In 2014, when the late Mourid Barghouti was chair of the panel of judges for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, he used his awards-ceremony speech to read a manifesto about what he saw as wrong with the Arabic publishing landscape. He said, in his comments about publishers:
“But the most important thing is the absence of the literary editor. Publishers in our countries need to appoint an editor who can discuss the manuscript with an author and suggest a primary artistic revision. We are not talking here about a copy editor. An editor intervenes in the techniques, texture, structure, rhythm and dialogue of the novel. He suggests additions and deletions. He alerts the author when the text slips into being an article or thesis. This is an attempt to rescue the work from slipping into bad practice or being flabby or overstated, or writing the ending before its time, or after its time. Thus the novel arrives at its printed form, safe from falling into these traps.”
Barghouti suggested that the role of the editor was something like a safety net—to his mind, insufficiently used—that prevented both writers and publishers from embarrassing themselves. Certainly new editors have come onto the landscape since this speech in 2014. How do contemporary Arab writers and editors see the editor’s role?
For this special section, we sought out editors and authors to help us explore the state of editing in the Arab publishing industry. Their responses paint a picture of both frustrations and joys.
Publisher and editor Ahmed Saied expressed skepticism about labeling the Arab publishing landscape as an “industry.” Emerging editor Mustafa Eltelwany lamented the absence of experienced mentors and established figures in the field of editing.
Meanwhile, editors Samar Abou-Zeid and Rana Hayeck shared the satisfaction they derive from witnessing a polished manuscript emerge from their collaborative efforts with authors.
On the other side of the coin, authors Mahmoud Shukair and Haytham el-Wardany emphasized the author’s right to have the final say in their work.
The section concludes with insights from Yasser Abdelatif, who wears hats both as an author and an editor.