Welcome to a World of Literature

Everything you need to know about the world's great writers and emerging voices is being collected and shared on the English PEN Online World Atlas. Head over to the Atlas to create (or edit) a profile for your favourite author or book, leave a comment or contact another user, and discover your next great read. We believe that great writing has the power to change your life and change the world, one book at a time.

The Atlas is proud to be partnering with the Hay Festival's Beirut39 contest, celebrating Beirut's year as UNESCO World Book Capital, to find the hottest authors under 40 of Arabic origin. Nominations are open until August 24th, 2009.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bahaa Taher in London

The National has a profile marking the author's tour marking the English publication of Sunset Oasis, his Arabic Booker-winning novel.

Meanwhile, the Complete Review salutes another leading Arabic writer, Zakaria Tamer, with two reviews.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I Saw Ramallah: Metro's Book of the Month

It may be a London freesheet but Metro has a high-powered book club going on. Mourid Barghouti's memoir I Saw Ramallah (translated by Ahdaf Soueif) follows The Line of Beauty (August) and The White People (July) in what could potentially be the largest virtual book club out there. So if you're commuting in London, look out for Tube neighbours reading a book with this cover:
and say hi to book club members in person, or leave reviews and comments on the site for other readers to share.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

PEN Atlas on Booktrust

PEN Atlas is featured on Booktrust's Translated Fiction site, a lively and exciting resource whether you're a reader or translator, with reviews, articles (including an inside look at the BCLT Translation Summer School), a blog, and news of UK prizes and initiatives for fiction in translation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

2009 Naguib Mahfouz Award announced

The View from Fez has the scoop as a Moroccan writer, Bensalem Himmich, professor of philosophy at the Mohammed V University in Rabat. He is the auhtor of over 26 books in both Arabic and French.

He has previously won the critics' prize (1990) for his novel "Le fou du pouvoir," a book elected by the Arab Union of Writers as one of the hundred best books of the 20th century. He also won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for his book Al-'Allamah (2001), "The Polymath," a book about the great Arab writer Ibn Khaldoun.

I can't find the title of the winning book anywhere, including the page at American University of Cairo, who publish the English translations of the winning books -- they're still on 2007.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Read: Translation in Practice

Thanks to Words Without Borders for flagging up this new book from Dalkey Archive Press. Based on a British Council symposium, translator Gill Paul gathered contributions from leading translators, including PEN members Ros Schwartz and Amanda Hopkinson, to present the most coherent and comprehensive guide to the pragmatics of translation.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Listen: Fady Joudah Reads Mahmoud Darwish

Courtesy of the Center for the Art of Translation: five poems recorded at the Center's Lit & Lunch series.

2009 IWP Participants announced

Iraqi poet Soheil Najm and Saudi Arabian short-story writer Hanaa Hijazi will be taking part in a reading at 5 p.m. Sept. 4 in the Shambaugh House, the IWP headquarters at 30 N. Clinton St. on the University of Iowa campus. They're two of the University of Iowa's International Writing Program 2009 participants, alongside novelist, poet, scriptwriter, and translator Yasser Abdellatif from Egypt; French (of Algerian heritage) novelist and essayist Mabrouck Rachedi; and Jordanian filmmaker Yahya Alabdallah.

Literary Saloon on the Farouk Hosni debate

The Literary Saloon does a great job taking to task Mahfouz translator Robert Stock over his piece on Egyptian Culture Minister and would-be head of UNESCO Farouk Hosni.
Instead of introducing examples of this [anti-Zionist] intelligentsia, Stock is happy to instead toss out generalizations such as:
This whole imbroglio only serves to highlight the Egyptian literati's generally hateful and hidebound views of Israel, which are often more virulent than those of the Egyptian public at large.

Examples ?
One example, please ?
I don't doubt that examples galore could be dug up (after all, examples of every opinion under the sun are readily found) -- but, hey, how about digging up at least one to appease me? (And surely it's telling that he doesn't: is there any name he could come up with that any of us would recognize -- Gamal al-Ghitani? Sonallah Ibrahim? [the writers I'd consider among the cream of Egyptian literati and intelligentsia] even Alaa al-Aswany ? Somehow I suspect these guys haven't been spouting "hateful and hidebound views" -- so who has? By which I mean: who has who can in any way be taken seriously, as al-Ghitani and Ibrahim and even al-Aswany can.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

PEN Atlas on the Radio: Soumaya Souse on XCP

Listen here [streaming MP3] as Soumaya Souse discusses poetry and Palestine with Leonard Schwartz.

Publishers' Weekly Starred Review for New Darwish

If I Were Another Mahmoud Darwish, trans. from the Arabic by Fady Joudah. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-17429-3

This second volume by the late, great Palestinian poet Darwish (1941–2008) to be translated by Palestinian-American doctor/poet Joudah comprises four nonconsecutive books of longer poems spanning 1990 to 2005. These works follow Darwish's poetic development from a historically focused middle period to the devastatingly personal lyric-epic of his late style. Formally varied—Rubaiyats alternate with sprawling free-form poems, in which prose paragraphs meet both long and short verse lines—Darwish's Sufi-inspired poetry probes, admires, describes, longs for and questions. His subjects are often broad: the inheritance and disinheritance of lands, languages and histories. Sometimes, though, he turns to concrete need, confessing, for example, in “Mural,” his book-length poem about a brush with death: “I want to walk to the bathroom/ on my own.” But Darwish's poems are at their most singular and powerful when he collapses the boundaries between great and small concerns, as when he articulates, “Wars teach us to love detail: the shape of our door keys,/ how to comb our wheat with eyelashes and walk lightly on our land.” The stakes of this work—for Darwish and for his readers—are clear: “O my language,/ help me to adapt and embrace the universe.” (Nov.)
PW Reviews 17 Aug 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Napoleon, Wittgenstein and the Egyptian Novel

Thanks to the Complete Review for this dazzler: Youssef Rakha channels the spirit of Wittgenstein for Tractato Franco-Arabicus, a playful and informative Al-Ahram review of Sonallah Ibrahim's recent novels about Napoleon's campaign in Egypt, Amrikanli (Dar Al-Mustaqbal, 2003) and its sequel Al-Qaanoun Al-Faransi (The French Law, Dar Al-Mustaqbal, 2009). In a fit of Wittgensteinian melancholy, Rakha concludes that whereof the postcolonial novel cannot speak, thereof it must remain silent:
3.5. The Turban and the Hat ends with the image of Dr Shukri waking up at 5 am to prepare for his return to the homeland -- only to find that copy of the conference programme on which he had written his address for Celine to have on the floor outside the door to his room.

3.5.1. "I picked it up to find a line in pencil beneath my address... 'My response is precisely that you are a naive, backward human being.' I put the programme in my handbag and proceeded to the lift with heavy steps."


4. An Arab novel about the Egyptian Campaign cannot go beyond that image.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Amjad Nasser: Now Available in English

Susannah Tarbush reviews Jordanian poet Amjad Nasser's Shepherd of Solitude, the first collection of his work to appear in English. It's translated by poet Khaled Mattawa and published by Banipal Books. Tarbush argues that the volume gives English readers an insight into a major Arabic poet, his poetry marked by a fierce wit and equally fierce elegiac manner, a poet of many flavours gathered by a sharp intelligence.

Khaled Mattawa sums this sense up beautifully in his introduction, pointing out that Nasser uses the word and image of the shepherd frequently, positioning himself, as poet,
like a shepherd watching over a flock of wayward, reckless versions of himself. He gives these selves free rein to act out their crises and victories, and they in turn reveal to him various shades of the glory and folly of human nature. Their flaws recounted and noted, he shepherds them home at the end of the day and closes the stable door behind him.

