Beau Beausoleil, the founder and driving spirit behind the “Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” project, is interested in branching out into the best quotes and excerpts from Arabic literature:
Beausoleil said that he’d particularly like to focus on ones that are “not already in public view. They don’t have to be from well known writers, they just have to turn an idea over in a new or unusual way. I’d especially welcome quotes from women writers and artists from the MENA region.”
Of course, men also occasionally have interesting things to say.
“I’d like quotes that get at the interior of writing and translation, quotes that illuminate and inspire, maybe even some that make us laugh at ourselves. Quotes on process and place, quotes on the ability and impossibility of language conveying the complexity of one moment of memory.”
He added: “I want quotes that inspire and challenge us!”
Even though I probably have any number from past interviews, I’m not at all good at this, but I’ll start. Egyptian novelist Salwa Bakr:
In most cases, women continue to write from a man’s point of view on the world, because the foundational literary references are those written by men. For example, when a female author describes a woman, she writes as a man would, saying ‘She was like an apple, or a flower.’ As a woman, I don’t notice these things in other women. I would say that a character is clever, or heroic, because I don’t see a woman through the eyes of a man, I see her through my own eyes. I don’t see her physical features alone, or see her as an object, the way a man sees her. This isn’t just a problem in Arab literature, but in world literature throughout its history.
Palestinian poet Mazen Maarouf:
Maybe we are talking now, on Skype, and maybe exactly two other people, in Africa, or in China, are doing the same interview, more or less. We never know. We became multiples, kind of copies. I’m not saying in a bad sense. The way we live, the tools we use. This makes me feel more encouraged and more like I’m intended to talk to these people who do not know me. Not necessarily Palestinians or Lebanese — anyone.
A heartbreaking quote from Syrian novelist Nihad Sirees last April:
Any audience in Providence, [Rhode Island], they’ll say: ‘Leave your books, tell us what is happening in your country.’ But I want to say: It’s still not late to help these people, to help this country, so that it doesn’t become worse and worse.
And from Syrian poet Ghayath al-Madhoun:
I think the Syrian revolution will change you, will change the West, will change everything.
You think these people in the West who stay silent, you think they will be the same people?
I had arrived at a point where I was blaming the translator: Why did they do that? But then I understood. There is some point where it’s impossible to cross the wall between two languages if you don’t change the poem.