Friday Links: The Challenges of Publishing in Egypt; Who Got a 2012 NEA Translation Grant; More

This week in Al Ahram Weekly, Rania Khallaf interviewed translator and publisher Hala Salah Eldin Hussein, who puts out the wonderful Albawtaka Review.

As Hussein writes on Albawtaka’s website, “Albawtaka Review is the only print/online periodical that translates the English short story methodically and systematically into Arabic. It is published in Tanta, Egypt.” (Can I get a shout for Tanta?)

There are a number of highlights:

As the youngest female publisher in Egypt, how do you evaluate challenges facing publishers in general and female publishers in particular?

I’ve got to tell you that lack of funds and the difficulty of distribution are the two biggest obstacles in the field of publishing. Female or no, the challenges are the same. Of course you will find some of the people working in the print shop giving me looks, but it only lasts a few minutes and then I will just be treated as a publisher regardless of my gender. I have serious reservations about seeing my profession from a feminist point of view. I don’t go hunting for feminist stories, for example. I was flattered at first, but I came to regard readers extolling me as a pioneering female entrepreneur as an insult. What should be so extraordinary about being a female and a pioneering entrepreneur? I can’t afford to be self-conscious of my femininity in a male-organised world. If you do, you will always be treated as a sexual being. On the ground, walking bold and straight-backed into the print shop will erase the idea that a female is in the house.

And how does she keep going (financially)? Well, she does it all herself:

I have very limited means, but I am masterful at playing them. The review does not post any advertisements. Arabic advertising agencies force their agendas on Arabic sites, which I cannot allow. Since I am surviving on a limited budget I have to do everything on my own. I design the web pages and maintain them. I choose the stories and translate them. I correspond with agents and authors. Basically, I cooperate with other establishments in translating tasks to cover Albawtaka Review’s expenses.

What are the keys to successful translation?

I find the key is to practice, practice, and then practice. Reading about translation theories is cool, but it will not make a genius out of you. So I would very much encourage the organisation of workshops for translators where they get to share experiences, and learn from ther mistakes. Budgets are crucial, but three good books are more vital to the world than a dozen messed-up ones.

And what’s the role of translation in these tumultuous times?

I have recently been contemplating the value of literature in these times, where your step in Tahrir Square — protesting and demanding civil rights — should be more valuable than translating fiction. Can fiction really take second place after revolutionary activism? How can fiction help us in a time of political unrest? Should I stay in my office finishing this marvelous piece by Susan Straight, or should I just go out with my fellow countrymen, six hours or more every day, in the square? It seems that translating political articles will be of more use to the revolution, but for the time being I’ll keep the belief that a day translating Lorrie Moore or Edward P. Jones will teach me how to be a better human being, I’ll get to see the world in its true colours, I’ll learn about myself, others and humanity.

Read the whole Q&A here.

And the 2012 NEA Literature Translation (Arabic) Fellow Is…

Yesterday, NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman announced $200,000 in grants for for 16 literary translators. Ross Benjamin, whose translation of Job I recently enjoyed, has gotten a grant to translate The Frequencies by Clemens J. Setz from the German. Peter Constantine will translate Chekhov’s early stories and vignettes, while blogger-translator Pierre Joris  will translate The Complete Later Poetry of Paul Celan.

If you are not familiar with Joris’s blog, you should be.

But as for the Arabic fellow: William Maynard Hutchins will translate New Waw by Ibrahim al-Koni.

In a release from Appalacian State, Hutchins was quoted as saying:

Some people like the romanticism of al-Koni’s description of the desert and the mystery of the desert. But he also has a political dimension to his writings. He has a very elegant and recognizable writing style. That’s part of the challenge of translating his works to English. You want your translation to be elegant also, without coming across as stilted.

Elliott Colla recently wrote an essay about translating al-Koni for Banipal magazine; AUC Press posted a PDF of the article online.

Last Week to Submit to the Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize!

If you haven’t started on your entry, well, then you’d better get going.

Rare Photos of Waguih Ghali


Spurred by young author Mohamed Mesrati on Twitter, Susannah Tarbush dug up these images of the brilliant and short-lived Egyptian novelist Waguih Ghali with Diana Athill.

It started after Mesrati had found this photo on the website “London Fictions.”

Waguih Ghali, you are missed.

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