Omanis praise compatriot for 'historic' Man Booker literature prize

Arabic author Jokha Alharthi (L) and translator Marilyn Booth pose after winning the Man Booker International Prize for the book ‘Celestial Bodies’ in London on May 21, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2019

Omanis praise compatriot for 'historic' Man Booker literature prize

MUSCAT: Omanis on Wednesday hailed writer Jokha Alharthi’s “historical achievement” and praised her for bringing “honor” to their Gulf nation after she became the first Arab author to win the Man Booker International prize.
“It is a huge historic achievement for the author, for Oman and for Arabic culture in general,” said Saif Al-Rahbi, an Omani poet, essayist and writer.
“It shows that Omani literature is moving along,” he told AFP.
Alharthi, 40, received the prestigious prize during a ceremony Tuesday in London for her novel “Celestial Bodies” which depicts life in her small Gulf nation.
The 50,000-pound (57,000 euro, $64,000) Man Booker International prize celebrates translated fiction from around the world and is divided equally between the author and the translator.
The judges said Celestial Bodies was “a richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured.”
It tells the story of three sisters who witness the slow pace of development in Omani society during the 20th century.
“I am thrilled that a window has been opened to the rich Arabic culture,” Alharthi told AFP after the ceremony at the Roundhouse in London.
“Oman inspired me but I think international readers can relate to the human values in the book — freedom and love,” she said.
The jury praised an “elegantly structured and taut” novel which “tells of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.”
The director general of Oman’s culture ministry, Said bin Sultan Al-Bussaidi, agreed.
The novel, he said, shows that Alharthi’s work “reflects maturity and has reached an international level.”
“It is an honor for each and every Omani man and woman... (and the prize) will help spread Omani literature across the world,” he added.
Alharthi is the author of two previous collections of short fiction, a children’s book and three novels in Arabic.
She studied classical Arabic poetry at Edinburgh University and teaches at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.
In an interview with the BBC at the weekend, Alharthi said she had wanted for a “very long time to write a book about life in Oman (but) couldn’t when she was actually in Oman.”
“But when I went to Edinburgh, the first year was difficult for me, homesickness, cold, so I felt that I need to go back to warmth and feel something from home,” she said.
“Actually writing saved me.”
Her prize-winning novel — which the Guardian newspaper said offers “glimpses into a culture relatively little known in the west” — came out in 2010.
Alharthi said on Tuesday that the novel touches on the history of the slave trade in Oman, an absolute monarchy where Sultan Qaboos, who has ruled since 1970, has been pushing for reform.
For one expert of Arabic and Middle Eastern literature, it could be a game changer for novels emerging from the region.
“It has the potential to orient publishing away from the Arabic novel as answering the question ‘what can we learn about them?’ and toward the Arabic novel as a work of art,” said Marcia Lynx Qualey, editor of ArabLit Quarterly.
“The surge in translation of Arabic-language novels is already in progress, but I think this re-orients publishers somewhat,” she told AFP.
Qualey said there “is definitely a growing interest in works by Gulf authors.”
“In Kuwait, Oman, Saudi, and elsewhere there are authors writing on issues of class, domestic violence, slavery, racism, patriarchy, power, and other issues that are of global interest,” she added.
Celestial Bodies was translated by US academic Marilyn Booth, who teaches Arabic literature at Oxford University.
Jury chair Bettany Hughes said the novel showed “delicate artistry and disturbing aspects of our shared history.”

Behind Wes Gordon’s revolutionary vision for Carolina Herrera

Wes Gordon just wants to make happy clothes, and that's exactly what he's been doing since his appointment as Carolina Herrera's creative director. Photo: Shutterstock
Updated 20 November 2019

Behind Wes Gordon’s revolutionary vision for Carolina Herrera

  • Since his appointment as creative director, Wes Gordon has managed to seamlessly incorporate his own joyful flair into the fashion house
  • His ability to maintain the house’s old world glamour in addition to his revolutionary and exuberant vision has appealed to a new generation of clients

DUBAI: Wes Gordon just wants to make happy clothes. And the Atlanta-born designer, who was handpicked to be Carolina Herrera's successor after she announced her retirement in February 2018, has done just that since his appointment as the New York-based label’s creative director. You don’t have to look further than the brand’s Spring 2020 collection, showcased at the bottom of Manhattan Island inside a glass bubble lined with plush, white carpet that was inspired by the rare botanical phenomenon, super bloom.

“Carolina Herrera is a brand about beauty,” declares the designer. “No one knows what tomorrow is going to be like. We just know today, and the things that we’re able to control ourselves, I feel like it’s our job to make them beautiful,” The 33-year-old told Arab News.

Indeed, in today’s current political climate, there’s never been more reason to inject joie de vivre back into fashion. “There’s a lot of dark and uncertainty right now,” muses Gordon. “And you can’t fight dark with dark.”

A model walks the runway at the Carolina Herrera Ready-to-Wear Spring 2020 show. Photo: Getty
Carolina Herrera Ready-to-Wear Spring 2020 show. Photo: Getty

During his year-long tenure — He made his debut last September with an upbeat Spring 2019 collection, after running his own eponymous label for several years in addition to serving as Herrera’s right-hand since 2016 — the Central St. Martin’s graduate has churned out three joyful and upbeat ready-to-wear collections built on the foundation of vibrant hues and that serve as a refreshing departure from the sea of blacks and greys that have dominated the runways for the past few seasons.  

“I love color,” shares Gordon. “Bold, vivacious, saturated colors — nothing grey or sad. So the first thing I do before I start designing a collection, is think really hard about colors.

“My biggest takeaway from the role is that something beautiful will always be successful. When you’re able to create something that’s just gorgeous, it will always do well.”

However, helming Carolina Herrera is no small feat. As one of the biggest fashion brands in the world, Gordon recognizes that his stint as a consultant at the label eased his transition since he was already familiar with the company.

Since his appointment, Gordon has managed to seamlessly incorporate his own joyful flair into the fashion house founded 39 years ago, without straying from the brand’s DNA or alienating its existing clientele.

While the designer does admit that it is virtually impossible for there to not be a change — “I’m not Mrs. Herrera,” he states — he does revel in the fact that though his designs are unique, clients are still able to look at them and say, “that still feels Herrera.”


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His ability to maintain the house’s old world glamour in addition to his revolutionary and exuberant vision has appealed to a new generation of clients, which include everyone from “Euphoria” actress Zendaya to American screenwriter Lena Waithe, whom he dressed for the 2018 Met Gala.

As for the woman he designs for? “She’s fabulous and fantastic. She’s the best dressed and most fun woman in any room.  If every woman in the street is wearing grey, she is wearing hot pink. She dresses for herself and treats every moment like a celebration,” he notes. Very much like Carolina Herrera herself.