Beginnings and endings are semi-fictional states, sharp edges that help us make sense of all the light and sound and magic flooding into our senses by placing boundaries between one thing and another. And although beginnings have the better reputation, a beginning also serves to close off other possibilities. The ending, meanwhile, opens them up. Beginnings can be clear-blue moments of giddy hope, mistakes, nerves. Endings are denser spaces, tightly packed with fragments of all the things that have come between.
As for the beginnings of this magazine—it had several. There was the beginning of the website in the fall of 2009. There was the moment when the website began to grow into a community. There was the humble first issue, in Fall 2018, which we are bringing back to new life here as BEGIN AGAIN. That first issue probably would have been our last, if not for the intervention of our art director, Hassân Al Mohtasib, who sent us a message that went something like: ‘Ahh, the literature you publish is beautiful, but perhaps the design could use a little help?’
And so we had another beginning in the spring of 2019: THE STRANGE, which included work by luminaries such as Syrian novelist and poet Salim Barakat, Moroccan poet Abdallah Zrika, Sudanese short-story writer Bushra al-Fadil, Iraqi master of the short-short fiction Diaa Jubaili, and Egyptian postrealists Tareq Emam and Amgad Elsabban. In the themed issues that followed, we strove to present a broad range of artistry, such that each piece was itself a beginning. The magazine was a space for very old literature, but also for new authors and first-time translators. Fifteen issues were crammed with beginnings, opening doors into tens—and then hundreds—of creative works.
When we say that everything ends, it is often with regret. When we say, “All good things must come to an end,” the must seems to carry a song of lament. And although there are hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of science-fiction stories in which immortality goes badly, we still return to the idea: What if good things never had to end? What if, instead of coming to the end of a beloved story or poem, one could read it—forever?
Perhaps there is another universe in which one reads only a single text; where instead of moving cross-ways in time, we move deeper. But here, I suppose, we move in ellipses. And so, we are starting this magazine again with the aim of marking an end. Next Spring 2023, we will publish our final, RAIN-themed issue. It will be our last work in this guise.
In this BEGIN AGAIN issue, you will find work that ran in the original BEGINNINGS, although to new visual effect. Dima Ayoub and maia tabet talk about the beginnings of a career in translation, Sofia Samatar pens a letter to the great, deceased author Tayeb Salih, Marilyn Hacker translates a short-short story by Zakaria Tamer, Hanan Natour talks with the poet Munsif al-Wahaybi. Waadie Saadeh writes about the body, in translation by Suneela Mubayi, and we have three of the four stories shortlisted for the inaugural ArabLit Story Prize.
You will also find a few works about the tension between beginnings and endings. We have Aya Nabih’s “Resection,” in translation by Sara Elkamel, in which the poet declares she has “discarded days in the wastebasket to make room for barrenness”; Balkis Sharara’s moving introduction to Hayat Sharara’s When Darkness Falls, which begins in Najaf, “the city of the dead and the living”; and Rasha Omran’s “Normal Life,” translated by Phoebe Bay Carter, where the poem’s narrator resists ending, striving toward her own sort of immortal in-between.
In the end, we hope the works you have read, and will read, from five years of ArabLit Quarterly have opened up new literary spaces. We hope they are spaces in which you can step away from the onrush of the world for a moment, and begin, and begin.
The table of contents: