Here’s the newest issue from Banipal, an independent literary magazine that publishes authors from the Arab world in English translation. This summer issue spotlights twelve women writers from all around the Arab diaspora, whose short stories and excerpted novels center on “human issues such as loss, identity, personal awakening, family relations, migration, exile, being black in the Arab world, prejudice, dealing with prison and discrimination, travel and local customs.” In addition to the feature on women authors, the issue includes works by five other Arabic writers, and initiates a new Guest Author component by highlighting the American poet Marilyn Hacker.
With so much media coverage on the Arab world in recent years, it’s both refreshing and compelling to experience it instead through the medium of literature. Most of the works in Banipal 44 aren’t currently available to preview online, but click here to check out a tantalizing list of authors and titles (Umbilical Cord, The Regions of Fear, and Habib Selmi’s article on “becoming a writer in a house with no books” all caught my eye). I was riveted by several of the authors’ bios, which you can find by clicking on the author’s name in the table of contents. Many of these writers have undergone a wrenching process of imprisonment and exile, just to publish their works. Take, for instance, the celebrated Iraqi poet-novelist, Fadhil al-Azzawi. He began publishing in his teens and was later thrown into jail twice for his writings and intellectualism – yet he still managed to smuggle in some of his poems and secretly get them published while serving his term. Due to the government’s growing hostility toward dissenters, he left the country in 1976 to teach in Germany and has never returned. His Miracle Maker: Selected Poems of Fadhil al-Azzawi , available for free on Banipal‘s website, deals with the dark themes of torture, imprisonment, and exile that have shaped his life – take a look at “Prisoner 907” on p. 23. Al-Azzawi’s Comedy of Ghosts is excerpted in this issue of Banipal, but I highly recommend checking out his poetry, too – here you’ll find beautiful, disturbing, and provocative accounts of Iraqi life.
Banipal‘s mission, according to editor Samuel Shimon, is to promote “literature that truly reflects in an honest and faithful way the developments in creative writing across the Arab world.” Issue 44 certainly achieves this goal. With its spectrum of writers – well-known and newly-acclaimed, young and old, male and female – Banipal creates a panorama of Arabic life, showcasing a multitude of countries, customs, and writers.
This morning, Banipal announced that Khaled Mattawa has won of the sixth annual Saif Gobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literature for his translation of the Selected Poems of Adonis, published by Yale University Press.
They also named Barbara Romaine as the runner-up for her translation of Spectres by Radwa Ashour (published by Interlink), and “commended” Maia Tabet for her translation of White Masks by Elias Khoury (Archipelago).
The press release contains a ton of info about all these books and translators, so rather than crib from this, I’m just going to post it all below:
The Judges’ Announcement
Khaled Mattawa for his translation of Adonis: Selected Poems
Khaled Mattawa’s translation of this selection of Adonis’s poetry is destined to become a classic. It is a monumental piece of work, a long-overdue compendium of works by one of the most important poets of our time, a contribution to world literature that demonstrates the lyricism and full range of Adonis’s poetry. The translations are supple and fluent, flexible yet accurate, consistently sensitive to the poet’s nuances, and beautifully render into English Adonis’s modernist sensibilities. Anglophone readers will gain a new appreciation of why Adonis has so often been likened to TS Eliot and Ezra Pound, with the freshness of his lines and imagination liberated from the self-conscious archaism of other translations, and allowing his unique reworking of the legends of East and West, the arcs of love and death, to spring forth. This book should ensure that Western readers recognize the significance of Adonis’s contribution to world poetry.
Adonis is internationally known as a poet, theoretician of poetics and thinker, a patriarch of modern Arabic literature whose poetry resonates with universal dimensions. Known for his biting criticism of the dominating influence of Islamic ideology on modern Arabic literature, his influential, daring and experimental works of poetry enjoin the present with the past while giving perspectives into the future. Adonis’s poems in their original Arabic are not easy, in fact they are difficult and complex. They are multi-layered with history, myths and ideas, rooted in metaphors, symbols and surrealist images, and wide-ranging in genre and styles – all woven within a fine and concise language.
