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App State Professor William Hutchins Shares Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

Jan. 16, 2014. For the first time in the history of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, two translators share the £3,000 prize: British translator Jonathan Wright and American translator William Maynard Hutchins.


Wright wins the 2013 prize for his translation of Egyptian writer Youssef Ziedan’s novel Azazeel, published by Atlantic Books. Hutchins wins for his translation of Yemeni author Wajdi al-Ahdal’s A Land Without Jasmine published by Garnet Publishing. The Arabic originals of both novels were in their different ways notably provocative and groundbreaking, and posed challenges for their translators. 

Today’s announcement of the winners says: “For the first time the judges have selected two outright winning translators, instead of the usual winner and runner-up. Two enticing and finely translated novels, each in their very different way, captured the judges’ attention and passion, leading to the decision to share the prize this year.”

In today’s announcement of the winners the judges describe Wright’s  translation of Azazeel as “a masterful achievement, deftly capturing the feeling of the original”. Hutchins’s translation of A Land Without Jasmine is “a gripping page-turner from a gifted and original storyteller, superbly translated”  



Azazeel: ‘enthralling, and flawlessly translated’

Azazeel is an enthralling book,” the judges say. “The author, and translator, have evoked, and re-evoked, a time, a region, and people that come alive on the page despite our distance from them. The conflicts of the day between tolerance and anathematization – so reminiscent of those of our own time – are seamlessly embodied in the events.

“The landscapes appear before us with palpable and luminous physicality and the protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses, naiveties and intuitive insights, hesitations and impetuosities combine a character as lifelike and as seemingly familiar as the subject of a Fayoum portrait. The translation is notable for its delicacy and well-judged restraint and deftly captures the feeling of the original.”

Azazeel‘s great strength “lies in its strangeness, a product of the state of mind of its narrator as he struggles with demonic possession and spiritual angst. In vivid, evocative prose, the author plunges us into fifth century Egypt, rendered three-dimensional and immediate in vivid, evocative prose. Ziedan has given us a story that works seamlessly on so many different levels; historical, theological, spiritual, and as a feverishly absorbing confession. A masterful achievement.”

In all: “A beautifully crafted and evocative tale. Rich in description of the arid Syrian landscape and seeped in early history, Azazeelhas been flawlessly translated making this an easily accessible story.

A Land Without Jasmine: an enjoyable read that preserves the soul of the original

A+Land+Without+Jasmine+(Saif+Ghobash+Banipal+Prize)The judges say that A Land Without Jasmine deals with many social and political issues such as the sexual repression of males in a conservative society and the corruption of public institutions yet it does so in the guise of a thriller that keeps the reader enthralled. The story is told by several characters whose accounts do not often tally with one another, leaving room for the readers to synthesise their own version of the truth. 

 It is a novel which succeeds in addressing issues of sexual oppression and repression without sacrificing narrative tension. Through its use of multiple perspectives we are given a revealing insight into society, reminding us that no event, or place, has an objective existence or truth. Wajdi al-Ahdal is a gifted and original storyteller.

A Land Without Jasmine gives fascinating insight on life in Yemen, with a thriller-like plot that keeps the reader turning the page. In sparse, lucid prose with a tight narrative structure, the author paints a riveting portrait of sexual confusion, frustration and shame. The translation succeeded in creating an enjoyable English read and at the same time preserving the soul of the original.

Jonathan Wright

Jonathan Wright, who currently lives in London, studied Arabic, Turkish and Islamic History at St. John’s College, Oxford University. Between 1980 and 2009 he worked for Reuters news agency in countries across the Arab world and was also lead writer in the Washington DC Reuters bureau as well as chief sub-editor of the World Desk in London.  Between 2008 and 2011 he was managing editor of Arab Media and Society, an online academic journal run by the AUC (American University in Cairo). 

Wright became a published translator of Arabic literature in the late 2000s and  has a remarkable record in terms of the number and quality of the translations he has done. In addition to Azazeel and Life on Hold his  translations of fiction and essays include Khaled el-Khamissi’s Taxi (Aflame Books, 2008, and BQFP); Hassan Blasim’s short story collections The Madman of Freedom Square(Comma Press, 2009) and The Iraqi Christ  (Comma Press, 2013); ; The State of Egypt, a collection of essays and articles by Alaa el-Aswany (AUC Press, 2011); Judgement Day by Rasha al-Ameer (AUC Press, 2012); Whatever Happened to the Egyptian Revolution by Galal Amin (AUC Press, 2013); and Sleepwalkers by Said Makkawi (to be published by Dar el-Shorouk).

Two of Wright’s most recent translations will be published in 2014: Bahaa Abdelmegid’s Temple Bar (AUC Press) and Land of No Rain by Amjad Nasser (BQFP).

