The Nobel Prize organisation just uncovered the nominees for the prize in 1969 – 50 years ago – as per their yearly reveal of previously sealed nominees. One of the nominees for that year was revealed to be Egyptian author Tawfiq al-Hakim, who was, at the time, only the second Arabic language author ever nominated for the prestigious literature prize. The first, also revealed in the archives, was Egyptian author Taha Hussein, who showed up as a nominee in 1964.
Nobel nominations are kept sealed in archives, only revealed 50 years after the year of nomination. Nominations are usually sent in by academics, professors, and previous Nobel Laureates.
Egyptian playwright and novelist al-Hakim, who died in 1987, is considered to be one of the most important pioneers of theatre and playwriting in the Arab world. His books include the novel Return of the Spirit (1933), Shahrazad (1934), and the play Al Aydi Al Na’imah (Soft Hands, 1954) – a highly revered work focused on the 1952 revolution in Egypt.
Last year, Penguin Classics published Return of the Spirit, marking the first time an Arabic-language novelist was printed by the mammoth classics publishing house.
Although no statistics or evidence is provided as to how strong of a contender Al-Hakim was, it is still a major accolade considering the rarity of Arabs awarded - or even nominated - for the Nobel prize for literature. Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz famously won the 1988 prize, and he remains the only one from the Arab world to ever receive it.
In addition to al-Hakim, Iranian novelist Mohammad-Ali Djamalzade (1892-1997), one of the most prominent writers of the country, was also among the list of nominees in 1969.