For only the third time in the PEN/Heim’s fourteen-year history, a grant has gone to an Arabophone project:
This year, one of the fifteen grants went to Elisabeth Jaquette for her translation of Rania Mamoun’s Thirteen Months of Sunrise (2009).
This year, organizers say they received a record number of applications — 224 recorded — and they selected 15 projects from 13 different sources languages. Each of the PEN/Heim projects will receive a grant of $3,870, with a separate $5,000 to the inaugural winner of the Italian Literature grant.
PEN suggests these stories are “possibly the first collection by a Sudanese woman to be fully translated into English,” and adds that they offer an “emotionally intimate look at urban life and alienation, while demonstrating an impressive range of literary styles, from realist to reality-bending.”
Jaquette and Mamoun have not yet signed with a publisher, so the collection is available.
Jaquette said over email that she was “particularly grateful to Raphael Cormack and Max Shmookler, editors of The Book of Khartoum, for introducing me to [Mamoun’s] work, and to Comma Press for featuring my translation of ‘Passing’ in the collection.”
Providing a platform for Mamoun and other authors from the seven banned countries is even more important in a time when the US is shutting its borders and stoking racist xenophobia. But work like hers should not be forced to exist in a space defined primarily by the narrative of security. Eventually, I hope readers pick up these stories for their emotional intimacy, depictions of urban alienation, and blurred lines between reality and the imaginary.
And an excerpt from the collection, courtesy of PEN:
I was at the edge of consciousness or death, when from far away a line of dogs appeared, led by our neighbor’s dog, who had something in his mouth. I thought I was starting to hallucinate, and was seeing things that weren’t there. When they got closer I saw that each one was carrying something in its mouth. Our neighbor’s dog looked me in the eyes as he tossed me a piece of meat. I didn’t know what garbage pile it had come from, or what house he’d stolen it from.
Mamoun, in addition to Thirteen Months of Sunrise, has published two novels, Green Flash (2006) and Son of the Sun (2013).
She has also won a number of other accolades. In 2010, she took part in the International Prize for Arabic Fiction writers retreat, or nadwa, and Mamoun also won a 2014 Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy grant to write a novel she was titling Azeeb, which she’s also worked on in an AFAC-sponsored writing workshop with celebrated novelist Jabbour Douaihy.
Mamoun is also known for her activism. She was arrested in September 2013 and put on trial for “inciting riots.” In December 2013, she was convicted of causing a disturbance during protests sparked by rising fuel prices. According to AFP, she was ordered to pay 500 pounds, about $65, or spend a month in jail.
More from Jaquette:
If you’re at AWP, see her at “Translation and/as Advocacy” on Feb. 9
More on Mamoun:
A Wild Plant: An extract from her novel (English)
Mamoun’s testimony on being arrested for protesting in September 2013 (English and Arabic)
Mamoun’s blog (Arabic)
Her work, in English translation, can also be found in two issues of Banipal.