Notes from a Self-translator and Other Translation Talks in Cairo This Spring

This spring’s Center for Translation Studies talks — both at the American University in Cairo’s old and new campuses — feature a number of interesting topics:

ctsFirst at the old campus is a talk by Ferial Ghazoul and John Verlenden on “Collaborative Translation of the Untranslatable,” set for 6 p.m. on February 23.

The pair brought The Chronicles of Majnun Layla and Selected Poems, by Qasim Haddad, into English, for which they’ve received a number of awards, including the 2013 University of Arkansas Arabic Translation Award, a $100K translation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Sheikh Hamad Award for Translation and International Understanding.

This wasn’t their first project: Ghazoul and Verlenden have been translating as a team for nearly two decades: Their first project, Muhammad Afifi Matar’s Quartet of Joy, also won the Arkansas award, in 1997. They also translated Edwar Kharrat’s Rama and the Dragon (2002), which the author himself had said was untranslatable.

Next is “Toward Developing a Critical Urban Lexicon: Cairo Urban Resource Library and the Challenge of Translation and Terminology” (, with Omar Nagati and Beth Stryker, co-founders of the Cairo Lab for Urban Studies, Training, and Environmental Research. Their talk is set for 6 p.m. on March 22.

Then on April 19, novelist and self-translator Mohamed Tawfik will talk about “Self-Translation: Faithful Rendition or Rewriting?” The author of Candygirl and Murder in the Tower of Happiness, also a diplomat, has previously discussed, in an interview, why he translates his own work:

I do it for two reasons. The first and simple reason is that I can. The second reason is [a little different]. I do translating in public whereas I do writing in small, confined [non-public] spaces. So translating my work is kind of a relief and a very welcome change after spending a few years writing in small rooms. I am able to go to restaurants and cafes to do the translating in the presence of others. So in a sense it is a nice way to shift the way you are thinking and prepare yourself for the next novel.

One of the things I have learned from doing my own translation is to respect and admire those people who do translation as a profession. Translating is an enormous amount of effort and can only be done by someone who loves translating. Not just translating the words, but translating the culture. You also get to understand more about your own work when you do your own translation.

These three talks will be at the downtown (Tahrir) campus’s Oriental Hall. All begin at 6 p.m.

For those who can get onto the AUC’s new campus out off Road 90, you’ll find:

“A Translator in the Crossfire: Bassem Youssef and the International Emmys Opening Speech,” with Mai Serhan, on February 29 at 1 p.m. You can watch a video of the speech on YouTube.

On March 28, Ellen Kenney will talk about “Islamic Art and its Intradisciplinary Translations,” also starting at 1 p.m.

On May 9, playwright and translator Ahmed El Attar will talk “Beyond the Text: Theatrical Translation in the Age of Globalization.” This will also start at 1 p.m. El Attar is the author of Hassan X 2 and the Magic Well (2009), a production for children that explores issues of class discrimination and the global water crisis. Other work includes F**K Darwin, or How I’ve Learned to Love Socialism (2007) which won the best actor award at the Cairo International Experimental Theatre Festival (2007), Othello, or Who’s Afraid of William Shakespeare (2006), Mother I want to be a Millionaire (2004), and Life is Beautiful or Waiting for My Uncle From America (2000).

All of the new-campus talks will be held in the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Hall, in room P071.