Should Egypt Pay to Promote Its Authors Abroad?

Alice Guthrie and Alexandra Buchler talking about, as Bibi puts it below, how "everyone else" is doing it.

The question is a little forward: Clearly, we need to pay our teachers a decent wage, and give them acceptable working conditions, first. Without teachers, no readers. Without readers, no authors. And so on.

But it is important to understand the context of translated world literature: Our Arabic-writing authors are out there, ostensibly “competing” for global attention with German, Turkish, Dutch, Spanish, and Hebrew-language authors who have a battery of government resources at their backs.

Note: I would also like to correct myself and Alexandra: There is government money for Arabic-English (and other language-pair) translations after a fact, as the UAE-sponsored International Prize for Arabic Fiction has subsidized some translations.  

From (myself) in Al Masry Al Youm:

When the UK-based Literature Across Frontiers (LAF) visited Cairo this month, it was with the aim of speeding and smoothing out the flow of translations into and from Arabic.

The visit made two things apparent. The first was that many young Egyptians are passionate about translating foreign literature into Arabic. LAF Director Alexandra Buchler said that one young translator who joined the weeklong workshop at Ain Shams University left home at 5 am every morning so as not to miss anything. Others were equally enthusiastic about talks by authors, translators and publishers.

The second thing that became apparent was that the Egyptian government – and the governments of other Arabic-writing countries – do little to promote their own authors abroad.

This failure was one of the major discussion points when LAF presented a report on Arabic-English translation at the British Council headquarters this week. The report, which covered the period from 1990-2010, was part of a much larger study. Buchler told a small audience that the idea behind these studies was to “map the translation flows within the Euro-Mediterranean region.”

By mapping the flows of translation, she said, we could begin to see which areas were most in need of improvement. Keep reading. 

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6 comments

  1. ‘Alice Guthrie and Alexandra Buchler talking about, as Bibi puts it below, how “everyone else” is doing it.’
    sounds really dirty when you put it like that. me like.

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  2. Dear Marcia, thanks for your coverage and comments. Although translations into English are extremely important, offering to support the translation of prize-winning titles only is not enough. In fact, I am not aware that the translations of IPAF winners into languages other than English are indeed supported by the Prize, is that the case? IPAF has had great impact and has introduced contemporary Arabic writing to international publishers but a more systematic and coordinated effort is needed to promote titles and authors, and support translators and translations; I remember the distinguished translator of some 50 books from Arabic into German(Hartmut Faendrych) saying that, throughout his long carreer as ambassador of Arabic literature in the German speaking world, he has never been contacted, praised or supported by any of the Arab countrie’s governments or their representatives (e.g. Embassies). This was a few years ago, and things are thankfully changing. Whether Egypt should pay to promote its literature should not be an “either or” question. Egypt has been represented at many book fairs through the national stand and GEBO – what these representations and Egyptian cultural diplomacy have achieved in real terms is the question to ask.

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    • Well, that’s very true. Egypt is already paying for something. Whether what we’re paying for has any worth beyond the salaries of the GEBO and their children’s school fees is another question.

      Yes, the IPAF *can* support the translation of the shortlisted titles into any language. I’m not sure how this has worked out in real terms, though.

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  3. Typing too fast at the end of the day leads to typos 🙂 the sentence should read: I remember the distinguished translator of some 50 books from Arabic into German Hartmut Faehndrich saying that throughout his long carreer as “ambassador” of Arabic literature in the German speaking world he has never been contacted, praised or supported by any of the Arab countries’ governments or their representatives (e.g. Embassies).

    IPAF support for translation – where on the website is this information, guidelines, application form? This is a well-kept secret that needs to be more publicized.

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    • Well, I don’t know how it works, actually. Fleur told me they do it, so I have to take her at her word. I’ll have to check into how translators/publishers can apply for the funds.

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