What’s Bloomsbury Qatar Up To?

Two interesting pieces this week address what the new Arabic-English publishing venture, Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP), has got up its bilingual sleeves.

From Chip Rosetti in Publishing Perspectives:

“We hope to have more than 50 titles (in both languages) published by the middle of 2011, ranging from children’s books, to YA titles, adult fiction and nonfiction,” says [Andy] Smart[, BQFP’s consultant publisher].

But it’s not just about new titles:

The scope of the Qatar Foundation’s initiative goes beyond simply supporting a publishing division, however. BQFP’s brief also includes a “reading and writing development mission as well, which works with readers and writers — from schoolchildren to university students and reading groups — in the Middle East to develop a community of readers…”

I’m all for it. Why not take the success of “Million’s Poet” to some book-club version of the program? Surely Facebook can be involved, and some star power, and… Well, I don’t know. Here’s what Rosetti says:

In Qatar itself, BQFP will organize writing classes, host workshops on getting published, and sponsor author talks and book signings. In late May, for example, BQFP will be hosting a conference on translation, featuring Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif (a Bloomsbury author) as master of ceremonies: “She has a passion for improving the quality of translations,” Smart adds, “for translating a book in such a way that people will want to read and enjoy in its own right.”

What Souief says is certainly true for enjoying Arabic literature in English, but will it  really help the spread of reading and writing in the MENA? C’mon, what about my bigger-than-Oprah, book-club, reality TV+Facebook idea?

Back in reality, though: Susannah Tarbush, writing in the Saudi Gazette, had some interesting observations about digital reading in the Arab world, which might be of particular importance in a region that has so embraced the mobile phone:

The publishing industry stands at a crossroads. The digital revolution is under way, and electronic books are becoming accepted by the general public. “But potentially of even greater significance is the digital potential of the mobile phone in the Arab world,” [chairman of the BQFP Management Committee Nigel] Newton said. “At BQFP we are already exploring how best to use the digital medium for our publishing, and our reading and writing development work.”

The Gazette has more details about two of the first titles Bloomsbury-Qatar is bringing out in English: Inaam Kachachi’s An American Granddaughter and Suad Amiry’s Nothing to Lose But Your Life.

The Gazette also had more info about other forthcoming (and “possibly” forthcoming?) titles:

The newly-published BQFP books include Qatari Voices: A Celebration of New Writers, edited by Carol Henderson and by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar who is BQFP’s director of reading and writing development. Another title is the Arabic translation of the prizewinning novel for young adults Where the Streets Had a Name (2008) by Randa Abdel-Fattah, born in Australia to Egyptian-Palestinian parents.

Later this year it is due to publish a book of essays by the prominent Algerian female writer Ahlam Mosteghanemi, entitled Nisyane.com. BQFP is considering publishing an English version of Safinet Noah (Noah’s Ark), the second novel of Egyptian writer Khaled Al-Khamissi, who first came to attention with his bestselling debut Taxi.