Two Winners of This Year’s University of Arkansas Translation Prize

For the first time, two works have been chosen as co-winners of the University of Arkansas Award for the Translation of Arabic Literature, which is set to be announced today at the Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) annual meeting:

uarkThe co-winners are:

All Faces but Mine: The Poetry of Samih al-Qassim, translated by Abdulwahid Lulua

The Perception of Meaning, by Hisham Bustani, tranlslated by Thoraya El-Rayyes

The $10,000 University of Arkansas award is generally split between the author and translator, and the winning book — or in this case books — are published by Syracuse University Press. According to the press, they are scheduled to come out in 2016.

Al-Qasim, a beloved Palestinian poet, receives the award posthumously, as he died this August after a long battle with cancer. He was 75.

Thus far, only one collection of al-Qasim’s works, Sadder than Water, trans. Nazih Kassis, has been published in English translation. This new translation is by Abdulwahid Lulua, an Iraqi writer and scholar living in the UK. His previous translation credits include Kuwaiti poet Souad Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah’s collection In the Beginning Was the Female (Dar Sader, 1994), and two of his poetry translations can be found here.

Hisham Bustani is a young Jordanian author with four books out — the winning title, The Perception of Meaning, was his third. Although a number of his stories have appeared in English translation, this will be his first collected work.

Bustani said that, “To be honest, being awarded this prize was quite a surprise, because The Perception of Meaning is my most experimental book so far. Subtitled ‘Stories at the Boundaries of Poetry,’ it has the hybrid capacities that render it ‘inappropriate’ in the era of the fast-food novel.”

The book includes pieces of flash fiction that run from a maximum of five pages to a minimum of a single sentence. A number are available in some form of translation, including “Laila and the Wolf,” “Apocalypse Now,” “History Will Not Be Made on This Couch” and “Skybar.”

Bustani, a consciously experimental writer, says that, “The mainstream novel and this whole business of concentrating only on the novel has contributed a lot to this aspect by toning down what is literary about literature. This creates a void that only brave, deep, concentrated experimentalism can fill. To me, this is where literature is hibernating; the tool to awaken the sleeping monster is nothing else by experimentalism.”

Bustani and Thoraya El-Rayyes are a long-time author-translator team, and he notes that she “succeeded even in reproducing the ‘poetics’ of the text in the English version. This also shows the importance of collaboration between author and translator in order to get the optimum translation.”


Back in 2012, Bustani and El-Rayyes did a Q&A with ArabLit about translating together.

Another Farewell: Samih al-Qasim’s Last Train

Dr Abdul Wahid Lulua on Not Getting Lost in Translation