It was an immense challenge that faced the talented poet-translator Khaled Mattawa in translating Adonis’s poems to English or, as is often said in the Arab world, to the “language of Shakespeare”, and he has succeeded most eminently. Adonis: Selected Poems is a substantial and comprehensive volume covering over half a century of Adonis’s works from 1957 to 2008. Khaled Mattawa has brought Adonis’s poems to the English language with a musicality and aesthetic sensitivity that echo their innovative, conceptual and stylistic complexities – and in doing so he has created an original, powerful and lyrical poetic work in English. In a word: stunning.
On learning the news director of Yale University Press John Donatich commented: “It is very gratifying to see Adonis and his wonderful translator Khaled Mattawa receive this prestigious award. I know from personal experience how many readers have been so moved by these Selected Poems; it is so important that other people discover the work.”
Barbara Romaine for her translation of Spectres by Radwa Ashour
Radwa Ashour’s Spectres is an ambitious and moving blend of autobiography, history, politics and fiction telling the story of Egypt since the 1950s through the experiences of two women who are each other’s ghostly doubles. This experimental novel, which is political in the best sense, needs a confident translator, and has found one in Barbara Romaine. Her impressive translation renders the metaphorical power of Ashour’s story with grace and subtlety, skillfully reflecting the shifts in time and the different voices and registers. Fluent and refreshing, Romaine has done a brilliant job.
Maia Tabet for her translation of White Masks by Elias Khoury
First published in Arabic in 1981, White Masks was one of the first novels that dared to address the civil war in Lebanon, the terrible atrocities, and the war’s reflection in the daily lives of the people. Bringing home the dreadful reality of civil war, it is a fascinating investigation into investigation itself, telling the story of the murder of one man during the Lebanese Civil War, and showing the chaos and incoherence of history as it emerges, and the importance of personal stories to counteract and contain the messiness of history. Elias Khoury’s language is smooth and poetic, and finds its parallel in the masterful translation of Maia Tabet which brings the immediacy of the story to life, without sacrificing the nuances of Khoury’s moral and philosophical questions, transposing the colour and originality of the Arabic into wonderfully lucid prose.
To satisfy those fans of Arab literature, or those just getting turned on to the subject, Banipal is bringing out its newest issue, Banipal 41, available now.
Founded in 1998 and published for the last thirteen years, Banipal is an independent Arab literature magazine distributing contemporary work from all parts of the Arab world in English translation and is a co-sponsor for the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prized for Arabic Literary Translation.
This latest issue, Banipal 41, focuses on essays “Celebrating Adonis” with writers VS Naipaul, Stephen Watts, and Hassouna Mosbahi, among others. The issue is also giving a special look at Arab writers in Sweden, paying homage to artists like Syrian writer Salim Barakat and Faraj Bayrakdar doing work in the Scandinavian home of Stieg Larsson and who are continuing to produce Arab works as pieces descending from a culture and a language, and not a place.
Banipal is released three times a year with the back issues touching on Modern Tunisian Literature, Arab American Authors, Iraqi Authors, and The World of Arabic Fiction. Banipal’s next issue, Banipal 42, will be Literature from the Emirates.
To check out the Banipal page, click here.
The Autumn/Winter issue of Banipal recently came out, and sounds pretty interesting. (I wish some of the pieces were available online, but whatever.)
The issue opens with a 70-page feature on Mahmoud Darwish (some of the articles are available onlie and also continues the special series on “Contemporary Syrian Literature.” with poems by Adonis, fiction from Fawwaz Haddad, Khalil al-Neimi, Ibrahim Samuel, and Glady Matar. The review section is pretty extensive as well.
As one of—if not the only—magazines dedicated to promoting Arabic literature, Banipal is always worth checking out.
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In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .
I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .