Three outstanding Maghrebi collections, in English translation, have made the twelve-book longlist for the 2021 National Translation Award in Poetry:
They are Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Agadir, translated from French by Pierre Joris and Jake Syersak; Samira Negroughe’s The Olive Trees’ Jazz and Other Poems, translated from French by Marilyn Hacker; and the anthology Poetic Justice: An Anthology of Contemporary Moroccan Poetry, translated from Arabic, French, and Tamazight by Deborah Kapchan with Driss Marjane.
In addition, Michael Cooperson’s translation of al-Ḥarīrī’s maqamat, titled Impostures, made the award’s twelve-book longlist in the prose category.
The selection criteria for the award, administered by the American Literary Translators’ Association (ALTA), include the quality of the finished English language book and the quality of the translation.
All four of these shortlisted works are remarkable texts and translations. Cooperson’s playful translation of al-Ḥarīrī’s maqamat into fifty different registers of English has already won plaudits; published by the Library of Arabic Literature, Impostures won a 2020 Sheikh Zayed Book Award and was one of the Wall Street Journal’s Top 10 Books of the Year. You can hear more about the book from Cooperson on a special episode of the Bulaq podcast.
An earthquake inspired Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Agadir, published in French in 1967 and beautifully translated to English by Jake Syersack and Pierre Joris. Part playtext, part novel, part political essay, part poem, this insurrection of a book takes as its starting point the devastating 1960 earthquake that struck the Moroccan city. You can hear more about it in a special “Aftershocks” episode of Bulaq.
Also from Morocco, Poetic Justice, a wide-ranging anthology of Moroccan poetry translated from three languages, brings together a rich and varied tapestry of the country’s many poetic traditions. As Kapchan said in an interview for al-Fanar, “This is not a book of ‘high’ culture only. It contains the tastes of many aspects of Moroccan society.” Poetry from the collection appears in the Spring 2021 (SONG) issue of ArabLit Quarterly.
And Algerian poet Samira Negrouche’s bilingual collection, in Marilyn Hacker’s English translation, has also already received laurels; it was also shortlisted for this year’s Derek Walcott Prize. In a review-interview for the Middle East Eye, Hacker said it was the publisher’s decision that the poems should appear in both languages, but Hacker says she was delighted with the choice. “Samira’s books in French were published by small presses, in Algeria or in France, and it may well be easier to find her work in French in this edition. At the same time, I think, or I hope, that the translations stand on their own as poems.”
Seven poems by Negrouche, tr. Hacker:
Poets.Org: Minus One
PNR: Coffee, No Sugar
PNR: To Invent the Word?
ArabLit: Seven Little Jasmine Monologues
Asymptote: While You Pass By
This year’s prose judges are Jennifer Croft, Anton Hur, and Annie Janusch. This year’s judges for poetry are Sinan Antoon, Layla Benitez-James, and Sibelan Forrester.
The winning translators will receive a $2,500 cash prize each. The awards will be announced at ALTA’s annual conference, set for mid-October of this year. In the meantime, ALTA organizers write, “ALTA will highlight each book on the longlists with citations written by the judges here on the ALTA blog, starting in mid-September.”
See the complete longlists on the ALTA website.