Throughout the 20th century, readers and critics never had the chance to read Arabic novels outside the Arab world. This is because Arab writers often found it hard to translate their works. These days, though, Arabic translators have helped Arab artists flourish in a world where English is the lingua franca. Indeed, those that translate works that include Iraqi Arab literature and Arabic poets open doors to a whole new world. Still, a big divide exists between the number of translated works and those that people read and critique. Two Arabic translators and book lovers, Sawad Hussain and Marcia Lynx Qualey, are out to change that.
In the summer of 2021, Hussain and Qualey wanted to offer readers the chance to delve deeper into Arabic reading. So, they planned Bila Hudood – a three-day online tour of what’s up in Arabic lit today. At the first Bila Hudood, Arab authors and Arabic translators showcased the wide range of works they translate. Five hour-long panels on Arabic (Arab literature) lit in Berlin included African works, memoirs, food writing, young adult and untranslated works.
Unlike Western panels on Arabic lit, subjects were more varied than just country or issue-based topics. This means topics could include more Arabic works which opened the door to a bigger group of readers. What’s more, Hussain planned this event to highlight just how deep and wide the body of Arab lit is. She added that it’s so much more than just 1001 Nights and the works of Naguib Mahfouz.
Because it was held online, the event also reached a wider group of people. Likewise, it also meant that writers of Arabic words could find more people willing to publish their works. In fact, both writers and publishers had the chance to make sales pitches of their works to publishers via video.
Kuwaiti-American author Layla AlAmmar said Bila Hudood was a great chance for bibliophiles to share their love of Arab works. She hopes that more readers will discover novels like Wasmiya Comes Out of the Sea by Laila Al Othman. It’s a novel she hopes to translate and share with the rest of the world.
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