There were no PEN/Heim grants for Arabic literature for 2016 — and, as per PEN/Heim, no fully completed submissions — but there was one to French-English translator Emma Ramadan to bring prose poems by Ahmed Bouanani (1938 – 2011) to English.
About the collection, PEN writes:
This volume of prose poems—by turns haunting, elegant, and surreal—is a key text by a major Francophone Moroccan poet and filmmaker, deftly translated by Emma Ramadan. These poems arc across geography, history, and folklore to rescue Moroccan cultural memory, an act of remembering in the face of colonial and state projects of forgetting. (Available for publication)
There is also an excerpt on the PEN America website. It begins:
If you want…
I tell myself each day: if you want to see the black dogs of your childhood again, give yourself a reason. Throw your hair into the river of lies, plunge, plunge further still into the blood of insanity. The masks don’t matter, but give yourself a reason and die if necessary among the bald heads, the shanty town kids who eat grasshoppers and hot moons, and the black dogs that play in the garbage dumps of the suburbs.
In that time,
the seasons rained colors, the moon rained legendary dragons. The beneficent sky opened onto white cavaliers. Just as the coquettish old women sang over the terraces of Casablanca.
Bouanani’s cult-classic novel L’hôpital is set to come out in English next year from New Directions.
In Bouanani’s lifetime, according to translator-poet Oma Berrada, he published four books: three poetry collections and the novella L’hôpital (1980). Also interested in film, Bouanini released one feature film,Mirage, and four shorts.
This, however, was only the tip of the artist-author’s ouevre, as what he left behind “is not a collection of notebooks, but several dozen *finished* manuscripts (i.e. written, re-written, proofread, sometimes typed, dated, etc.).” These were not just prose or poetry, but a wide array of genres: poetry, fiction, plays, film scripts, essays, history books, as well as drawings and graphic novels.”
Bouanani, Berrada said, spent a lot of his life documenting Moroccan oral poetry, crafts, ceremonies, popular myths and beliefs. “He didn’t see them as fixed folklore or museum material, but rather as as locus where collective memory is embodied, preserved, and constantly renewed.”
Get to know Bouanani’s work:
From Brooklyn Rail: The beginning of L’hôpital, trans. Lara Vergnaud
On Words Without Borders: From “Photograms,” trans. Emma Ramadan
From Le Magazine: Two short essays
Berrada notes that the “recent anthology of Souffles (www.sup.org/books/title/?id=25641) has a great early essay he wrote on Moroccan oral poetry.”
From World Literature Today: “The Illiterate Man,” trans. Emma Ramadan.
On YouTube, one of Bouanani’s short films: “6&12“