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.

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Monica Carter of Salonica, the "virtual salon dedicated to promoting international literature," has put out a call for unpublished translations for a new digital literary journal, E.Lire.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

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More from Abu Dhabi: From Arabic to Bulgarian

A really detailed blog post from Chad Post of Three Percent, who is clearly committed to discovering and covering the Abu Dhabi book fair. This one's about translations into and out of Arabic, and it's so interesting that I'm going to quote a whole chunk:

Literature Across Frontiers represents approximately twenty cultural organizations from across Europe that provide translation subsidies to publishers interested in translating their works. In addition, these organizations frequently produce pamphlets and other promotional materials to spread the word about their literature. Alexandra Buchler of LAF came to the fair to make more Arab publishers aware of these programs in the hope that there will be an increase in translations into Arabic from the “smaller languages” of Europe, such as Catalan, Finnish, or Latvian. Her overall goal is to help create networks between European publishers and Arabic ones, in hopes of developing relationships that lead to greater cultural exchanges.

Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of Finnish to Arabic translators out there (for example–this is true with a ton of countries), so LAF is also trying to create partnerships to support the development and training of translators.

Finally, Next Page is also at the fair to spread the word about “Encounters,” a program of the foundation to encourage translation and exchange between Arabic and the languages of Eastern Europe. Through this program they hope to establish better relationships between publishers in the two regions and supply translation subsidies to publishers of both areas. (A very logical and great complement to what LAF is doing.)

In addition to subsidies, Next Page produces some fantastically informative reports. Ina Doublekova gave me a copy of a recent study on “Translations of Books from Arabic in Four East European Countries after 1989,” which is really fascinating. According to the opening summary, over the last decade the average number of titles translated from Arabic into Bulgarian, Hungarian, Polish, and Serbia, is between 0 and 3 titles per year. (The entire study is available online at http://www.npage.org.) Hopefully thanks to Next Page—and its energetic and brilliant director Yana Genova—this situation will improve greatly over the next few years.
This is exciting stuff, and it would be interesting to track the growth in translated titles along with the growth of refugee and immigrant populations, for example, the influx of Iraqi refugees into Sweden, to see if there is any correlation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Beirut39: New Voices in Arabic Literature

Chad Post of Three Percent is blogging from Abu Dhabi about the book festival. Blog topics include: professionalising the Arab publishing industry; what's available for English-speaking readers (with shout-outs for AUC Press and Saqi); and the '39 Under 39' event by the Hay festival organised to celebrate Beirut beign UNESCO World Book Capital. A panel comprising Abdo Wazen, Huda Barakat, Elias Khoury and Maher Jarrer will select the 39 best Arabic writers under 39 -- to be announced in September with an anthology of short stories. There's information about the event, and about how to nominate an author here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Abu Dhabi Gets Book

Covering the Abu Dhabi book fair, the Khaleej Times notes a common problem - book sales dropping due to other distractions - and hopes that the fair, symbolised by the Arabic Booker, can bring readers back.
Diverting attention of the youth from the TV and computer screens to books may seem difficult but not an impossible goal. After all, this is the land of Scheherazade and the tales of Thousand and One Nights.
They also report that this year's winner Youssef Ziedan used the prize ceremony to promote religious harmony.

Three Percent have a full report on the festivities, the book fair itself reports a first: RAYA are the first literary agency to take a stall at the fair. RAYA have ten Arabic authors under contract, including Khaled Khalifa who was in the running for the Arabic Booker last year with the brilliantly-titled In Praise of Hatred.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Victory for the Devil: Azazel takes Arabic Booker

Described by the Coptic Church as "the Arabic version of The Da Vinci Code" and by its author, Youssef Ziedan, as "a philosophical novel written with blood, sweat and tears," Azazel (Beelzebub) carried off the $50, 000 top award in the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The National has a full report on the prize-giving. Trailing clouds of controversy -- as well as the promise of Dan Brown-style mystery (although the author hotly denies the comparison) -- Beelzebub sounds like it could be a huge hit once the English translation is released. According to Gulf News, Ziedan is now "hopeful that the book will earn him a Nobel prize for literature next year," which sounds less astonishing when you realise that Azazel is Ziedan's fifty-fourth book, a crowning achievement bringing together his academic work on Islamic philosophy and history of medicine, as well as his work as the Director of the Manuscript Centre at the Library of Alexandria. He has certainly galvanised attention to Arabic literature, with the prize even rating a mention in the New Yorker books blog.

