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.

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'.
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