Hanan al-Shaykh & Carmen Calil in Conversation

Sadly, not live -- although this "How We Met" article from the Independent on Sunday suggests what a great event that would be.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Saw Ramallah reviewed in Daily Star

A feisty and focused review by Shahzad Khan in The Daily Star, Bangladesh's only online newspaper (strapline: "Committed to the People's Right to Know"). Khan concludes her review, which is followed by a long excerpt, with the observation that it is through Mourid Barghouti's
rich mix of concrete detail and metaphorical flight that the book achieves its undoubtedly haunting effect. The tale is told with remarkable simplicity and in a tone that can be universally understood, yet its texture and details, in some case quite unfathomably, remains Arabic, and rooted specifically in the Palestinian earth. One doubts whether anything similar exists in the dishearteningly burgeoning literature of political exile, asylum, and flight.
Barghouti fans can follow news of his publications and events by friending him on Facebook.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

August Issue of WWB: Andre Naffis on literary competition in the UAE

Who can resist an article entitled Poets, Eunuchs and Pricks? A mordant commentary on the biggerbetterfastermore ethos of the Emirates, Andre Naffis' essay looks at the way in which literary prestige has got mixed up in the rapidly developing skyline, with a planned statue celebrating al-Hakawati (the storyteller).
In a characteristically outlandish twist, the Sheikhs have now decided to set their mores on sexuality down in stone by commissioning a gargantuan eunuch—which is to lord over Dubai’s Zabeel Park, fifty hectares smack in the middle of what is now some of the world’s most valuable real estate. At over one hundred and fifty feet, the statue of Al-Hakawati “the storyteller” would relegate Rhodes’ Colossus to an also-ran.

In Abu Dhabi on the other hand, it's all about live entertainment,
in what is arguably a ploy by Abu Dhabi’s reigning Nahyan clan to style themselves after the Medicis and establish their city as the artistic counterweight to Dubai’s financial hub. The audiovisual jewel in their tiara is “The Prince of Poets”—a contest held at the Al Raha Beach Theatre on the outskirts of the island emirate. Run along the lines of “American Idol,” thousands of applications are processed until a select thirty-five poets compete in the broadcasts which unfold over the course of ten weeks.
As for the Medicis, this patronage of art has inspired some heated exchanges in Arab literary community and blogosphere, and casts a revealing light on the sociocultural makeup of the Emirates.
Take the first season when there were claims that the judges, hoping to foster a sense of national pride, awarded first prize to the Emarati Maatouk, while the far more popular Palestinian Barghouti came in fifth. Barghouti, whose father, Mourid is the author of I Saw Ramallah, could no doubt take solace in the not inconsiderable cheque ($27,000) and in that he walked away with that much sought-after accolade, the modern poet’s wreath, which he was accorded when his poem “Jerusalem” was immortalized with a cell-phone ring-tone. Nevertheless, the mini-scandal drew attention to the deep seated divisions between local and foreign Arabs. Palestinians and other Arabs constitute a second tier to privileged Emaratis.

What does this all amount to for poetry? Naffis links the ambitious scale and political capital of both projects to
the deep-seated ambivalence the Arab world displays when the ‘word’ intermingles with Islam’s current conservatism. Poetry is often dubbed sihr halal, “legal magic,” which, aside from the peculiar phrasing—one that would be unthinkable in other contexts as the average Arab has an understanding of magic not too dissimilar from that of Salem’s witch-hunters circa1692—points to a marked difference between East and West.
Mahmoud Darwish, Nizar Qabbani and Adonis, that perennial Nobel contender, were and have been known to fill stadiums with record audiences.
What Naffis doesn't add is that all three poets have also been thorns in the side of governments as well as popular figures. When state-sanctioned, can poetry continue to be the Arab world's rock and roll?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Raja Shehadeh on Mahmoud Darwish

In the Guardian BooksBlog, one Palestinian writer pays tribute to another, who was also his neighbour in Ramallah. Not just a small literary world, but a moving tribute from a Palestinian writer whose reputation is growing fast to a national mentor figure and international ambassador for Palestinian literature.

A candlelit vigil in Ramallah following the death of Mahmoud Darwish. Photograph: EPA

Monday, August 3, 2009

Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing: Now In Business

Susannah Tarbush was at the BQFP's inaugural event in London for a salon with Ahdaf Soueif, in discussion with Peter Florence of the Hay Festival, at St Barnabas House at 1 Greek Street in the heart of literary London. If you missed the event, don't worry -- the next one will take place on 9 September, in Doha. Bloomsbury’s founder and chief executive Nigel Newton announced "the first BQFP Ramadan Iftar, featuring readings by local poets in Arabic and English” in the BQFP villa at the Qatar Foundation. For news and events, check out the BQFP website, where Arab authors can also submit a book proposal for the foundation's children's publishing program: contact the foundation on bqfp [at][ bloomsbury.com. They have just published their first book -- The Selfish Crocodile by Faustin Charles and Michael Terry -- in both Arabic and English (read more in Tarbush's blog), and theya re looking for further titles which will be launched and distributed in Qatar on World Book Day.

Egypt: Belal Fadl's Essays reviewed by Baheyya

A thoughtful review by Egyptian blogger Baheyya gives an intricate context for the new collection of essays by screenwriter and al-Destour editor (read more about those aspects of his career in this Egypt Today article) Belal Fadl. Baheyya describes his new collection as "irresistibly named" and she's right -- I'd definitely pick up a book called The Original Inhabitants of Egypt: Stories about the Genius of the Place, the Idiocy of the Rulers, and the Indifference of the People if it were ever to appear in translation. "Original Inhabitants," Baheyya explains, are
Egyptians who are neither rich nor middle class, but somewhere in the vast space beneath, what we alternately call lower-middle class, lower class, underclass, the marginalized, or the horrid “simple folk” (البسطاء).
But, as she goes on to elucidate, Fadl has made his career out of peddling stereotypes of these ordinary Egyptians in films and TV -- and he does so in many of the essays. As Baheyya avers, this seems a shame because -- from her account, at least -- the book appears to open up a view of Egypt's proletariat (to use a word coined by another great essayist), at once traditional and modernising, that translations of Alaa al-Aswany's novels have only begun to broach for non-Arabic readers.

Baheyya has thoughtful reviews of two other works of non-fiction that cast a light: Karima a-Hifnawy's Diary of a Pharmacist (review), a memoir by an outstanding activist who -- like her better-known contemporary Nawal al-Saadawi -- combines medicine, human rights and an assured literary tone, and novelist Galal Amin's What Has Life Taught Me (review). The blogger may claim that
Autobiography is my least favourite literary genre, too easily prone to posturing and self-exoneration, or else heavy woe-is-me tales about the author’s suffering at the hands of a cruel world. Life is already too full of braggarts and whiners to have to be subjected to them in books
but her reviews suggest that -- above and beyond the pitiful rate of fiction in translation (see ThreePercenter Chad Post's most recent round-up and sharp analysis of US stats at Publishing Perspectives -- we're missing out if memoirs, essays and autobiographies aren't crossing languages and cultures as well.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Banipal 35: New Writing in Arabic -- and Dutch!

There's a new issue out now of Banipal, the UK-based magazine of Arabic literature -- and Issue 35 comes with a twist: the focus is on writers of Arab origin writing in Dutch, with ten writers including Palestinian-Dutch poet Ramsay Nasr, who is the Netherlands' Poet Laureate (an elected office). As Susannah Tarbush notes in her preview of the issue for the Saudi Gazette:
Nasr’s poems in Banipal 35 include “What’s left: A poem about empty dishes”; he was asked to write this poem shortly after becoming poet laureate, to mark the exhibiting at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam of the painting “Woman Holding a Balance” by the 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. Some of Nasr’s work is overtly political, such as “The subhuman and his habitat” about Palestinians in the West Bank, from where his father originated.
All but two of the other writers are of Moroccan origin, complementing the issue's focus on new writing from Morocco (including poets Hassan Najmi and Ouidad Benmoussa, who were prevented by the Home Office from taking part in a Banipal-sponsored UK reading tour). The other two, Rada Sukkar and Rodaan Al-Galidi, are of Iraqi origin, represented by excerpts of their novels (respectively) The Treasure Room of Babylonia and Thirsty River, which will be published this autumn, in Luzette Strauss' translation, by newcomer on the UK translation scene Aflame Books.

