the award ceremony for Palestinian author Adania Shibli, scheduled to receive the “LiBeraturpreis” from the LitProm association, has been postponed.

Adania Shibli was to accept the prestigious award on October 20 at the Frankfurt Book Fair, an accolade honoring women writers from the Global South for works newly published in German. Shibli’s novel, “Minor Detail,” had garnered critical acclaim, including a shortlisting for the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature and a longlisting for the International Booker Prize.

However, the novel has also faced sharp criticism for what some perceive as serving antisemitic narratives. The Zurich newspaper Tagesanzeiger raised questions about honoring a book that portrays Israel negatively, especially in light of recent events.

The debate surrounding Shibli’s work centers on whether literature that allegedly brings anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments into the cultural scene should be celebrated. Critics argue that the book’s portrayal of Israel as a “killing machine” and the framing of Israeli soldiers as anonymous perpetrators of violence has problematic implications.

Despite the controversy, the LitProm association had initially selected Shibli’s novel for the award, lauding it as a “rigorously composed work of art” that explores the impact of borders and conflicts on people. The decision predates the recent Hamas attacks on Israel, further fueling the book’s controversy.

In consultation with the author, the association has now decided to postpone the award ceremony at the Frankfurt Book Fair due to the ongoing conflict. In a statement, LitProm expressed that “no one feels like celebrating at the moment” given the dire circumstances in the region.

However, the association maintains its intention to award the prize to Adania Shibli’s “Minor Detail,” emphasizing that a book’s worthiness should not be influenced by changing news situations. The decision to withdraw the award would be seen as both politically and literarily misguided, according to PEN Berlin spokeswoman Eva Menasse.

The Frankfurt Book Fair’s director, Juergen Boos, has also expressed solidarity with Israel and condemned the recent terrorist acts by Hamas. The fair aims to promote Jewish and Israeli voices in response to the conflict. Author and peace activist Lizzie Doron will address the ongoing events in Israel at the literature gala, with other events dedicated to Israeli voices. Security precautions are in place for Salman Rushdie’s scheduled appearance, as he is set to receive the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

Aside from the conflict, the book fair will explore themes such as artificial intelligence, the climate emergency, and the battle against populism and extremism. Discussions about the Middle East conflict are also expected to take center stage, highlighting the complex intersection of literature and global events.

While the controversy surrounding Adania Shibli’s award underscores the challenges of navigating contentious narratives in literature, it also emphasizes the significance of literature as a reflection of the broader world in which it exists.