The British Council in Cairo sent out the following message yesterday: “In consideration of the events happening in Egypt, the British Council announces the postponement of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference events, including the translation slam, scheduled to take place in Cairo on 7 and 8 December. “
Both Adam and Randa — as well as the Council’s Cathy Costain — were kind enough to speak with me for a preview piece in the Egypt Independent, which unfortunately is now a long-range preview:
Usually, translators are expected to keep to literature’s shadows. Even the best are rarely famous, and, wherever a translator’s name appears on a book, it is in much smaller print than the author’s. After all, readers come to a book expecting to commune with Naguib Mahfouz, not Catherine Cobham. They are looking for the brilliant words of Jose Saramago, not Muhammad Habib.
But as part of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, which comes to Cairo on 7 and 8 December, translators will step into the spotlight. That’s when the city’s set to host its first-ever “translation slam.”
The two-day World Writers Conference will be held at the British Council in Agouza and the Civic Center in on the Gezira. At its two headline events, poets Tamim al-Barghouti and Aonghas MacNeacail will debate the question “Should Literature Be Political?” and novelists Sahar El-Mougy and Maggie Gee look at “The Future of the Novel.”
But the conference doesn’t only spotlight authors. On the afternoon of 7 December, two translators will take the stage at the British Council. Here, they will do battle over an excerpt of Yusuf Abu Rayya’s not-yet-translated novel “Ashiq al-Hayy.”
One competitor is Adam Talib, translator of Mekkawi Said’s “Cairo Swan Song” and Khairy Shalaby’s “The Hashish Waiter,” among other works. The other isRanda Abu Bakr, who has published translations both from Arabic into English (Ahmad Bakhiet’s “Laila: The Honey of Solitude”) and from English into Arabic (Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club”).
Both Talib and Abu Bakr admit that they don’t know quite what to expect from the event. But both have submitted their translations. And both will arrive prepared to defend their decisions.
“I think one clear achievement will be to put the focus on translators — for a change,” Talib said. He hoped that the event will “demonstrate the highly variable, individual, and experimental nature of translation. I hope that the audience will realize by the end of it that they’re reading Randa and Adam as much as they’re reading Yusuf Abu Rayya and that it’s nothing anyone should be ashamed of.”
Abu Bakr added that she thinks this event will be “a rare chance for those interested in translation to have an in-depth discussion about it.” Keep reading on the Egypt Independent.