By ArabLit Staff
This year, as every August, we celebrate Women in Translation Month, an occasion founded in 2014 by the book blogger Meytal Radzinski, to “promote women writers from around the world who write in languages other than English.” In the past, we’ve taken this opportunity to share work by women, to have conversations with women writers, and to highlight persistent misconceptions about books by women translated from Arabic to English.
This year, of around 34 expected translations to English, 13 were by women, which is marginally closer to gender parity than last year’s ratio of 12 out of 35, and marginally better than the international ratio of approximately 31%.
On the prize front, we also saw greater parity: the IPAF’s 2023 shortlist featured 3 works by women and 3 by men, although only one woman has won the prize in the past 10 years (Huda Barakat with Barid al-layl, in 2019) and only two women altogether (Raja Alem was co-winner of the prize in 2011). The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation’s 2022 shortlist, however, consisted entirely of works by male authors.
Encouragingly, however, our list of newly translated books by women this year is varied by genre and style, including not only two poetry collections (by Mona Kareem and Rania Mamoun), but also two graphic novels (Deena Mohamed’s Shubeik Lubeik and Lena Merhej’s Yoghurt and Jam), in addition to Iman Mersal’s lyrical, genre-defying Traces of Enayat. Women writers are being translated across more genres, which — we may hope — frees readers who only have access to Arabic literature in translation from certain preconceived notions often associated with Arab women, casting them as the “first,” the “only,” and the “taboo-breaking.”
Poet Iman Mersal has previously talked about the way in which, when she wrote about Enayat al-Zayyat, in Traces of Enayat, suddenly al-Zayyat became singular, a writer with a new cult following. Rather than focusing on adding particular women writers to a canon, she suggested people instead need to think again about the canon and “trust our readings: what we like, and what we don’t like. Not to add or subtract from the literary canon, but to encourage the diversity. To ask: Who put this text here and why?”
Keeping all this in mind, we choose — during this month — to bring attention to the wide and varied writing by women that we love in Arabic and in translation.
Women’s Writing in Arabic, Translated to English: Ten Books for 2023
History of Ash, by Khadija Marouazi, tr. Alexander E. Elinson (Hoopoe)
Traces of Enayat, by Iman Mersal, tr. Robin Moger (And Other Stories)
Where the Wind Calls Home, by Samar Yazbek, tr. Leri Price (World Editions)
This Thing Called Love, by Alawiya Sobh, tr. Max Weiss (Seagull Books)
Shubeik Lubeik, by Deena Mohamed, tr. the author (Pantheon)
Something Evergreen Called Life, by Rania Mamoun, tr. Yasmine Seale (Action Books)
I Will Not Fold These Maps, by Mona Kareem, tr. Sara Elkamel
Yoghurt and Jam (Or How My Mother Became Lebanese), by Lena Merhej, tr. Nadiyah Abdullatif and Anam Zafar
I Saw Her in My Dreams, by Huda Hamed, tr. Nadine Sinno and William Taggart