To keep up with news from Banipal, you can now join their Facebook group. For Aflame's news, follow their RSS feed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Literature Without Borders

A few news items on the free movement and translation of literature across borders:

Iraqi novelist Fadhil al-Azzawi's novel The Last of the Angels is published has been translation by The Free Press [US], and the first review is out in the Quarterly Conversation.


Knesset Member Yuli Tamir has proposed a draft bill that would challenge the Israeli embargo on books published in Syria or Lebanon, making books in Arabic more available in Israel. Yuval Azoulay's article in Ha'aretz looks at the challenges facing readers coming through Israeli customs or looking to obtain books in Israel, with an update on the campaign against the embargo launched by Adalah, as the Atlas reported in February.


Emirati newspaper The National offers a global overview of its summer reading recommendations with a nifty hotspotted map. Recs include Rawi Hage's De Niro's Game and Bahaa Taher's Sunset Oasis. Chad at Three Percent suggests turning this format into a social networking app like Cities I've Visited on Facebook...


And Three Percent also put up this short video of the Big Think's interview with Alane Salierno Mason, founder of the brilliant Words Without Borders, discussing literature in translation. In other videos (the Big Think seems to work on one idea per short film), Alane discusses the continuing fortunes of publishers of translation, the guiding impulse for WWB and her thoughts on the power of Oprah.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Alaa al-Aswany on Islam in the media

Another day, another novelist offering political analysis in The Guardian. Balancing out their recent contribution to the Amis Dental Reconstruction Fund, the paper has Alaa al-Aswany commenting -- rather more knowledgeably -- on the Western double-standard/standard-issue blindness where Islam is concerned. al-Aswany lived in Chicago (setting for his second novel) for several years, and his op-ed reflects his doubly-aware perspective, concluding
It is true that the west's policy treats us as colonial peoples who do not deserve to enjoy the rights of their citizens, and it is true that its media is mostly biased against Arabs and Muslims – but it is also true that the retrograde Wahhabi reading of Islam that is now widespread helps to entrench an unfair and mistaken image.

It is our duty to start with ourselves. We must save Islam from all the nonsense, falsehoods and retrograde ideas that have attached themselves to it. Democracy is the solution.

Monday, July 20, 2009

More on Beirut39 and the case of the disappearing judges

The Tanjara has an interview with Alaa al-Aswany that explores his reasons for resigning as chair of the judging panel. Aswany commented that
“One day after I accepted their offer, I received a list of 90 names of young writers who were candidates for the competition. I later learned that those names had been chosen by the literary magazine Banipal, which issued its own selection."
This narrowed the original criteria of the competition, which had declared it was open to all writers under 40 of Arabic origin. al-Aswany also felt the award had been compromised by a lack of awareness in the Arab world:
“In Egypt no one was aware of the mere existence of this literary contest, except people with good connections in the cultural field and a bunch of journalists".
The deadline for candidacies has been extended to August 24th and the nominations page remains open to all.

Call for New Translations

two lines World Writing in Translation will be accepting poetry and fiction submissions for its seventeenth volume through November 25, 2009. Previously unpublished translations from any language will be considered, and works from outside Europe are especially sought. The volume will be edited by award-winning translators Natasha Wimmer and Jeffrey Yang.

Submitters are encouraged to read previous volumes in the series, which can be ordered directly from the Center for the Art of Translation. Full submission guidelines here. Publishers interested in submitting manuscripts for serialization should contact Annie Janusch at ajanusch [at] catranslation.org.

  • Previously unpublished work only.
  • The translator cannot also be the author of the piece unless it is a co-translation.
  • We generally publish one to four poems from a single submission, but we will read up to a maximum of ten pages.
  • The average prose submission is about 2500 words, but we do publish shorter and longer pieces (1000–4000 words). Short stories are preferable to novel excerpts. However, novel excerpts will be considered if thoughtfully excerpted to stand as independent pieces (to the extent possible).
  • In order to be considered, submissions must include a brief introduction (400–500 words) with information about the original author, the background of the piece, and unique issues that the translation process presented. To see a sample introduction, click here. If you'd like to download it to your computer, right-click the link.
  • All submissions must include a copy of the original text.
  • Translators are expected to acquire copyright permission for all work not in the public domain.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hanan al-Shaykh on Kensington Gardens

It's a bit wet to enjoy the real thing at the moment, so it's cheering to see the original stories published in pamphlets about London's Royal Parks. It's particularly great to see a story by Hanan al-Shaykh, "A Beauty Parlour for Swans," published in Arabic and English facing-page translation by Christina Phillips with the author. al-Shaykh's previous novel, Only in London, gave a mordantly entertaining insight into the mixed-and-match worlds of the Arab community in London, so her take on Kensington Gardens promises things every bit as magical as Peter Pan.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Freedom of Expression=Freedom of Movement

More on the story of the Ledbury poets (two Moroccan, one Indonesian -- hmm, what do those disparate countries have in common?) denied visas to read at the festival from Guardian columnist Henry Porter.

You can sign the Manifesto Club's petition to stop this deeply worrying trends here and join their Facebook group here.

Onyeka Igbe of WorldBytes reports in this video on the Club's Cabaret Without Borders: freedom of expression live in action.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Good Reviews & Bad News

The Guardian's Saturday Review showed the range of Arab literature (in English and in translation) being published in the UK with three reviews:

Michael Faber on A Child in Palestine: The Cartoons of Naji al-Ali

Joan Bakewell on Hanan al-Shaykh's The Locust and the Bird: My Mother's Story, which was excerpted in the newspaper's Family section in June.

James Lasdun on Elias Khoury's Yalo, which is a 2009 Recommended by PEN title.

Khoury was supposed to be launching the English translation at the London Review Bookshop as part of the marvellous World Literature Weekend, but Khoury was refused a visa at the last minute. And now two of the Moroccan poets who were due to read at the LRB on Monday night have also had their visa applications refused, despite having invitations from the prestigious Ledbury Festival. As Matthew Bell reports in the Independent on Sunday
It was supposed to be a highlight of the literary summer calendar, but this year's Ledbury Poetry Festival has been ruined by the interference of bossy Home Office bods. Three internationally acclaimed poets, one from Indonesia and two from Morocco, were barred from entering the country on the grounds they might try to outstay their welcome. Dorothea Rosa Herliany, who has published eight volumes of poetry in Indonesia, had her visa application rejected by a Home Office official who said, "I am not satisfied on the balance of probabilities that you are a genuine visitor," despite providing her invitation to the festival. Moroccan poets Hassan Najmi and Widad Benmoussa were also denied entry. Chloe Garner, the festival director, is distraught. "This is hugely embarrassing for the festival," she says. "I feel ashamed that the UK is effectively becoming a fortress."
The LRB, who are co-hosting the event with Banipal Magazine with whom the poets were supposed to be touring the UK, are forging ahead with the even. Francophone poet Siham Bouhlal will be there tomorrow night, as will poet and translator Sinan Antoon. Tickets are available on 020 7269 9030 or events [at] lrbshop.co.uk.

If you are as concerned as PEN and the LRB are about the increasing number of writers and artists being refused visas to the UK, please consider supporting the Manifesto Club's visiting artists and academics campaign.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Khaled Juma: The Violin Teacher- For Gaza Wherever She Is

Our third piece from the brilliant Khaled Juma (translated by Isis Nusair and Rewa Zeinati) -- and the final piece in our New Writing from Gaza portfolio (which can be read as a series here). It's a moving meditation on making art (and life) in the shadow of the Wall.

