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.

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.
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