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.
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.