The Violin Teacher- For Gaza Wherever She Is
Khaled Juma

“Wherever your face may turn, everything carries the potential of exploding.” Mahmoud Darwish

The sea reveals its blueness to the city* Proud of the gentleness of the air that seeps from the scent of distant women* Presents its dawn with exposure that cannot be delayed* Little girls play at the edge of a wave that was born out of a small imbalance between water and laughter* They are as light as a brief line of poetry* As beautiful as the meaning of beauty found in a dictionary* Moving towards womanhood as a challenge to time and place* The day begins as soon as the sparrow washes, with the dew of the morning, his feathers from the light of yesterday* He watches the little girls with love and concern, both part of his nature*

The raid peels away the sparrow and the wave and the girls and the dew and the light and the day before and today* A man stumbles in the darkness to understand an episode found in an extended tale* Electricity, his wife, the flour all fail him* Just like any other cadaver, the carcass of time is left hanging on the thread of the television* Time doesn’t understand why it’s become a corpse and the man doesn’t understand time and the darkness doesn’t understand the man and the new year doesn’t understand the darkness and the aircraft don’t understand the new year*

A long wait in the syllabus of night and day* Many songs are scattered around by the radio stations* The hero cannot strip off his heroism* Pigeon lovers and a language walking proudly on the asphalt* The language is killed and dies alone and away and cold as a mammoth buried in snow made of snow*

In the scene a language that’s lost its limb* Another with a broken musical scale* And a third language whose only speaker has died* With my own eyes I saw ten terms sneak into my dictionary without my lifting a single finger to stop them* The city boasts in the festival of cities* A bride is soaked in henna shaped like ladders and gentle clouds that hide the repulsive sound of something like modern computer games found in the hand of a reckless child, who kills limitlessly, the dead disappearing immediately, so he’s not delayed from his ensuing targets* The father laughs because his child completed a part of the game without losing* The electric power goes out but the instinct of the child, and so he begins to wail*

A poet sits alone, surrounded by warm air* Across from him two oranges that signify all that remains of what seems to be civilization* Daring, he eats one, making the other one feel lonely, so she says to herself: “This murderer is merciless”*
A woman hangs her horror on the window, away from boys who claim to be shivering from cold not fear* The horror falls off the edge of the window* It shatters all over the floor of the room and its shrapnel hits everything and all time* The clock on the wall has decided to retire after feeling useless at its job* A boy utters a philosophical statement unbefitting his age* The father is shocked and wishes he could go outside to inform the neighbors of his pride* The road is blocked by heavy air* The sea is blocked by two opposing notions* The horizon is pierced like a rusty aluminum can* And the flute no longer means what it says*

The lonely violin teacher leaves behind her loneliness and her violin and closes her notes upon the fingers of her students and walks away* She throws a final look of farewell at her footsteps* She kisses the hot sand and heads off without looking back* I am protected by an idea and the idea is protected by the wall:

Oh God:
Let us know of a prophet, whatever his name may be.

Translated by Rewa Zeinati and Isis Nusair

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What's going on at Beirut39?

The Tanjara has a lead: an article from Al-Hayat [Ar] concerning Alaa al-Aswany's resignation as chair of the jury. It's a follow-up to her interview with the author after the recent publication of his short story collection, Friendly Fire.

Khaled Juma: Emptiness in the Map... Emptiness on the Map

Two excellent translations to round off our successful Refuge in Words/New Writing from Gaza project -- which recently featured on the Body on the Line and on Leonard Schwartz' Cross-Cultural Poetics radio show, and in a follow up article in Counterpunch on Soumaya Sousi's prose poem The City. Isis Nusair and Rewa Zeinati co-translated these pieces.

Here's the first: a vivid, exact and exacting poem about war, media and meaning.

Emptiness in the Map… Emptiness on the Map
Khaled Juma

The options on the street are exhausted* The boy is no longer Jesus* Over the scene’s progression he moves towards final distraction * He listens to what he is not used to in daily life* The flute is irritating as it wounds the fear in the scene from the audience*And perhaps even ten extra bullets have become meaningless* Army, why so serious with your jokes?* The soldier laughed: Your speech for any color but white*

My son: You have to determine the color of the army in order to converse with a tunnel that leads to meaningfulness* Meaning has recently become devoid of its skill* The writer of the article is only interested in the font size of the newspaper* And the army is concerned with a lot more than the font size and the manner in which the demonstrators collapse* The scene quickly changes from a father whose daughter side tracked and got mixed up with tainted boys, despite their combat, to a daughter searching for a father whose features have fallen for no reason upon the asphalt* The satellite T.V. announces an ad for a new air conditioner* The boy leaves to go purchase it* He worries about his mother’s fever* But he has fallen over on his way to the air conditioner* Luckily he has not died completely*

The burden was at odds with the boy who is able to play with his soul that has the capacity to detach from him and return as a kitten* He did not use high philosophy to clarify his situation like the radio station does* The newscaster answered* The boy did what he could and so did the commentator*

The boy forgets his garden as soon as he falls asleep from the flow of medicinal liquid running through veins not designed for this* The nurses guard his sleep from their memory of passersby* Never have they encountered someone with such beauty when asleep* They sing and leave at the end of their shift* And they don’t recall him until their next shift* In his sleep a long and narrow desert* And a bird for the worry that is clueless about who squeezed both of these into sleep woven with such incredible accuracy* The desert becomes a map* The teacher points to the only color and wags his moustache and stick* There is emptiness between one desert and another* The teacher weaves his sentence out of an ancient language* This is the Nile that blushes each time it passes its own funeral* And the Nile as you know is the longest of rivers* If we exclude the rivers of heaven in their long passing under the genius of God’s genius* But the desert snores in her sleep* And her sleep is the river if you didn’t know* The boy is on a paper that’s on a line that twirls* There is emptiness in the map* There is a celebration that falls upon this emptiness and the tree is not aware of what’s under her* The pole at the end of the map is a white forest*As if the pole is making love to the desert!!*

A sudden passing of a cloud over a tent that represents a wall* The boy is a non-identical copy of those who remain in old tents*The conversation is long and useless* Experience has taught him that experience teaches no one but itself* He sifts through his friends only to find them fall through the widest of openings* He alters his riddle each year and still they all fall through* Boredom speaks from within him and he doesn’t have the ability to change his body over this whiteness that befits language* Language is tricky* He curses it as he returns to his neat yearning* The country is mine whether I utter poetry or dream it* He laughed at this thought and a nurse, unlike the rest who’ve completed their shift, smiled at him*

