Edited by Wiam El Tamami
In this special section on self-translation, authors and author-translators Mona Kareem, Khalid Lyamlahy, Deena Mohamed, Dunya Mikhail, and Ali Shakir reflect on what it means to transport their own writing from one of their languages to another.
Lyamlahy, who also shares self-translated excerpts from his novel, calls the act of self-translation “an arduous confrontation not only with the act of re-writing but also with my language practices and preferences.”
Deena Mohamed draws her thoughts on self-translation, thinking through what it means to make her working-class characters speak in a language associated with privilege and wealth. Ali Shakir writes that he has shied away from self-translating a whole book, because, “The whole proposal would reek of desperation, and although I don’t know a single writer who is not indeed desperate, it’s not something we feel comfortable exposing in front of editors or publishers, for obvious reasons.”
Poet Dunya Mikhail, on the other hand, has translated a whole book. She says that writing a poem “the second time in another language helps me understand it more and feel more confident about it. Moreover, it gives me a wider space to diagnose its flaws.”
And poet-translator Mona Kareem reflects on the self-translators who came before, particularly Etel Adnan and Sargon Boulus, writing, “I cannot offer you any conclusions about self-translation except the mass of feelings that I carry with me day to day, text to text, encounter to encounter. The anxiety, guilt, alienation, displacement, but also the fluidity, worldliness, and awkward freshness.”
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