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Poetry in Iraq is people's life"

Thanks to Ron Silliman (2006 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere) for the link to this curious human interest story from The Boston Globe, about a US contractor, John Dunlop, who co-organised a poetry competition with Saad Shaker, an Iraqi arts professor in Rashid.
Dunlop said Shaker explained to him the enormous importance of poetry in Iraqi society, not just as an art form, but as a way of communicating in religion, politics, and love, "We started to talk about how we could promote poetry as an art form, and he said, 'How about a poetry contest?' "

So the embedded civil-military development team helped Shaker's group set up the competition, with small prizes of plates or other mementos. Over the past month, four preliminary rounds were held, with more than 100 poets reading their works at each gathering in Rashid neighborhoods, including one drawing 350 people. The final was held yesterday at the Assyrian Hall in Rashid, and more than 200 people turned out for it, Dunlop said.
As a comment on the legitimacy of the US invasion of Iraq, or on the depth and riches of Iraqi literature, it's a little infuriating (and the comments are balanced between people with warmed cockles and people with flames of rage coming out of their heads), but it does convey something amazing about the importance of poetry -- best put by
Dhafer Al Makuter, an Iraqi translator who has worked with Dunlop since last August, said the importance of poetry to Iraqis can't be overstated. "It's like McDonald's to Americans. Poetry is for when you pray or go to the circus. Everything in Iraq is done with poetry. Today we bought some tractors for Iraqi farmers. A poet was hired to read poetry to the guests at the ceremony for almost an hour. Poetry in Iraq is people's life."
"Like McDonald's to Americans": as a manifesto for poetry's place in public life, heartening and terrifying in equal measures.

Arabic Booker (Almost) Announced...

And if the Abu Dhabi book fair's coming up, then so is the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, aka the "Arabic Booker," which will shower its bounty - including English translation paid for by Sigrid Rausing, owner of Granta - at the fest. Both The National and the LA Times are spinning the award's potential for controversy: the LA Times focuses on the religious taboos broken by Ibrahim Nasrallah and by Yousuf Zeydan's Beelzebub. Ed Lake at the National picks up on two books that are about the vexed role of the translator/interpreter, suggesting that:
It would be interesting to see Fawaz Haddad’s entry, The Unfaithful Translator, take the prize, if only to see what the Granta people make of it. The Syrian author tells the tale of an interpreter whose unconventional views on the role of free translation in creativity and culture see him condemned for betrayal.
He also picks up on:
the one woman on the list, Inaam Kachachi, [who] presents what may be the timeliest offering. The American Granddaughter shows the ravages of modern Iraq through the eyes of an American-Iraqi woman. She returns to her home country in the compromised role of US Army interpreter; how else could that old feminist saw “the personal is political” be made to pack a more dramatic punch?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dubai: A New Age for Translation?

One last post from Dubai, I swear: the festival has inspired a lot of coverage, with some particularly interesting discussions about translation -- both between languages, and between cultures, its rewards and difficulties.

Over at Global Voices, Ayesha Saldanha (who notices our coverage of Dubai on the blog -- thanks Ayesha!) has a great round-up of posts detailing the several cultural festivals happening in the Gulf region, including book fairs in Abu Dhabi and one in Riyadh, which featured what blogger Ruhsa calls
A noteworthy attempt [by] the Commission PR booth at the Riyadh Book Fair. […] It features examples of items that they have confiscated, photos of items found in raids and also the reasons WHY they are banned. There were also several Commission members explaining things at this fairly popular booth!
That's the Commission of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, with whom the Ministry of Culture has to reach a compromise - including female stallholders being required to leave on days when men are allowed into the fair - to allow the fair to go ahead.