Three girls who sell roses lay upon his thought that breathes out of his vein* The soul remains like a little kitten* Doctors pass by* Nurses* Visitors* Cleaners* Party representatives* Roses* Female students* Singers* Journalists* Blood donors* Military officials* Leaders* And many other professions that bite him out of his bed and bow in front of him momentarily before passing along* The desert is demonstrated on the map* In the map a gap* On the map a gap and the Nile is not here, teacher* Give me my papers so I can show them to my parents* You are a handful of a student for a sad teacher* I didn’t mean it but I scribbled on the map and that’s why the Nile has disappeared* The teacher resigns, divorces his ambition and commits suicide* Light comes from the mirage at the end of the hallway* A light that does not illuminate* A boy touches the flute in a room made of wood* The plants in the room open the window with sharp vision* Producing a heart and breaking the symbol that’s in the heart* The bed opens its eye and dribbles one joint after another* The boy addresses the remaining letters and makes his bed and greets it* He covers it as if sleeping and goes outside, leaning on his teeth and barefoot, and the hallway is long and cold* Two planes flirt with the moon that gnaws at the sea* The sea curses and the moon is happy with the attention* A boy falls out of the plane, he has two braids and in his hand an architectural map that matches more than soul and less than a city* He throws his age in the sea and tries to trap the boy with an open trick* The evening and the moon leave the map* A number of notebooks on the seashore and a face imprinted on cellophane peeks from under the armpit of the only bridge in the city* The city has a relationship with herself, carving a book that is not yet bored of writing* The waves chews on delicious sand* A lonely cane passes by the wave* The sky becomes a lot of numbers that fall into the midst* The boy retreats and the waves retreat to a brief peace tour* The school remains where it is* Why is the school never boring at night?* The horses pass by exhausted in the face of the sleeping traps* In the body of a bird an explosion like Armageddon* Words escape the mouth of the storyteller and the map protests* Emptiness in the map* Emptiness on the map* A map on emptiness* A map in emptiness* The women walk by the neighborhood of the stone orphanage* They don’t understand the map* A group of soldiers pack up their things from the eye of the setting sun* And the boy fools around with his soul that resembles a small cat* She leaves him* Comes back to him* Leaves him* Comes back to him* Leaves him*Comes back to him* The darkness opens up to a devilish star that combs its rays in an imaginary mirror* Every mirror is an illusion in the night* The night is a shift and so is the day* The cat plays with luck* and the flute is in a wooden room, growing up to become a tree of music* A demonstration in the street has no harmony* A sad nation rises from behind the colorful flags and disappears into a product that has no expiration date nor the name of the country of production* The audience slows down* It lowers itself in a direction that spans the street* The noise is loud* A few seconds later only a sound* And no one is in the scene* And no scene for anyone* The trees draw the attention of the bombs that come from various plans* The sleeping people feign death just to get a line in the newspaper* And money suddenly arrives to become a factor in the equation* The city divides into a sea and a fleet of bullets at the peak of the evening* Borders are formed like water flowing over stone* The boy is no longer part of the scene* The broadcaster meets himself* The nurses look forward to the end of the shift* Never have they come across a boy with such beauty when asleep* And his slumber remains on the pillow just the way he left it* And still an emptiness in the map* And still an emptiness on the map*

Translated By Rewa Zeinati and Isis Nusair

Mourid Barghouti in conversation with Ruth Padel, London, June 2009

Thanks to Opus for cutting the video and to Mourid for posting it on his Facebook page!

Mourid Barghouti with Ruth Padel - Revised from Opus Projects on Vimeo.

L'Amour de Loin (libretto by Amin Maalouf) in London

Three performances still remain for the English National Opera's new production of L'Amour de Loin, Kaaja Saariaho's opera from a libretto by Amin Maalouf.

Maalouf's libretto uses the poem "L'Amour de Loin" by Jaufré Rudel, a twelfth-century troubadour from Occitan, who fell in love with a woman in Tripoli (Maalouf has made the opposite journey in his life, in a sense, from Lebanon to France). The libretto can be read here.

For more on the fascinating relationship of troubadours to Muslim Spain and North Africa, check out María Menocal's The Ornament of the World.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Atlantic Signs Up Arabic Booker Winner

The Bookseller announces that Atlantic has signed world English rights to Azazil by Youssef Ziedan,

Arab Superheroes Translate Well to DC

The Guardian reports today that Teshkeel Media's halal superheroes The 99 will be appearing in a crossover mini-series (to hit shops within a year) with the classic American heroes of DC Comics, including Superman and Wonder Woman. The 99 is the first superhero comic published in the Arab world, and its heroes and storylines fall within Islamic parameters (magic isn't allowed, for example). It has a heavyweight art team -- comic book stalwarts Fabian Nicieza, Stuart Moore, June Brigman, Dan Panosian, and John McCrea, who have all worked at DC Comics and Marvel -- and you can see some of their art in this gallery or at Teshkeel's site, where you can buy issues (in English) as downloadable PDFs. Current headline: "The Justice League of America to Stand Cape to Shoulder with The 99." Kapow!

And 99 creator Dr. Naif al-Mutawa appears on BBC Radio 4's It's My Story tonight at 2000 BST, talking to DJ Bobby Friction about why the opening of The 99's first theme park, and his quest to become known as 'the Walt Disney of the Arabic world'.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jordanian court convicts poet over Quranic verses

The Kuwait Times has the story concerning Islam Samhan, whose love poems apparently incorporated suras of the Qu'ran. He was first charged with apostasy in October 2008 according to The National, Samhan, a journalist, is a popular reader in Amman and the ministry of culture initially bought 50 copies of his collection. Samhan denies all charges, arguing that
"the Quran is in Arabic and I am influenced by my language and its rich terminology. Where I grew up, the Quran was sung and its music is still playing in my ears. I have read the Quran, and the Arabic language is that of the Quran.”
The collection, In a Slim Shadow, is not available in English, but the National says that in one poem, Samhan has his beloved address God, which his critics say personifies God. In another the woman is talking to God while lying beneath a see-through sheet. Samhan said he was referring to the gods of Greek mythology.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

World Literature Weekend @ the London Review Bookshop

With many events crammed into an exciting weekend -- as ever, the LRB brings intelligence, dialogue, style and diversity to literary festival season, with speakers from the Arabic world including Mourid Barghouti (in conversation with Ruth Padel, sure to be a hot ticket!), Hanan al-Shaykh, Elias Khoury and Faïza Guène. The LRB website has more information about events and venues; tickets can be booked on 00 44 (0)20 7269 9030, or books [at] lrbshop.co.uk.

Friday 19 June

3 p.m. Hanan al-Shaykh with Esther Freud

Lebanese author Hanan al-Shaykh examines Arab women’s role in society with Esther Freud.

Saturday 20 June

12 p.m. Translation: Making a Whole Culture Intelligible?

with Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-winning translators Anne McLean, Anthea Bell, Daniel Hahn and Frank Wynne

Anthony Burgess insisted that ‘translation is not a matter of words only’. Umberto Eco has said that ’translation is the art of failure‘. So, what do translators hope to achieve?

2 p.m. Ma Jian with Flora Drew

Ma Jian discusses his novel Beijing Coma and Chinese repression with his translator Flora Drew. Chair: Boyd Tonkin

4 p.m. Faïza Guène with Sarah Ardizzone

Faïza Guène examines the linguistic and cultural chasm between French-Algerian immigrants and the Parisian establishment with her translator Sarah Ardizzone. Interpreter: Carine Kennedy

Sunday 21 June

12 p.m. Dubravka Ugrešić with Lisa Appignanesi

Dubravka Ugrešić ponders femininity, ageing, identity and her new novel Baba Yaga Laid an Egg with Lisa Appignanesi.

2 p.m. Mourid Barghouti with Ruth Padel

Palestinian writer Mourid Barghouti and British poet Ruth Padel talk about language and exile, themes which permeate his poetry collection Midnight.

3.30 p.m. Voicing the Masters (and Mistresses): Translation with Variations

Marina Warner is in conversation with Robert Chandler about Russian translation, with particular reference to Platonov.

5.30 p.m. Elias Khoury with Jeremy Harding

Lebanese author Elias Khoury talks to the journalist Jeremy Harding about the narrative frameworks of his recent fiction.

John Berger on Mahmoud Darwish

John Berger has been perhaps the most vocal advocate and generous reader of Mahmoud Darwish's poetry in the English-speaking world, bringing into being (with translator Fady Joudah and publisher Neil Astley) the major collected works, The Butterfly's Burden. He has written many essays on the interconnection of place and poetry in Palestinian literature -- the most recent being the resonantly-titled "A Place Weeping," in this months Threepenny Review. In the essay, he describes a visit to Darwish's grave in the village of Al Rabweh, coining the term 'landswept,' with its double intimation of tears and razing, to speak of the landscape he sees and feels. He ends with an exhortation to travel imaginatively through a continued engagement with Darwish's poetry:
Mahmoud Darwish's grave on the hill of Al Rabweh has now, following decisions made by the Palestinian Authority, been fenced off, and a glass pyramid has been constructed over it. It's no longer possible to squat beside him. His words, however, are audible to our ears and we can repeat them and go on doing so.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Soumaya Susi: Tonight on XCP!

