Palestinian Poet, Translator, and Anthologist Salma Khadra Jayyusi Dies at 95

APRIL 21, 2023 — The pioneering translator, scholar, literary historian, and poet Salma Khadra Jayyusi — the most prominent anthologist of Arabic literature in English translation and founder of PROTA, the Project for the Translation of Arabic— died yesterday in Amman, Jordan. She was 95.

Salma Khadra Jayyusi was born in 1928 to a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother and spent her childhood and youth in Acre and then in Jerusalem. She studied at the Beirut College for Women and the American University of Beirut, graduatingin 1945 and returning to Jerusalem for two years before marrying a diplomat and moving with him to Jordan in 1947.

Jayyusi continued to write as she moved with her growing family to several countries, including a long stint in Iraq in the 1950s, which — according to a profile in Jerusalem Story — deepened her knowledge of Arabic literature, especially poetry. She earned her PhD in Arabic literature from SOAS in London in 1970 with a dissertation on trends in Arabic poetry; Issa J. Boullata described the work as “one of the best historical and analytical studies of Arabic poetry of the last hundred years.”

She went on to found PROTA, the Project for the Translation of Arabic, in 1980. The project reportedly had its genesis in the late 1970s when Columbia University Press invited Jayyusi to prepare a large anthology of modern Arabic literature. PROTA funded the translations of many influential works of Arabic literature into English, many of which went on to be taught at English-language universities around the world; she also edited the many anthologies that were part of this project.

While PROTA had no official headquarters, Jayyusi stayed in contact with its translators, editors, and researchers from her various homes in Boston, London, and Amman. Ten years later, in 1990, Jayyusi founded the “East-West Nexus,” which focused on making Arabic scholarly works available in English.

Jayyusi also published her own poetry, bringing out her first collection in 1960, Returning to the Spring of the Dreamer, and translated literary and scholarly works from English to Arabic, including Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet.

Jayyusi was recognized with numerous awards from institutions and governments around the world for her central role in shaping the canon of Arabic literature in English translation. As the PALRead project noted in 2020, when she won the Sheikh Zayed Book Award’s “cultural personality of the year” award, Jayyusi was a “great inspiration to many of us working in the field, the recognition of her lifelong achievements and contributions to Arabic literature and culture are so well-deserved and long overdue.”

Poetry by Jayyusi:

Uprooted,” translated by Lena Jayyusi

The Ship of Love,” translated by the author and Charles Doria

April Woman,” translated by the author and Charles Doria

1 Comment

  1. What a loss to Arab culture and literature, and to translating, publishing, and cultural exchanges around the world! Al Jayyusi didn’t see lines between all aspects of culture, including the hardest–like raising money for publishing projects. A scholar who knew how to cox and pressure doners and publishers worked tirelessly for decades to introduce world audiences to Arabic literature and Arab culture. She was a no-nonsense straight shooter and she got to her goals faster than many of us. A blessed life with an impactful legacy for us to cherish.

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