Ruhsa feels that the Commission's stall is a move towards a more transparent process of negotiation between tradition and modernity. In The Khaleej Times, there's a cracking interview with Egyptian poet, and president of Nile Culture TV, Gamal Al Shaer that discusses how these issues played out in Dubai. He commented that
Dubai is not another Singapore. It is an ambitious Arab city that builds skyscrapers, yet adheres to the traditional tent, coffee and falcons; a combination of originality and contemporariness,
a combination that also informed the poetry festival, which included classic recitations in a variety of venues (including malls) as well as more contemporary readings.

Al Shaer also shared a particular insight derived from the difficulties of presenting poetry in translation at live events, and connecting Dubai's ventures into literary culture and transcultural literature to a rich Islamic tradition of translation and cultural interchange.
“It is rather a translation of spirit rather than passionless words,” he said, hoping that the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation would adopt a regional translation project in line with the one implemented in the
 Abbasid age.

Monday, March 9, 2009

New Writing from Yemen and Upper Egypt

Yemeni Observer reports on a panel discussion about new Yemeni literature, including writers Ali al-Muqri; topics of discussion included the impact of globalisation on Yemen. In the Saudi Gazette, Susannah Tarbush has a review of Tales from Dayrut by Mohamad Mustagab, revealing for the first time in English
the strange, distinctive world of rural Upper Egypt with its poverty, superstition, vendettas, honor killings, rumors and folklore.
She also has an update on the 'Arabic Booker' (free excerpts in English with The National!) on her blog.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Breytenbach on Darwish

South African writer and anti-apartheid activist talks to The National about his friendship with Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. It's revealing, perceptive and moving. Breytenbach
tells a story of a holiday the pair once took in Ramallah. They were put out to find that they were expected to have an audience with Yasser Arafat. “We were not interested in that,” says Breytenbach. “We didn’t want to be recuperated… And also we couldn’t see what poetry we would be talking about when we talked to Arafat.” But despite his unwillingness, circumstances seem to have forced Darwish to give in. “Very early one morning in the hotel we were staying in, he came, Mahmoud came and talked to us and said: ‘I couldn’t get out of it. I promised him…’ So he was doing a little bit of carrying and fetching… He was not a totally cut-off rebel.”

Indeed, one of the facets of Darwish that Breytenbach singles out for special praise is the way in which the man and the monument are brought into an uneasy dialogue in the work. “He had this hard gift,” says Breytenbach, “of somehow being both private and very public in the same poem, to the extent that I think one can really see the poet at work, struggling with his own private demons... At the same time I don’t think he ever extrapolated from there. He’s not trying to imagine that whatever was ailing him was kind of an incarnation or a representation emblematic of the larger cause – or the other way around, for that matter.”
I also loved this article, by Ed Lake, for coining the word "bonhomous" to describe the atmosphere at the Dubai festival, where he was speaking to Breytenbach.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dubai, cont.: Celebration vs. Censorship

The first Gulf literary festival is generating lots of column inches in English-language press from the UK, North America and the Arab world; in the former countries, the emphasis is on censorship (Globe and Mail), women and clichéd images of Arabic literature (it's about camels!): The Independent get all three into the headline of their coverage. In the latter, the emphasis is on the diversity of Arab writers, the challenges of translation (Gulf News) and poetry as a shared culture (Gulf News). The Saudi Gazette highlights this last with a headline that draws attention to the wonderful title of the poetry festival: "A Thousand Poets, One Language."
Abdullah Kader, an acclaimed writer, moderated the evening that witnessed a remarkable turnout of audiences.
Kader said: “Poetry does not always command wide attention.
However, Dubai has given poetry a huge window of opportunity to be experienced in all languages, demonstrating the Emirate’s love for culture and its firm commitment to evoke, preserve and evolve the genre as a creative form of expression.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More from Dubai: Is Censorship an Elephant?

That's Claire Armistead's opinion, writing in the Guardian (which, hmm, generated this whole debate in the first place when it hosted Geraldine Bedell's blog without checking the facts) on Monday. She attended the "hastily arranged censorship debate" convened by the festival. Speakers included Margaret Atwood (via videolink), Ibrahim Nasrallah, Andrei Kurkov, Rachel Billington, PEN secretary Eugene Schoulgin, Rajaa al-Sanea and festival host Mohammed al-Murr.

