NEA Announces 23 Literary-translation Fellowships; 2 Will Translate Arab Writers

The lede of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) news release on their 2017 Literature Translation Fellowships, announced on Thursday, boasts a “German science fiction novel, a 12th-century Arabic folk epic, and a Czech author’s autobiographical account of her battle with breast cancer”:

translationimage1The grants promise $325,000 to 23 translators working with fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry from 13 different languages, including the 12th-century Arabic project and a 20th-century Francophone Moroccan novel.

The criteria for selected projects include, according to the release, “the translators’ skill, but also the importance of a particular work of international literature to English-speaking audiences, including those authors and languages that are often underrepresented.”

The 12th century Arabic epic, to be translated by Melanie Magidow:

Melanie A. Magidow, South Kingstown, RI ($12,500) To support the translation from the Arabic of the 12th century folk epic The Tale of Lady Dhat al-Himma. This 7,000-page work is the longest extant Arabic epic … and the only one named for a woman. While the author is unknown, the epics were known to be recited and performed by storytellers, especially during the holiday month of Ramadan and during leisure times. Complete with fight scenes, love scenes, and warrior women, this epic follows a woman and her son and their posse of friends as they move back and forth primarily in the Arab-Byzantine borderlands, with visits to Constantinople and to the caliph’s court in Baghdad.

Melanie A. Magidow works as a freelance Arabic-English translator, specializing in literary translation. She recently received a PhD in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures from The University of Texas at Austin, where she taught classes in Arabic. She has also taught at the University of Rhode Island, Middlebury College, Hunter College, and the City University of New York. Prior to teaching, she was an Arabic newspaper collator for the Library of Congress.

And the Moroccan poetry collection, to be translated by Emma Ramadan:

Emma Ramadan, Providence, RI ($12,500) To support the translation from the French of the poetry collection The Shutters by Moroccan writer Ahmed Bouanani. Bouanani (1938-2011) was a novelist, poet, film director, and documenter of traditional arts in different regions of the country. The Shutters is a powerful and surreal mapping of Morocco’s cultural history and collective memory. The book is divided into several sections, all of which revolve around a house where the narrator lives with his grandmother, and through which a series of ancestors and mythical beings pass. Bouanani weaves together references to the Second World War, the Rif War, the Spanish and French protectorates, and the dead soldiers, prisoners, and poets who give voice to the violence inflicted on them. Bouanani believed that tradition held the key to a country’s heart and identity. He dedicated his life to tracking Morocco’s heritage that has been forgotten but not annihilated.

Emma Ramadan translates from Providence, Rhode Island, where she is the co-owner of Riffraff, a bookstore and bar opening this fall. Her translations include Sphinx by Anne Garréta, Monospace by Anne Parian, 33 Flat Sonnets by Frédéric Forte, and The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers by Fouad Laroui. She recently spent a year in Morocco on a Fulbright grant to catalog and translate the archives of Ahmed Bouanani, with the help of his daughter, Touda Bouanani, and the Dar al-Ma’mûn artist residency. Upon her return she edited a special issue on Moroccan writing for the online journal Words Without Borders.

A complete list of winners is available at the NEA website.