Soumaya Susi, one of the wonderful Palestinian writers whose work appeared in our Refuge in Words portfolio, will be reading and talking about her work "The City" on Leonard Schwartz's Cross-Cultural Poetics radio show today (noon Pacific, 3pm Eastern, 8pm GMT).

The recording was originally planned for May 15, marked globally by Palestinians and their allies as Nakba Day; Soumaya saw the broadcast as an opportunity to talk about how her poignant and precise poetry emerges from the broader political context and ongoing legacy of the Nakba. Due to frustrating and endemic problems with telecommunications, it wasn't possible for to make contact by phone to do the recording. Leonard and Soumaya made contact on Friday 22nd, and it sounds like they had a fantastic conversation. You can also hear me talking a bit about the Atlas.

You can listen online on KAOS 89.3 FM Olympia Community Radio (mp3 stream or Real Player stream) or listen after the broadcast (mp3 format) via PennSound.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Palfest 09 Closing Night: Two Poems

Thanks to Marcy Newman at Body on the Line for flagging up and making available these two amazing readings by Palestinian poets Suheir Hammad and Nathalie Handal from the final night of Palfest '09 (which was moved on again by the Israeli authorities). You can read more of Newman's account of the final event here.

Nathalie Handal reads a poem dedicated to Mahmoud Darwish

Suheir Hammad reading a poem that records and collects words and phrases said to her, in Arabic and in English, during her week in Palestine

Etisalat Award for Arab Children's Literature

Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, daughter of the ruler of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, is pretty serious about upping the game of Arabic children's literature: in 2007 she founded her own publishing house, Kalimat (which has a fun interactive website in Arabic and English), and the Arab Children’s Book Publishers Forum (currently exhibiting at Book Expo America), a trade organization which now boasts 60 members. This year, it's a prize in conjunction with telecommunications Etisalat, worth one million dirhams ($270, 000) to be split between the publisher, author and/or illustrator. The 2009 winner is expected to be announced at the Sharjah World Book Fair, scheduled for November this year.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Palfest 09: Culture vs. Power

The Guardian reports today that armed Israeli police last night tried to halt the opening night of the Palestinian Festival of Literature, organised by Ahdaf Soueif, when they ordered a Palestinian theatre in East Jerusalem to close, claiming that the festival - which is funded by the British Council and UNESCO - had received funding from the Palestinian Authority.

Soueif writes on Palfest's author blog (referring to a famous phrase of Edward Said's):
Today, my friends, we saw the clearest example of our mission: to confront the culture of power with the power of culture.
Despite attempts to prevent the sharing and transmission of culture, Palfest is using all the communications tools at its disposal to reach out -- for videos, photos, blogs and other Palfest updates go here. Here's a video from the opening night:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Meet Denys Johnson-Davies, Arabic translator extraordinaire

The Directors of Arabia Books and Haus Publishing invite you to celebrate
Denys Johnson-Davies's
Memories in Translation: A Life Between the Lines of Arabic Literature

at the
70 Cadogan Place, London SW1X
on Friday, 29 May 2009, at 6.30pm

Denys Johnson-Davies will be in conversation with
Professor Bruce Ingham (Emeritus Professor of Arabic Dialect Studies, SOAS)

Described by Edward Said as ‘the leading Arabic-English translator of our time’, Denys Johnson-Davies has more than 30 volumes to his name, in a career spanning six decades. He has written about his life and work in Memories in Translation: A Life Between the Lines of Arabic Literature, a fascinating insight into his life as a translator of and contributor to literature from the Middle East. For his services to Arabic literature Denys Johnson-Davies was the first recipient of the coveted Sheikh Zayed Book Award Cultural Personality of the Year in 2007, awarded for ‘significant contributions to Arabic culture’.

During the Second World War he moved to Cairo, where he started befriending and translating Egyptian authors, amongst them the Nobel laureate novelist Naguib Mahfouz, the master short story writer Yusuf Idris and the playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim. He also promoted the Syrian writer Zakaria Tamir, the late Tayeb Salih from Sudan and the greatly missed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. In the 1970s Heinemann invited Denys Johnson-Davies to be the Consultant for an Arab Author series. In subsequent decades his works were published by Quartet and the American University in Cairo Press. Arabia Books is proud to publish his latest collection of short stories from the United Arab Emirates.

In a Fertile Desert: Modern Writing from the United Arab Emirates, is the first volume of short stories to emerge from this commercially and culturally vibrant centre of the Arab world. Long before the riches of oil, this region was harsh, and the stories in this collection sum up the struggles of those early days; and the difficulties and dangers of bringing together the past and future of the UAE.

To RSVP for the event please email shop [at] hauspublishing.com

Award Season: Nominations Open for the Sheikh Zayed Awards

The Sheikh Zayed awards are
presented every year to outstanding Arab writers, intellectuals, publishers as well as young talent whose writings and translations of humanities have scholarly and objectively enriched Arab cultural, literary and social life.
You can nominate (yourself or a writer/publisher etc) in a number of categories. The awards are valued at 750, 000 dirhams each -- about £130, 000 or $205, 000 -- making them one of the richest literary prizes in the world.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Muslim Writers Awards 2009

The third annual British Muslim Writers Awards will take place on 27th May 2009 at London’s Park Lane Hilton. The MWA initiative recognises the breadth and quality of literary talent within the UK’s Muslim community. The Muslim Writers Awards initiative is now in its third year, and is organised by Innovate Arts – a non-profit body set up to encourage creative expression within economically deprived communities. MWA 2009 will recognise the work of 15 writers across eleven categories, including the prestigious “Writer of the Year” award.

Irfan Akram, Project Director for Innovate Arts, commented: “The number of submissions we received clearly demonstrate that British Muslims are passionate about creative expression. The body of work that we’ve reviewed this year includes earnest poetry, compelling journalism and gripping fiction. The winners represent the cream of British Muslim literary talent. And they will act as role models for a new generation of Muslims keen to develop their powers of creative expression.”

The ceremony will be broadcast live to millions of viewers across the UK, Europe and the Middle East by several satellite broadcasters including Islam Channel, the world’s number one Muslim channel. I'll post news of the winners here as soon as they're announced.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Beirut39: Nominate writers & follow the judging!

The Hay Festival's Beirut39 competition announced a new judging panel:

Alawiyya Sobh - Lebanese novelist and Editor-in-Chief of the best selling women's magazine Snob Al-Hasnaa'
Seif Al Rahbi - Omani poet and prose writer, Editor-in-Chief of Nizwa magazine
Alaa Al Aswany (chair) - Egyptian journalist and writer of the famous 'The Yacoubian Building'
Abdo Wazen - Lebanese poet and cultural editor-in-chief of pan-Arab Al Hayat newspaper

There's still time to nominate your chosen writer(s): the Authors page has all the information you need. The Atlas features dozens of Arab/ic writers under 39 -- browse for suggestions or reminders...

I'll be keeping you updated as the judging proceeds -- and new profiles will appear on the Atlas as we discover new writers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Towering Babels? Arabic and/as Other Languages

Two interesting posts about language(s) today, first from blogger Lameen Souag, who is studying translation at SOAS, and keeps the blog Jabal al-Lughat blog, where a fascinating discussion is flowing about "French among Algeria's elite" and the place of Arabic and Berber in Algerian culture, politics and literature. It's an informed debate around a complex issue, showing how language is tied up with all sorts of identities: national, ethnic, classed, generational, and political.

The Washington Times, on the other hand, boobs in its review of Rafik Schami's The Dark Side of Love, claiming that Anthea Bell translated the book "from the Syrian." The Literary Review and Three Percent are all over this mistaken claim, with Chad Post pointing out that - among other things - Bell is probably one of the best-known translators from German: the language in which the book was first published in 2004. Schami's novel does cover an epic sweep of Syrian history, but he moved to Germany in 1971.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

BBC World Book Club goes to Egypt

Today's book club sees Nawal El-Saadawi in conversation with Harriett Gilbert, discussing the still-controversial classic Woman at Point Zero. You can listen to the broadcast online here.