What appears to have emerged from the debate is that censorship operates on a spectrum across all nations, including those that pride themselves on their openness and multiculturalism, such as Canada, but it carries greater attendant risks - imprisonment, torture, exile - in some countries than others. Andrei Kurkov, from the Ukraine, also alluded to the commercial potential of a whiff of censorship, criticising publishers for seeking out censorship as a "badge."

Perhaps most of interest -- and it's unclear how or whether this relates to the media spotlight on the emirates created by Bedell's blog, or to the presence of the international festival -- is something Armistead reports towards the beginning of her article. After the case of three journalists who were jailed for defamation over something they had written on the internet
Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the emir of Dubai who is also its vice-president and prime minister, has since decreed that no journalist should receive a prison sentence for press-related offences, and the journalists have all been released from jail.

Women Writing from the Arab World: Dubai panel

Novelist and blogger Liz Fenwick reports from Dubai on a panel discussion featuring Mansoura Ez Eldin, Haifa Bitar, Sahar el-Mougy and Rajaa al-Sanea with Hani Nakshabandi that discussed the questions: “What are the implications of being a writer for Arab women? Can one speak of women’s literature as opposed to men’s literature?” The report is preoccupied with Fenwick's own reactions, but there are some real zingers that made me wish I'd been there to hear these four very different writers talk about their process. Haifa Bitar described her struggles with the Greek Orthodox Church in Syria, especially after her divorce, as:
being in a small room like a cage and they only way to turn the fear (the cage) into endless space was to write. She also said that writing for her was like having a photocopier for what was in her mind.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Souk it To Me: Dubai festival takes poetry to the malls

The Saudi Gazette reports that as part of the festival, there are poetry contests being held in Dubai's world-famous malls, bringing together an Arabic poetry tradition and the newer mode of the poetry slam/Pop Idol.
The festival aims to revive the ancient poetic tradition of the historic Souk Okaz dating back to 500 BC, where literary contests and poetry recitations were held by prominent Arab poets in the pre-Islamic era, and which was revived in Taif, Saudi Arabia, last year. Similarly, the Dubai festival “will act as a forum for poets from around the world, to remove the barriers of borders and speak the language of poetry,” Al-Shaali said. As the nature of ancient souks has changed, so will the rules of the game of contemporary souk literary contests. The festival organization committee has planned to transport this tradition to the modern-day souk – the shopping malls – and host short plays and story recitations reflecting the contemporary human spirit in the poetic tradition.
And it's pretty hardcore:
This year’s event features prominent contemporary Arab poets like Saudi Prince Badr Bin Abdul Mohsin, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Sheikh Ahmed Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum from the UAE, and Saudi scholar Dr. Aayid Al-Qarni, Abdulrahman Rafi from Bahrain, Farouk Juwaydah and Ahmad Hijazi from Egypt, Hussein Darwish from Syria, Mahmoud Abdulghani from Morocco, and Abdu Wazin from Lebanon, and more.
Poets from other parts of the world include Mathew Sweeney from England, Raphael Urweider from Switzerland, Patrizia Cavalli from Italy, Enrique Moya from Venezuela, and Joachim Sartorius and Wolfgang Kubin from Germany. The poetic talent of the sub-continent will be represented by Kamal Vora, Ranjit Hoskote and Imtiaz Dharker from India, and Saba Ekram from Pakistan.
Has anyone been to one of these events? What was it like? Reports in ghazal form please :)

"I am a translator. I am a prisoner of your thoughts."

Emily Meredith at the Kaleej Times reports Ibrahim al-Koni's insights into the fraught process of translation from Arabic (via Russian, English, French and back to Arabic in one particularly mind-boggling instance) from the International Festival of Literature in Dubai.

Al-Koni offers a fascinating account of his work with German translator Hartmut Fahndrich,
a scholar whose work originally focused on translating medieval Arabic medical texts rather than modern literature, for 15 years now. The two collaborate on translations, particularly when Fahndrich has doubts about what the text conveys.

“When Fahndrich has his doubts regarding a sentence, we must meet,” Al Koni said. “Many translators are not as conscientious, nor do they have the luxury of a well-established relationship with the author.”

“You as an author can write whatever you want,” he reminisced about Fahndrich telling him, “But I am a translator. I am a prisoner of your thoughts.”
Thanks to Literary Saloon for tipping us off to this article.
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