SOAS Arabic Literature Professor Among Man Booker International’s 2015 Judges

Earlier this week, the Man Booker International — one of the prizes that aims, along with the Neustadt and the Nobel, to have a global-ish scope — announced its 2015 judges:

MBI2015 Logo borderAt least two of the judges have a particular interest in Arabic literature. From the release:

The five judges who will trawl world literature for authors who have made a significant contribution are announced today. Chaired by writer and academic Marina Warner CBE, the panel consists of the novelist Nadeem Aslam,  novelist, critic and Professor of English at Oxford University, Elleke Boehmer, Editorial Director of the New York Review Classics series, Edwin Frank and Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at SOAS, University of London, Wen-chin Ouyang.

The two I had in mind: Wen-chin Ouyang is author of Poetics of Love in the Arabic Novel (2012) and Politics of Nostalgia in the Arabic Novel (2013) and is a native speaker of both Arabic and Chinese. And Marina Warner is author of Stranger Magic: Charmed States & the Arabian Nights, which won a National Book Critics’ Circle Award, the Truman Capote Prize, and a Sheikh Zayed Prize.

In the past, the MBI has been (justly) criticized as being rather Anglophone-centric. The prize, worth £60,000, is awarded every two years and recognizes a writer “who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language. ”

On its face, the prize is only International as long as an author’s work is “generally available in translation.” But Michael Orthofer notes, over at the Liteary Saloon, that “how available” an author must be in translation is really not clear:

What they really have to clear up, however, is how ‘present’ an author must be in English to be considered — this is a prize that in one iteration wouldn’t even consider Peter Handke, António Lobo Antunes, Michel Tournier, and Christa Wolf, among others, because supposedly not enough of their books were available in English — and yet most recently had several finalists with very few books readily available in the US/UK (see my previous mention).

Orthofer also notes that the last three MBIs went to North American authors: Lydia Davis (2013), Alice Munro (2011), and Philip Roth (2009).