On the same page, there's the opportunity to submit questions for the forthcoming bookclub with Alaa al-Aswany, who will be talking about The Yacoubian Building on 28 May -- and to see the discussion take place, at 4.15 that day in Bush House in London. If you would like to put a question to Alaa Al Aswany, or be in the audience, please email worldbookclub@bbc.co.uk or call on 0207 557 2778.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Art See No Border? On Getting to the UK (or not, as the case more often is)

Perhaps the high profile case of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, due to direct Così fan Tutte for the English National Opera, will draw attention to the current critical state of visas for artists travelling to the UK. As the Guardian reports today, Kiarostami - an internationally acclaimed director who has travelled to festivals around the world - said
that he "does not feel he was treated in a respectful way" when applying for his visa. He found the process "unduly time-consuming and hugely complicated".
Despite the late intervention of the British ambassador in Tehran, Kiarostami decided to quit the application process.

Artsadmin called attention to the changes in the UK application system for artists earlier this year, with a petition signed by prominent artists, supported by the Manifesto Club. The new visa restrictions have hit the Atlas directly, with visa complications leading to the cancellation of our Refuge in Words event. If you believe that artists and art should be able to travel, please consider signing the Artsadmin/Manifesto Club petition and lobbying your MP.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fatena al-Gharra: The Lost Button and Woman of Mint

Two final poems from Fatena al-Gharra, as translated by Sarah Maguire, Anna Murison and Sarah Vaghefian in their workshop at the Poetry Translation Centre: The Lost Button, a sensual moment snatched on a hurried pavement (I can't help but hear an allusion to Gertrude Stein's lovely and loving Tender Buttons in the title); and Woman of Mint. The poem is divided into two stanzas, a She stanza and a He stanza, with the person of the opposite gender only appearing in the final two lines of each stanza, creating an erotic tension from the (mandated) separation of the genders in observant Islamic societies. In her notes, Sarah comments that
It's fascinating to witness a woman poet writing in Arabic using a 'feminine' mint plant and a 'masculine' nettle to express her feelings about gender.
The play with the natural world and the switch of point-of-view in the poem is reminiscent of the Song of Songs, in which the female speaker may be the Queen of Sheba and aligned with the Arabic world, and the male speaker Solomon and aligned with the Israelites. So here the male figure is a nettle, a plant that spreads and takes over land. Within the erotic tension is (perhaps) a biting national allegory, controlled by the female voice.

Books Across Borders: Beirut39 at Hay; the Bubisher in Western Sahara

As well as the Free the Word festival taking place in New York, there's news of a new addition to the summer festival line-up from the innovative folks at the Hay festival, a celebration of Arabic literature at this year's festival to recognise Beirut's status as UNESCO World Capital of the Book 2009. The Tanjara has curated event listings for panels and readings involving Arab writers. And there's still time to enter - or nominate someone for - the beirut39 project to find 39 writers of Arab heritage under 39.

And in Western Sahara, a mobile library is bringing joy and/of literacy to children in refugee camps. The Bubisher, named after a good-luck bird, is a bus carrying books for a reading plan, according to Global Voices. The bus, of course, has a blog written by its originator, Spanish publisher Gonzalo Moure. As for what's on the bus, Global Voices quotes Kalandra blog: I
n addition to books in Castillian Spanish donated by publishing houses like Kalandra, Bubisher has a collection of books for children and youth in the Arabic language strengthening the ties with multiculturalism.
You can become a Bubisher friend and circulate, translate and promote their materials.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Movements: Fatena al-Gharra

The Poetry Translation Centre are working away on poems by the last two poets in our Gaza portfolio, Fatena al-Gharra and Khaled Abdallah. Last week's workshop produced this delicately witty and boldly sensual translation of al-Gharra's "Movements." You can enjoy it on the PTC site, where you can also take a look at the original Arabic poem and a literal version.

World Literature/Literature and the World: Three Views

It's the beginning of literary festival season, and Chad Post at Three Percent has been travelling to many of them, including Montréal's Metropolis Bleu festival, which claims to be the world's first multilingual literary festival; in this rather breathless post he contemplates Canada's "two solitudes" and the implications for global publishing at large -- and gives a sense of the new transnationality of the publishing business.

Over at NewPages, Denise offers a post on the "conundrum" of world literature that picks up on two recent articles about the topic, including Pankaj Mishra's Author, Author column from last Saturday's Guardian Review, which offers a Marxist analysis of "world" literature as a globalised market. Her other pick is a Reuters article concerning the lack of circulation of contemporary Chinese writing. One of the article's sub-heads refers to the "Banned in China" brand, supported by a quote from Jo Lusby of Penguin:
Oftentimes 'banned in China' is the only selling point publishers can use to communicate what the book is about. I don't think it's surprising it's not necessarily the big literary tomes from China which are making it out, but it's the more racy, pacey books.
While censorship may help foreign rights sales, it still "hurts" writers' careers inside China, as Yan Geling comments in the article. The global market is not bringing freedom of expression to the country, in other words.

An article on the AFP about Arabic literature suggests that the fashion for translating banned or controversial books is an extension of Orientalism, whereby only works that conform to (and flatter) Western notions of oppression and liberation get picked up for translation. Lebanese author Jabbour Doueihy makes a sharp critique of the current boom in Arabic novels when he tells the AFP,
Individualism and the ego awoke in the Arab world through the novel, as though it were personal resistance against oppression.
Fakhri Salih, a former jury member for the award and current chairman of Jordan's association of literary critics added that the small upturn in translation, media attention and international funding for Arabic novels stems from a political motivation:
The Arab novel offers Westerners an 'anthropological' tool to understand the Arab world, which has been accused of terrorism since the September 11 attacks.

Yet this 'anthropological' depth of understanding is exactly what Reuters argue that translations from contemporary Chinese literature could offer to Western readers, rather than the equally 'anthropological' titillations of sexual explicitness. NewBooks is right: world literature is a conundrum. Where all the articles agree is that translation is of paramount importance for increasing access internationally, and that the motivations of literature's gatekeepers (both state and corporate) have to be scrutinised, as they have power over what we read and how.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Festivals: Free the Word, Palestine Festival of Literature

In London today International PEN's Free the Word festival kicks off. Running through the weekend, it boasts a packed calendar of themed events exploring Heaven and Earth -- set off beautifully by the festival's primary location, Shakespeare's Globe. The festival brings together writers from around the world, many of whom make their homes in the UK, including to UK-based Arab writers: Samir El-Youssef will take part in "Beyond Faith and Reason" this evening, while on Sunday Leila Aboulela will join controversial French author Catherine Millet to discuss "Heavenly Pleasures."

Travelling in the opposite direction, 17 international writers head to Palestine for the second Palestine Festival of Literature from 23rd-28th May 2009. Because of the difficulties Palestinians face under military occupation in travelling around their own country, the Festival group of 17 international writers will travel to its audiences in the West Bank. It will tour to Ramallah, to Jenin, to al-Khalil/Hebron and to Bethlehem. To mark Jerusalem’s status as Cultural Capital of the Arab World for 2009, the festival will begin and end in Jerusalem. On the occasion of the first festival, last year, Mahmoud Darwish said:
Thank you, dear friends, for your noble solidarity, thank you for your courageous gesture to break the moral siege inflicted upon us and thank you because you are resisting the invitation to dance on our graves. We are still here. We are still alive.

This year, there are several Arab writers participating: Suad Amiry, Suheir Hammad, Nathalie Handal, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Jamal Mahjoub, Raja Shehadeh, and Ahdaf Soueif. Soueif, chair and Founder of PALFEST, said
We were overwhelmed by the responses of both our audience and our authors last year; so we can't wait to go back. We found that Palestinian cities – even in theextraordinarily cruel circumstances in which they find themselves – manage to produce brilliant art and top class education. PALFEST aims to help them carry on doing that.
The Palestine Festival of Literature was inspired by the call of the late great Palestinian thinker, Edward Said, to “reaffirm the power of culture over the culture of power.” PALFEST 09 is organized in co-operation with Yabous Productions, and in partnership with the British Council.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Darwish Therapy in Athens Airport

A beautiful post about poetry in motion (and in everyday life, both lived and virtual) by Palestinian blogger Raising Yousuf.


