Egyptian Wiam El-Tamami Wins Harvill-Secker Translation Award

Egyptian actor, writer, activist, and editor Wiam El-Tamami has won the second annual Harvill Secker prize for young translators.

The 27-year-old El-Tamami was recognized at a ceremony tonight in London.

Update: See “Egyptian wins Harvill Secker prize for translating ‘Gothic Night’” on Al Masry Al Youm. 

She won the prize for translating Mansoura Ez Eldin’s ambiguous and dreamlike “ليل القوطي,” which several contest participants commented was quite difficult to turn from Arabic into English. The story, like much of Ez Eldin’s work, is watery, ever-escaping, and has a sort of twist ending where we question who the narrator is and whether she really knows herself.

El-Tamami said, in a prepared release, “The story was a wonderful choice for a translation competition—it presented just enough technical challenges while leaving plenty of room for creative interpretation.”

Judges said, in the same release, that “Mansoura Ez Eldin’s story presented many challenges to the translators with its shifting tenses and dreamlike structure. The winning translator not only rose to the challenges of the text, fully comprehending the author’s Arabic, but also produced a beautiful piece of writing. The translation displayed an elegance of style alongside fidelity to the Arabic original, yet the story is wonderfully articulated in the translator’s own voice.”

The judges this year were translator Anthony Calderbank, cultural reporter Mayya Jaggi, author Penelope Lively, and editor and prize founder Briony Everroad. Ben East earlier spoke to Everroad about the prize for The National.

El-Tamami’s writing has previously been recognized by the IEMed’s 2009 “Sea of Words” short-story contest for her “A Taste of Four Cities.” She is currently a freelance translation editor at the AUC Press.

She will receive £1,000 British as well as other prizes.

Update: The winning story has been published online at We’ll have an interview with El-Tamami on her return from London.