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.

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.
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