Global Voices provides some context on Raising Yousuf blogger Laila El-Haddad's airport purgatory. El-Haddad offers up this thought as a larger context for her own recent experience of being refused entry into Gaza, her home:
“The quintessential Palestinian experience,” historian Rashid Khalidi has written, “takes place at a border, an airport, a checkpoint: in short, at any one of those many modern barriers where identities are checked and verified.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

News and Reviews: Arab Book World & a New Biography

There's a new issue of Arab World Books: as well as new poems, short stories and reviews, it includes an announcement that
The American University in Cairo is currently undertaking a feasibility study for the establishment of a center for translation studies that will contribute to the Arab region's cultural and intellectual life. Interested parties should contact Dr. Samia Mehrez.
There's more details in the Announcements section of the Forum. It's a publication of amazing range and depth, from a joint review of Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon to an essay entitled The Secret Sex Lives of the Philosophers [Ar], by Abdou Hikki. The site is constantly updated with profiles of Arab writers and new work in the various languages spoken in the Arab world. An excellent resource and space of important cultural debate.

The National has a review of what the article reveals is, unbelievably, the first biography - in any language - of a Palestinian poet. Alina Hoffman's My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness is not only a biography of Taha Muhammad Ali (published in English by Ibis Editions, founded by Hoffman and her partner, Peter Cole), but also, according to the National, a superb contextual history of Palestinian intellectual and artistic life over the last half-century. Writing in the Seattle Times, Richard Wallace comments that
Hoffman expands her biography of one remarkable man to include a community of writers and a wider theme: how major events in Israel's political history influence and affect a writer's voice and purpose.

Updated 6/5/09:
The New York Times has a review of Hoffman's biography of Ali, which expresses a warm welcome at her well-told anecdotes and distinct disquiet at anything resembling politics.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Arabic Books in the World Digital Library

Welcome to UNESCO's World Digital Library, the latest -- and possibly largest -- project in the democratisation of print culture. It's not online quite yet, but when it is, internet users will be able to access - in detail - digitised holdings from 32 partner libraries and museums around the world. John van Oudenaren, the project director, is keen to stress the global coverage to which the project aspires, and The Guardian offer a thought-provoking angle:
The Middle East is playing a significant role. The National Library and Archives of Iraq are contributing, among other things, a selection of yellowing newspapers and periodicals from the 19th and 20th centuries written in Arabic, English, Kurdish and Ottoman Turkish. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University and the Qatar Foundation are also taking part, while the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, already a leader in the race to digitise cultural treasures of the Arab world, is providing volumes and plates from the Description of Egypt, a work of scientific observation carried out by French scholars during Napoleon's military foray into the country in 1798.

Dr Sohair Wastawy, chief librarian at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, said the WDL could prove to be an effective and original means of cultural rapprochement. "So much of the recent problems between the west and the Islamic and Arab worlds has come from misunderstanding," she said. "This project will allow us to show where we come from, our culture and our literature. Being able to communicate this will foster greater dialogue and allow us to introduce Arab culture to the rest of the world."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Message from Gaza: From Blog to Book

Professor Dr. Said Abdelwahed is one of the three bloggers at Moments of Gaza who have been providing on-the-ground news and observations from Gaza since December 2008. Dr. Abdelwahed's blogs struck a chord with Mari Oka, professor of Islamic and Middle East studies at Kyoto University, who translated and collected the posts into a book just published by Sedosha in Tokyo. Dr. Abdelwahed notes that
The Message from Gaza was the first book to document part of the war on Gaza from inside!
The swift transition from blog to book, and from English to Japanese, is distinctive evidence of the internet's potential to change the shape of journalism and publishing towards inclusion, polyphony and democratisation, while retaining high standards of reportage.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Voices from Gaza: Khaled Abedallah

It's been a while since the last poems in our series, but new translations are arriving. Sarah Maguire and the Poetry Translation Centre have been translating work by Khaled Abedallah, and the first poem Seeds in Flight has gone up on the PTC website. More work to come from this wonderful writer, and two pieces by Khaled Jum'a are being co-translated by Isis Nusair and Michael Rosen. To hear and see more about Gaza, check out the program for the 10th Palestine Film Festival, which takes place in London from April 24th - May 8th 2009 at the Barbican Cinema and SOAS.

Digital Democracy in the Arab World: The Good News

First up, a new project brought to my attention by Body on the Line: R-Shief (Arabic for archive): describes itself as
an initiative in the field of knowledge production that distinguishes a contemporary Arab transnational public as an emerging voice on the world stage deserving serious attention given this community’s role in current geopolitical, international, and transcultural agendas.
Part-library, part-journal, all online, R-Shief offers both speed and accessibility, and includes non-traditional research methods such as "digital video, personal narratives in the form of blogs, collaborative production models and other mixed media." Its current focus is on Gaza; you can contact initiator Laila Shereen to discuss adding or using material.

And revisiting a story from the early days of this blog: the case of Magdy elShafee's graphic novel Metro is coming to trial in Egypt. Global Voices (who published excerpts from Metro in translation) published an open letter from AlShafee asking for support -- and this is what makes it good news, despite the prosecution -- from the global blogosphere, which has taken up the case. AlShafee writes:
Next Saturday April 4th, A court session scheduled for the trial of Magdy El Shafie and Mohammed El Sharkawy (Malameh Publishing House) for distributing, publishing and selling the graphic novel “Metro”,

Your NO for confiscation

Is YES for our freedom

Is YES for our solidarity

Is NOOOOO for the government prelude of harder stringing of freedom of the art and word, in the press, the satellites, the internet and now the independent publishing houses. We invite you to say: NO for metro confiscation and trial, Support freedom of arts and expression

Metro is considered the first graphic novel in Egypt. written and illustrated by Magdy El Shafee who won the UNESCO gratitude for best African comics 2006

Egyptian government officials said the book was “harmful to public manners” due to its alleged political and social commentary.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo) - a pan-Arabic network that promotes freedom of speech has rejected the confiscation of the novel and considers it a severe violation against the freedom of expression.

With the coming court session next saturday April 4th, HRinfo and 4 human rights organizations announced a new condemnation in March 30th entitled: [Egypt`s Farouk Hosny goes to UNESCO, and Magdy Elshafee goes to the court!! the auther of Egypt's graphic novel “metro” threatened with 2 years jail sentence.] ([in Arabic])

We look for your solidarity; on your blog. Add a comment here [in Arabic] and here [in Arabic] and on Facebook and here.

We lean on your being there in Abdeen court, down town Cairo 9 am Naguib metro station next saturday April 4th.

best regards.

Magdy ElShafee
comics artist
Add your voice -- here as well! -- to the outcry against this trial and the original confiscation.

Updated 3/4/09
Marwa Rakha has a comprehensive update on the online coverage of the trial and ElShafee's campaign in today's Global Voices.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Voices from Around the World: Translation Tidbits

A slightly random post that, as a snapshot, reflects the diversity and confluences of world literature and your opportunity to get involved in it!

Monica Carter of Salonica, the "virtual salon dedicated to promoting international literature," has put out a call for unpublished translations for a new digital literary journal, E.Lire.

Three Percent have updated the design of their site -- and also their translation database, with the first installment of news for 2009.

If you're in London, there's a chance to meet writers from the UK, India and beyond at the PEN Literary Café at the London Book Fair. Over in New York, you can catch writers from around the world at the PEN World Voices festival.

And a future translation... Maya Jaggi meets Yousef Ziedan and discusses the international impact of the IPAF.
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