Hisham Matar

Pulitzer Prize-winning Memoirist and Novelist

Hisham Matar is the author of two novels and a memoir. The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (2016) won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography, the PEN America Book of the Year Award, and the Rathbones Folio Prize. The Return was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and shortlisted for the Costa Awards, and was named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and the Financial Times. The memoir tells of his father’s kidnapping when Matar was 19 and studying in London: one of the Qaddafi regime’s most prominent opponents in exile, his father was held in a secret prison in Libya and Hisham would never see him again. And yet The Return is an uplifting memoir; Matar recounts his journey home to Libya in search of the truth behind his father’s disappearance; he never gave up hope that his father might still be alive. “Hope,” as he writes, “is cunning and persistent.”

The judges of the Rathbones Folio Prize noted: “The Return shows what a novelist at the top of his game can do with non-fiction. It gives the reader the same aesthetic, the same satisfaction of the great literary works that enter our lives and stay with us forever.” The Los Angeles Review of Books says, “The Return is one of the most notable memoirs of our generation, by one of our most elegant living writers. In his testimony to the tenacity of the human spirit, Hisham Matar has shown us what language can do.” The New York Times Book Review writes, “For all its terrible human drama…the most impressive thing about The Return is that it also tells a common story, the story of sons everywhere who have lost their fathers, as all sons eventually must.” The Guardian says: “His book is bounded by a magnificent gentleness, a softness and care the reader experiences as a blessing. Where did it come from, this humanity, this wisdom? I think it comes from his father—not only in reality but in the idealised version of him that has been a natural corollary of his savage loss.”

Matar’s debut novel, In the Country of Men (2008), won the inaugural Arab American Book Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; it also won numerous international prizes, including the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, a Commonwealth First Book Award, the Premio Flaiano and Premio Gregor von Rezzori. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance (2011), was named one of the best books of the year by The Guardian and the Chicago Tribune.

Matar’s novels have been translated to twenty-eight languages. In 2013 Matar received the Blue Metropolis Al Majidi Ibn Dhaher Arab Literary Prize, awarded for a substantial literary achievement by an Arab author working in any genre and in any language. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Hisham Matar was born in New York City to Libyan parents and spent his childhood first in Tripoli and then in Cairo. He has lived most of his adult life in London and now divides his time between London and New York City where he serves as associate professor at Barnard College.