On two occasions last year Wright appeared at the Mosaic Rooms in London in conversation with an Arab author whose work he had translated. On the first of these occasion he was on stage with the Lebanese author Rasha al Ameer to discuss her novel Judgement Day. On the second occasion he was in discussion with the Iraqi writer Hasan Blasim, two of whose short story collections he has translated. 

William Maynard Hutchins

William Maynard Hutchins is a prolific and award-winning translator of literary Arabic. He is a professor in the Philosophy and Religion Department of Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, USA. He began learning Arabic while teaching at the Gerard School for Boys in Sidon, Lebanon. He studied Arabic at Berea, Yale and the University of Chicago, and began translating Arabic literature during graduate school, starting with some of the epistles of al-Jahiz (Peter Lang). During his time teaching at the University of Ghana in Legon he began translating the plays of Tawfiq al-Hakim, and later published a two-volume collection (published by Three Continents Press). He was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant for Literary Translation in 2005-6 for his translation ofThe Seven Veils of Seth by the Libyan Tuareg author Ibrahim al-Koni (Garnet Publishing) and a second one in 2012 for New Waw, also by al-Koni (Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas, January 2014)

In addition to A Land Without Jasmine and Diesel, Hutchins’s translations of Arabic novels include Palace WalkPalace of Desire,Sugar Street, and Cairo Modern by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz (Anchor Books); Basrayatha: Portrait of a City by Muhammad Khudayyir (Verso, 2007); The Last of the Angels (Free Press, 2007), Cell Block 5 (Arabia Books, 2008) and The Traveler and the Innkeeper (AUC Press, 2011) all by Fadhil al-Azzawi; Return to Dar al-Basha by Hassan Nasr (Syracuse University Press); Anubis(AUC Press, 2005) and The Puppet (Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas, 2010) both by Ibrahim al-Koni. His recent translations include a revision of his translation of Return of the Spirit by Tawfiq al-Hakim (Lynne Rienner Publishers), and The Grub Hunter by Amir Tag Elsir (Pearson African Writers Series, 2012). 
Hutchins’s translations have appeared on wordswithoutborders.org and brooklynrail.org and in Banipal Magazine of Modern Arab Literature.

Prize to be awarded at 12 February ceremony 

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize was established in 2005 by Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature in English translation, and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature, as the first worldwide prize for a published work of English literary translation from Arabic.  It is wholly sponsored by Omar Saif Ghobash and family in memory of his father, the late Saif Ghobash, a man passionate about Arabic literature and other literatures of the word.

The founding of the prize meant that for the first time Arabic joined the ranks of languages (most of  them European) with a literary translation prize administered by the Society of Authors.  The prizes are awarded at an annual ceremony, which for the 2013 prizes is to be held at 6.30 pm on Wednesday 12 February at 6.30pm Europe House, 32 Smith Square, London SW1. While the Saif Ghobas Banipal Prize is awarded annually, some of the other langauge prizes are awarded less frequently. In addition to the prize for Arabic translation, the 2013 prizes are awarded for translatoins from Dutch, French, German, Hebrew and Spanish

The ceremony, hosted by the Society of Authors and the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), will be introduced by Paula Johnson, Prize Administrator Society of Authors. The prizes will be awarded by Sir Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS, and there will be readings by the translators from their winning translations. Following this, poet and translator Dr Ian Patterson and author Adam Mars-Jones will be in conversation on aspects of literary translation

Roundable on Arabic-English Literary Translation 

At 2-4.30pm on Thursday 13 February, at the Arab British Centre at 1 Gough Square, London EC4,  the two winners of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize 2013, Jonathan Wright and William Maynard Hutchins,  will introduce a roundable on  Literary Translation Arabic to English. The roundtable is  hosted by the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature and will be chaired by Banipal Trustee Professor Yasir Suleiman

The Roundtable is free to attend, but prior registration is necessary. To register, please email Clare@banipal.co.uk 

An Arabic Literature in English evening with the prizewinners

Also on 13 February, at 7.00 pm, an event followed by a reception will be held  in The Gallery of Foyle’s Bookshop at 113-119 Charing Cross Road, London WC2.  The evening is hosted by Foyle’s and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature.

The Arabic Literature in English evening with prizewinning translators Jonathan Wright and William M Hutchins and their novelsAzazeel and A Land Without Jasmine will be introduced by Banipal Trustee Paul Starkey. It will include readings from the novels. 

Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize changes its cut-off date to 1967

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize has from the inaugural prize in 2006 until 2013 had a cut-off date for the original Arabic editions of 35 years prior to entry to the prize. It  has now announced a significant change from the 2014 prize, with the cut-off date of the original Arabic extended back and fixed at 1967 – a year widely recognised as a “watershed” year for Arabic literature.
report by Susannah Tarbush